Yoga a “Om” Run with Brewers Players This Season

If you’ve been following us on social media, you are probably aware that, leading up to the past two seasons, the Brewers training staff has been incorporating yoga sessions into the players’ various workouts during Spring Training.

Well, this year, that practice extended beyond Spring Training and was added as optional weekly or biweekly workout sessions during each homestand.

“The mental part of baseball is so big. Having these guys experience an opportunity of how to calm their minds when they’re doing active movements is probably the biggest reason,” said Major League Strength and Conditioning Specialist Josh Seligman, who explained why he believes yoga is an important part of the mix.  “Then there’s obviously the secondary reason, which is flexibility when the muscle is under tension. It also kind of mixes it up for them and takes them out of their normal system. So, just the comprehensiveness of it. It’s also low-impact, so over a long season, it provides that recovery as well.”

Although optional, several players have seen and felt such great benefits that they have become devoted to a regular practice led by local yoga expert and studio owner, Pamela Bliss.

Instructor Pamela Bliss leads some members of the Crew through a yoga practice on the field.

Instructor Pamela Bliss leads some members of the Crew through a yoga practice on the field.

Bliss began her yoga practice 17 years ago when she became chronically ill, was in chronic pain, and didn’t know where else to turn.

“Yoga saved my life,” Bliss said. “Everything that was previously wrong has been healed. Honestly, what I can do today is a direct result of the practice. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually—I’m a different human being because of yoga. Without my practice, I don’t know how I would manage and balance it all.”

And when Bliss says balance “it all,” she means it. In addition to working with the Crew, she owns  YogAsylum, a premier studio in Brookfield where she not only runs the business, but also teaches classes and runs a yoga teacher training program. Oh, and she recently acquired the Milwaukee School of Massage as well. Bliss’s credentials are impressive. She holds an M.A. in Transpersonal Psychology with concentration studies in Ecopsychology; and degrees in Nursing, Yoga, and Ecology. Bliss is also a meditation CD artist, intuitive medium, and inspirational speaker who presents at conferences internationally.

This week, I was fortunate to attend one of Bliss’s sessions to see what the guys are up to and chat with them and Bliss about the benefits of yoga—particularly as it relates to baseball and the players’ performance on the field.

“To me, the list of benefits is endless, but also measurable, because you do see a clear difference,” Bliss said. “Yoga is very experiential. You have to do it in order to receive its benefits. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it, so consistency is very important.”

In the 45-minute sessions for the Crew, Bliss mixes it up for the players. For example, the session I attended included traditional hatha, along with vinyasa flow, and some yin poses (longer holds) incorporated toward the end.

There is something extra-calming about practicing yoga barefoot in the outfield, as well as gazing up to this view in your poses.

There is something extra-calming about practicing yoga barefoot in the outfield, as well as gazing up to this view in your poses.

“For the guys, we work on addressing the six directions of the spine, strengthening the core, and really focusing on the hips,” Bliss explained. “By watching their movements, I clearly see the need for and benefit from hip openers, so those are things I make sure we work on every time.”

Bliss works with a wide range of individuals—all walks of life and all abilities—but she says working with baseball players is definitely unique.

“The first time I went down to Spring Training was to get an idea of what the players needed and see how I could help. I have to say it was the first time I had been in a yoga practice where sunflower seeds were being spit and there was all this chatter,” Bliss said with a laugh. “I knew then this was going to be an interesting process!  But everyone has been super receptive, super grateful, and the coaches are really happy about it…I know everyone really appreciates it.”

Pitcher Carlos Torres, who is among the regulars in Bliss’s sessions, is a big proponent of yoga as part of his extensive workout routine.

“There are different types of exercise that every team offers. Some of them will even go as far as ballet for agility and stuff like that, but yoga is one that team-to-team–while not every team is going to provide it–every team recommends it,” Torres said.

“As athletes, we’re taught to lift a lot of weights, we’re taught to be strong, we’re taught to be a lot of things, but you have to have strength within that flexibility and if you don’t, it’s useless strength,” he explained. “What yoga does is it builds that strength within that flexibility to actually translate your power that you’ve been working on the entire time to what it is you’re trying to do. For pitchers, it’s throw a ball. For some guys it’s hit, or steal bags and whatnot…. I hope that all teams provide it because I think it’s very beneficial to everybody.”

Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis agrees; he likes the balance that yoga brings to his routine.

“It’s such a long season. We’re active everyday and, swinging as much as we do, that’s hard on your body. Yoga is really good for recovery and just limbering up and staying healthy,” he said. “If I go a few weeks without going, I can definitely feel it. In the offseason, it’s something that I have been trying to implement a little bit more over the last few years and it’s helped, so I think that it’s definitely a good thing.”

Corey Knebel‘s wife Danielle is a certified yoga instructor, so the pitcher is very familiar with the practice, which he has typically incorporated on his own during the offseason.

“This is the first year we’ve done it during the season. For me, I’m really tight. My hips are always tight, my legs are always tight, so it’s good to feel pretty flexible. I feel a big difference this year with it,” Knebel said.

Bliss helps pitcher Corey Knebel perfect his alignment.

Bliss helps pitcher Corey Knebel perfect his alignment.

And, while pitcher Matt Garza also says he reaps the benefits of flexibility, he enjoys the meditative side of the practice as well.

“I do yoga because it helps me control my breathing, it helps me get that under grasp. The stretching part is awesome. It really helps you get deep into stretches,” Garza said. “It used to be the stronger you are in the game, the better you are. It’s now how flexible you are. The more flexible you are, the better you can be in position and play your position. But I mainly like it because of the calming nature of the workout.”

Bliss added, “A lot of times people in general say, ‘It’s just physical,’ but it’s so far beyond that. In order to transcend the physical, you have to put in consistent effort — to invest in yourself to be your very best; what could be more important? That’s where these guys really get it and that’s what got them here; they are all in—that’s what makes this a lot of fun for me. It’s also a huge honor for me.”

And, as someone who is personally devoted to yoga, I was honored to share in this practice with Bliss and members of the Crew, if only for a day. Namaste!

-Cait

@CMoyer

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