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November 13, 2006

Gwen Lawrence's "Power Yoga For Baseball"

Gwen Lawrence, a fitness professional and registered yoga instructor, has has created a 35-minute baseball-specific yoga workout entitled "Power Yoga for Baseball" that is now available on DVD. As Gwen's DVD is endorsed by Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman, we thought it would be interesting to learn more about this program. What follows below is our Q&A with Ms. Lawrence:

WasWatching: What was the driving force for you behind the concept of applying yoga to baseball conditioning?

Gwen Lawrence: I have been a practicing fitness professional since 1990. I started teaching yoga in 1998 and became involved with local athletic teams shortly thereafter. My husband is a varsity baseball coach and former professional baseball player, so my interest in training athletes got started there. I spent many hours with my husband at his practices and started observing the lack of flexibility, and serious sport-induced imbalances in their bodies. This prompted me to become part of the team’s training staff. Before I knew it, I had college teams wanting to do yoga, and then professional teams followed. My classes with professional teams have actually more than tripled in just the past year.

WasWatching: Besides improved flexibility and balance, what other benefits - albeit physical or something else - can baseball players receive from yoga conditioning that they may, or may not, receive via the traditional training methods?

Gwen Lawrence: Along with improved flexibility and balance, yoga offers two other key benefits that are lacking in most traditional training methods.

Mental Training...The mental game of baseball is just as important as the physical preparation. Yoga training helps in this area tremendously. The practice of yoga demands that you stay present in the moment, without judgment, to perform some of the more challenging balancing postures. This translates beautifully to the demands needed to stay focused on the playing field for even the longest of games. Yoga teaches the athlete to be in the now, not to focus on the past defeat, missed play, strike out, etc. It teaches the athlete to take every minute as a new opportunity for success. Along with improving concentration, the breath and mind control techniques of yoga also dissolve energy-sapping nerves, release tension, and help with controlling the temper, thereby preventing angry skirmishes that lead to injuries and disciplinary fines.

Rehabilitation...By improving blood flow, quickening toxin release, and expanding oxygenation throughout the whole body, yoga reduces the recovery time from injury and illness and stimulates the immune system. Yoga also helps in speeding up the healing process of injury, joint and ligament injuries by creating more space in the joints and/or by generating increased blood flow to the injured areas. In addition, yoga helps repair nerve damage resulting from repeated falls and collisions by opening up neural pathways in muscles that have deadened due to such injuries. A rehabilitative yoga regimen will include a number of stretches which isolate and focus on the lower back, arms, shoulders and necks. These postures can be applied to injuries in these areas and will dramatically quicken the recovery times.

WasWatching: What's been the typical response from ball players at the first suggestion that they try Yoga conditioning?

Gwen Lawrence: Since I have been working for some time now with many, many, teams, professional down through Little League, my reputation precedes me. The kids and coaches are very receptive to my instruction. It is hard to question the results or procedure when they know you are hired by the pro's.

However, when I first started I would meet up with much resistance. The common misconception being that it was all about sitting around breathing and chanting spiritual prayers. When I come upon this opinion, I invite people to try it. Without fail, five minutes into the session sweat is dripping and their whole face changes when they realize the intense commitment it really takes. Not to say I still have a tough start every now and then. Recently, I worked with a college baseball team and to compensate for the tough poses and their initial unsuccessful attempts at them, they would chat, laugh, and mock things. This is the time when I have to instill more of a tough coach approach and less that of a zen yoga teacher.

WasWatching: Speaking of the pro's, I've noticed that Yankees G.M. Brian Cashman had the following to say about your program - "As a baseball player you are always walking that fine line between improving your strength and maintaining your flexibility. Gwen's Power Yoga for Baseball will help you accomplish both." How did Brian become so aware of your program? Is it in use in the Yankees organization?

Gwen Lawrence: Mr. Cashman and I have been working together for several years. He and I have slowly been introducing yoga to the Yankees as a one-on-one program. I hope to have group sessions with them someday in the future. He knows of all my successful work with professional teams and players and believes in my system.

WasWatching: Do you think we will see the day, sometime in the future, where baseball players are using yoga on the field before a game - much like the stretching routines they use now? And, why?

Gwen Lawrence: Absolutely...the question should be why are they not using yoga poses that resemble what the player does on the field. As a player you want to warm and prepare the muscles necessary to enhance your performance on the field specific to that sport. Yoga makes that transition easy. My husband (who is a High School varsity baseball coach) now only uses yoga poses (stretches) that are relevant to baseball and getting his players ready to perform. The yoga poses will get deeper into the muscles needed to perform from the first pitch to the last. The depth of flexibility gained pre-game using yoga techniques lasts longer than the traditional "stretch."

WasWatching: It seems as if the game of "baseball" can learn a thing or two from the practice of "yoga." Is there anything that "yoga" can learn from "baseball"?

Gwen Lawrence: Considering that yoga is 5,000 years old and defined as a learning art form and lifestyle, it is really difficult for me to think of anything that yoga can learn from baseball. However, baseball does offer the opportunity for yoga to be applied in a sports-specific sense, taking it out of the stereotypic classroom setting and on to the playing field. By focusing on the needs of a particular sport such as baseball, yoga proves itself as an invaluable training tool that can be adapted to the needs of all sports.

Of course, our thanks to Gwen Lawrence for her time in answering our questions. For more on "Power Yoga for Baseball" be sure to visit the official site for the program.

Posted by Steve Lombardi at November 13, 2006 10:00 AM


"In my profession, I have to be at my best each and everyday to compete. Yoga with Gwen Lawrence not only gives me that chance to compete, it defined my stature, strengthened my soul and blessed my character"
-Tony Womack
2001 World Series Champion

Posted by: Rich [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 13, 2006 10:06 AM

What's your point with the quote Rich?

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 13, 2006 10:10 AM

Tony Womack doesn't strike me as the best endorsement available. In fact, if Tony approves it, I'd probably look elsewhere.

Posted by: David Pinto [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 13, 2006 10:42 AM

Tony Womack doesn't strike me as the best endorsement available. In fact, if Tony approves it, I'd probably look elsewhere.

Didn't Griffey practice yoga? I remember he went through all kinds of flexibility exercises when he was with the M's.

Paul Zuvella (remember him?) used to do something similar to yoga when he played. I remember reading about all the things he used to do to warm up. Wasn't he nicknamed the stretchmaster, or something like that?

Posted by: Raf [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 13, 2006 11:34 AM

Or maybe Womack is merely a AAA caliber player who, with the help of Yoga, was able to stick around the bigs for longer than he would otherwise have.

Posted by: rbj [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 13, 2006 12:18 PM

Re: Womack

Sure, in his case, yoga will not make you a better hitter. But, in terms of conditioning, well, he's 36 years old and still able to run with the younger guys in the league. How many other 36 year old guys in baseball are as fast as Tony?

Posted by: Steve Lombardi [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 13, 2006 01:15 PM