Jake teaching a class for the Union // Photo via Facebook
You might’ve seen Jake Panasevich around before. He teaches at Maha Yoga on 16th and Sansom, writes about yoga for U.S. News, and was recently featured in Men’s Health. For the past six months, he’s also been the yoga trainer for the Philadelphia Union, Philly’s Major League Soccer team. If you’re sitting there thinking, ”That’s cool, but what the heck is a yoga trainer?” trust me, you’re not alone.
I chatted with Jake last week to learn a little more about what exactly a yoga trainer for a pro sports team does, how a regular practice has been received by the players, and why yoga is so darn important for cross-training.
So what exactly have you been doing for the players so far?
Right now I’m primarily teaching the players as a team in group classes. I’ve created a couple home practice videos for some players, and I’ve also worked one-on-one with others on injury prevention and therapeutic issues. The yoga classes are optional for the players, but almost everyone attends.
What are the benefits of yoga for a pro sports team?
Pro athletes don’t need more physical conditioning. They need a tool to be at their best when it matters most, to keep grounded in the heat of competition. And, beyond that, yoga has helped some of the players with longevity, injury prevention and flexibility.
How is teaching a class geared towards men different than your typical yoga class? Are there a lot of modifications that need to be made?
In general, most men come to yoga stronger, but less flexible. A lot of them have lower back pain. So like in down dog, most men have broader shoulders and need to take their hands off the mat to get a wide enough stance. And a lot of men have tighter hamstrings, so straightening their knees in the pose will put extra pressure on the low back. Beyond that, many men say things like, “I’m not flexible enough.” That’s like saying “I’m not strong enough to lift weights.”
There are a lot of practical benefits to yoga that men want to see quickly. They want the results, the Point A to Point B of it, and they want the depth and connectivity without as much spirituality and yoga jargon. So for the Union, what they really want is a deeper experience and to stay grounded on the field, but to learn that through practical language.
Have you seen results with the Union so far?
Absolutely! Sebastien Le Toux is one of the older players on the team, and he’s told me that some of the alignment I’ve taught him has helped him overcome lower back pain. Keeping players out of pain like that keeps them on the field longer. The goalie, Zac MacMath, said that it’s really helped him stay grounded when it’s down to the wire during a game. I’ve worked with athletes before and it tends to be very hit-or-miss, but these guys are just spectacular. They’re loving the yoga and they’re really seeing the benefits of it.