You play roller derby. You’re probably kind of a badass. You probably like skating fast, hitting people, and you probably don’t mind the smell of stinky pads. You probably have strong thighs and a killer ass. You are probably 110% dedicated to this sport and love it with every part of your soul.
Rad. I can get down with that.
You probably also have intensely tight hips. Like when you try to sit cross-legged, your knees come up to your shoulders. You probably also have some thing going on in your neck that you can’t quite put your finger on, but sometimes it hurts in your jaw or shoulder, too.
You might have problems concentrating when you’re body isn’t moving really fast. You might not dig sitting still. You might not really want to deal with your lower back pain unless it involves loud music and sweat. You might need yoga.
But, you might be dubious about yoga. You might think it’s for waify chicks who get manicures and watch the Lifetime network.
Yoga is for people who want to have healthy long-term relationships with their bodies and minds. Yoga is for people who want to feel better, physically and emotionally. Yoga is for people who want to learn to find concentration and motivation in the midst of chaos.
What I’m saying, rollergirl (‘scuse me, rollerperson), is that yoga might be for you. It might be for you, not just as a regular person, but as an athlete. Because I know you want to know, here are some ways that yoga can help your game:
1. Flexibility. The number one reason people tell me they “can’t do yoga” is because they “aren’t flexible.” That’s like saying you can’t wash your car because it’s too dirty. Flexibility is a skill like any other. You have to learn it and practice it. Unlike some other skills, like say knitting, flexibility can help you become a better player. Muscles that aren’t in a constant state of contraction (tension) are more responsive. Relaxed muscles work when you tell them to because they aren’t already busy doing nothing. With increased flexibility, you may find that your skating improves in ways you didn’t know were possible because your muscles are available to do what you ask them to when you ask them to.
2. Focus. The second reason people tell me that they can’t do yoga is because they can’t focus. So, um, you can’t focus when you practice yoga but you are a single-pointed concentration machine when you’re on the track? No. Either you know how to control your brain or you don’t. Sure, the faster your body moves the more your brain will tune out external stimuli, but eventually your body will get used to the speed of the pack and the noise in the warehouse. And that’s good, because it means that your body is no longer in fight or flight mode when you’re playing and you then have the ability to become an intelligent player. But only if you can focus. I watch so many skaters with solid skills get that deer-in-the-headlights look and start making the same mistakes over and over. Why? Because they can’t focus. They look around the pack and they know what’s happening, probably, but their processing speed isn’t quick enough and their response time suffers. What you need is Matrix-like responsivity. You have to be totally in tune with the pack and the game and your body and be able to know what you need to do almost before you need to do it. That takes intense focus, and either you have it and you can turn it on and off at will, or you don’t have it at all.
3. Balance. I could talk about this on a metaphorical level, but I won’t. Being a good skater takes crazy balance. Balance (for skating) takes core strength and ankle stability. The thing is that unless you are always skating in really good form, you aren’t developing your core or your ankle strength. You’re using what you already have and probably learning bad, inefficient habits. The gym can help, but if you aren’t working out in a dynamic way, then you aren’t practicing using your strength in the way that you need to in order use it when you’re skating. Yoga makes you practice using your core to do things you would usually use other muscles to do (like taking up some of the duty in lifting your leg for a crossover). Sit ups will give you muscles, but they will not give you practice using them in a practical way.
4. Strength. I know that the cultural image of a yogi is of a skinny white girl, but most of us don’t look like that. I have thick thighs, a solid ass, and my shoulders are pretty broad for my size. I have an athletic yoga practice and therefore I have an athletic build. I don’t play sports anymore, but I am strong because I am constantly lifting my own body weight, and the more I lift it, the heavier it gets.
Also, a lot of yoga relies on eccentric muscle contractions, which means that your muscles are contracting and being lengthened at the same time. In sports, this kind of activity is called negative training. It’s hard and, in the short term, it hurts because your muscle fibers are always tearing. But in the long term your muscles are rebuilt longer and your muscles become more effective. Eccentric contractions are about 25% more powerful than other kinds of muscle contractions and they lead to finer motor coordination. Power and coordination, isn’t that what it takes to be a great skater?
5. Calm. I saved this one for last because I think it’s the most important. Is there anything more valuable? People who have a real sense of calm are almost never freaking out. They don’t yell at the refs and they don’t get in fights with other skaters. They don’t freak out when they lose and they don’t freak out when they win. They are able to take what they’ve learned from each game and process it into usable material for the next game. They don’t waste time beating themselves or other people up. Calm people are trustworthy and reliable. They are not the people pushing themselves to the front of the line to become leaders, they are the people you choose to be leaders.
How does yoga teach you to be calm? That’s another mental game. If you spend a lot of time on your mat dealing with yourself you start to notice your personal patterns of thought and habit. Eventually you become aware of you emotional reactions in a way that allows you to predict them and observe them with some degree of objectivity. Once you do that, you have the freedom to pick and choose your responses to things based on how effective their outcomes will be instead of basing your reactions on how you feel in one split second.
Here’s the deal. I want to help you be a better skater. I’m retired, but I love roller derby and I want to contribute to the sport. If you live in or near New Orleans, I’m giving a workshop on Yoga & Roller Derby starting September 27th. It’s cheap and all your friends will be there.
If you don’t live in New Orleans and you want to help me think of a way to bring Yoga for Roller Derby to your team or league, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Facebook. I’d love to help.
If you want to know more about me and my classes, check out my yoga site, More Yoga, Less Bullshit.