At What Cost Will Athletes Sacrifice Themselves to Win?
I do not expect many of you to know who Richie McCaw is. However, if you asked any New Zealander, they'd tell you, chest puffed up, that he is one of the best rugby players to have ever lived and the captain of World Champion All Blacks.
Unlike my compatriots, I do not profess to be a rugby fan. But of course, recently at a friend’s BBQ, a big rugby match was playing in the background. (For those of you who know rugby, it was the Bledisloe Cup, the annual Aussie vs Kiwi slug match.)
The pageantry of the All Blacks is enough to get anyone carried away. Like gladiators, they roll out from underneath the stadium to roars of applause. The powerful war dance of the Haka brings a tear to your eye and a reminder to call home.
However, among these elite athletes hobbles a crumbling Captain Richie who, at the young age of 31, seems to be coping with more injuries than a UFC fighter. Bandaged up like a mummy, he recently revealed that his foot injury at last year’s Rugby World Cup was so terrible that he came close to limping out of their semi-final win over Australia.
It got me thinking to what cost athletes will sacrifice for the success they, their coaches, their teammates and their fans expect of them. The fact that Richie just kept playing through the 2011 Rugby World Cup with serious injuries does not bode well. It was obvious to me watching this guy pushing his body to the brink, driving from the place of ego and force, that he is in desperate need of a yoga coach.
Now try as I did search for facts about the life expectancy of rugby players in the motherland, I couldn’t dig up much dirt. However, I did find data from a fairly similar sport, American Football. According to the NFL Players Association, the average life expectancy of a NFL player is 58 years of age.
Is it possible that the countless games of bashing up against one another, the jarring on the spine, the tackles high and low, has far greater consequences on these athletes than anyone cares to imagine?
Pretend for a moment that you’re buying your first car and you’re being advised on what second hand option to go with. Are you going to choose the hand-me-down from a little old lady who lives in suburbia, who only drives down to the grocery store, never misses an engine check and has kept it inside her garage since the day she drove it off the lot?
Or would you prefer the second hand taxi, which has made 5,000 road-trips, been in several fender benders, stinks of cigarettes and too many Saturday all-nighters and takes five tries to start?
It’s a no brainer. And our beautiful bodies, of which we are only given one, are no different. I think what we can learn from watching the big boys smash themselves up time and time again on the rugby field is the importance of looking after our bodies and making sure they’re around for the long haul.
Of course it’s not just rugby players that take it out on their bodies, there’s a long distance running/triathlon pandemic in the corporate Western world and we’re taking it out on our knees like never before.
Perhaps you know someone who has hardly crossed the half marathon line before they’re on the iPhone registering for next month’s Tough Mudder?
If knees could talk!
In researching this article I discovered that Richie McCaw has announced he will take six months off next year, so thank god for that. If I was Richie’s Yoga Coach, I'd incorporate the following practices to enable him to come back to his peak performance as an athlete in the minimal amount of time possible.
Standby Yoga Asana.
Cut back on the cardio and weights and add 2 to 3 yoga asana practices a week including restorative yin, which encourages long, slow, deep, holds and powerful breath work to go in to those tight places and release stuck energy. Plus more dynamic, flowing yang practices in warm temperatures to get prana moving through the body and new fresh oxygenated blood to dormant injuries.
Meditation increases our tolerance to high-impact exercise and enhances overall energy, strength and vigor. Starting with basic pranayama breath retentions, like alternate nostril breathing and full yogic breath, this encourages the stillness of mind that leads us in to meditation.
By focusing on the object of our breath or a basic mantra like So Hum we take baby steps by introducing 10 minutes morning and night. Important to note, that one can only teach concentration, meditation is something we do all by ourselves.
Back up the hard drive.
I truly believe that if types like Richie were filled up in the engine room, the powerhouse in our gut where our intuition and wiser self resides, then he would've taken the six-month break months ago. Jesus said that only a fool builds her house on sand, that we must be wise and build our house on a rock.
I believe he was referring to the way we design our lives, we can choose to keep our energy low, repeat habits of the past and hide our hearts away OR we can take the inner journey, reconnect with our true purpose and fill up on the abundant energy available to any of us, at any time.
Yoga helps us in this journey – and so does being kind to yourself!