Here’s an announcement that isn’t often blared over a high school’s loudspeaker: “And for the baseball team … yoga is canceled for today.”
But at Grayslake Central, yoga for the baseball team was in fact canceled one February day as a late afternoon snowstorm wiped out most after-school activities.
“A bunch of our guys were in the cafeteria when that announcement came over the P.A. and I think they kind of just covered up their heads,” Grayslake Central baseball coach Troy Whalen laughed. “They got some good-natured ribbing from their friends for that one.”
These days, however, the Rams are serious Yogis and proud of it, thank you very much.
“Yeah, I got some weird looks that day (as the announcement was read), but now, I just embrace it,” Grayslake Central first baseman Kyle Clark said matter-of-factly. “I just say, ‘Yeah, I do yoga.’”
The baseball coaches at Grayslake Central introduced the idea of yoga as a training method during this past off-season to promote team togetherness in an atmosphere that would also engage their players in unique physical and mental challenges.
“When we were looking at different things to do with the kids, I half-jokingly said ‘How about yoga?’” laughed Grayslake Central sophomore coach Josh Peterson, whose wife made him a yoga believer long ago. “We knew there was some convincing that would need to be done. So I did research and I found articles about Major League players who do yoga. I wanted to convince the kids that yoga was a good thing for them.”
The Rams attended class as a team every week at The Yoga Effect in downtown Grayslake. They went all winter long. To their surprise, many of them wound up loving the experience … so much, in fact, that they’ve continued taking classes there on their own time.
Now, whether or not yoga might be partially responsible for Grayslake Central’s solid season thus far is debatable. But the fact is, the young and inexperienced Yogis, um, make that Rams, are in the thick of the race for the Fox Valley Fox Division title and are closing in on another 20-win season.
“I think yoga has definitely helped us, and I was very, very skeptical coming in,” Clark said. “I had this image of yoga. I thought it would be a bunch of moms sitting on mats and chatting. I did not want to go.
“But it surprised me. It was a tough workout. I woke up the next day really sore. There’s definitely some really good physical benefits and there are a lot of mental benefits, too.”
On the physical side, the Rams were taught to move and stretch and pose their bodies in ways they never before imagined possible. In the meantime, they were improving their flexibility, alignment, core strength and balance.
“I can’t even count how many positions we put our bodies in,” said Grayslake Central pitcher Kevin Peloza, who is convinced that the flexibility he’s gained from yoga has helped his arm recover more quickly after pitching outings. “At first, we were kind of laughing and joking because some of the poses were pretty crazy. But we got better at the different poses, and I liked it that they kept getting harder and more intense.”
The mental demands of the yoga workouts were always intense. Learning to relax, to let go, to release tension and negativity is more difficult than it sounds.
“When you’re a teenage kid, it’s hard to turn your mind off,” Clark said. “At first, when I’d close my eyes, I’d find myself thinking about our games or things I had to do at home or school. It’s hard to completely clear your mind. It’s a little uncomfortable at first.”
But Anna Ottolino, owner of The Yoga Effect, pressed on with her lessons. She’s convinced that developing a keen sense of self-awareness can be a huge advantage for athletes.
“I really believe that what you think, you become,” Ottolino said. “Your thoughts are so powerful. We all have negative thoughts, but yoga is about letting them go, weeding them out. When you meditate and connect with your breathing and really pay attention to your thoughts, it’s easy to replace a negative thought with a positive thought.
“For an athlete to then be able to naturally do that in competition can be such a benefit. One thing that often happens in sports is that when one thing goes wrong, pretty soon multiple things are going wrong because an athlete panics. In yoga, you can learn to let things go from your mind, you learn to leave what happens to you behind. Yoga is all about letting go.”
Clark has been able to better let go of his frustrations at the plate this season. He says that a bad at-bat no longer defines an entire game for him.
“Before this year, I was a kid who just got really mad after I got out or struck out,” Clark said. “Then, I’d go on the field and still be thinking about it and I’d have a temper and that would affect my next at-bat.
“Now, with yoga, I control that better. I step away, I take five deep breaths and I think positive thoughts. You end up in a really good mood that way.”
Some might call it “Sukha.” That’s happiness in Sanskrit, the language of yoga.
Peloza says his best memory of yoga is the happiness he and his teammates felt as a group as they conquered an “outside-the-box” activity together.
“Just spending time together brought us together, but definitely going through something like yoga together was a big bonding experience,” Peloza said. “By the end, we would finish each class huddled in a circle and talking about our goals and we’d chant our words over and over again. It was pretty cool. It was pretty good for our team.”
To check out yoga and see if it could be good for you, visit The Yoga Effect’s website at: www.theyogaeffect.net. Packages range from $65 for five sessions to $200 for 20 sessions and students and seniors receive a 10 percent discount. The Yoga Effect is located at 170 Center Street in Grayslake.
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