Yoga, Dwight Howard and Kareem

Out here in Los Angeles today, there’s plenty of hand-wringing over the ignoble ending to the Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA season. The team was swept from the playoff in the first round, and isn’t still playing basketball come May since 1978.

A lot of the focus is on team’s center, Dwight Howard, who was tossed from the game and is set to be a free agent this summer. (That means he could walk away from the Lakers and sign with another team. The thing about that, due to league rules, he can re-sign with the Lakers for $118 million over five years but “only” for $88 million over four years with any one else.)

After Sunday’s game, Howard tweeted apologies to Lakers fans; included in his stream of tweets was this:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year its that I need to be more responsible for my actions and learn to “breathe”! (Maybe I will take up yoga and come back calmer or @charliesheen can help me with my anger management)

The Charlie Sheen reference makes it pretty obvious that Howard is joking — and one of the knocks against him is he doesn’t take things seriously enough — but his mentioning yoga doesn’t have to be. For two reasons.

One: Howard spent the whole year coming back from a back injury. We all know how much yoga, and Ashtanga in particular, can help with back pain.

Two: Kareem Abdul Jabbar. An all-time Laker (and basketball) great.

When Howard got traded to the Lakers last summer, one of the early images was this one:

Kareem and Dwight

Now, I’ll admit it worried me a bit. Look how short Howard is compared to Kareem, who was listed usually at 7 foot 2 during his playing days.

But more importantly, Kareem was among the earliest pro athletes to add yoga into his training regiment. “There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga,” he’s been quoted as saying. So Howard wouldn’t be going out on a limb by taking it up. (Even if LA wasn’t among America’s to 10 yoga cities.)

But what I really want to stress is that Howard’s tweet got me to search, again, for a quote from Kareem that was part of my getting much more fully committed to a yoga practice. And I found it:

Male hormones lend themselves to making big, strong, and much less-flexible muscle. Hence, all the guys in the weight room. The lack of testosterone makes for a more supple musculature, so you will see women make much faster progress in yoga studios. The best thing for men would be flexibility training. The natural tendency for building strong muscles means that they should do something beyond what comes so easily — i.e., their strengths. Conversely, women should work on strength, since it’s more difficult for them to acquire strength as opposed to flexibility.

That made great sense to me, and it still guides me as I push ahead. Or, really, when I want to quit pushing ahead. (Still, there are those who say just doing yoga isn’t enough, including today in the Seattle Times.)

I’m feeling pretty agnostic about whether the Lakers should welcome Howard back. I’d feel less so if he followed more of Kareem’s advice.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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