Ruck, Maul, Scrum…Namaste

Upright Rugby learns yoga

It’s a rough and tumble sport, with consistent tackling, engaging rucks and scrums, and relentless exposure to physical interaction.

Rugby, like other full-contact sports, can be hard on the body. Players undergo rigorous training regimes that include strength and core training, along with skills development. Often times, however, stretching and taking care of one’s body is neglected over performance.

As much as athletes and fans adore the sport, one must also be aware of taking care of the players — this is where yoga comes in.

A former rugby player and captain of the University of Western Ontario, Angela Jackson, began playing rugby in her teens. One of the founding members of South Western Ontario’s first girl high school rugby teams, Jackson represented her rugby union and played for Ontario and the club level, winning several championships as well as Rookie of the Year and MVP awards.

An impressive rugby career was halted by a persistent knee injury. Not too long after, Jackson moved to Costa Rica for work where she discovered yoga.

“It gave me a good workout and I found that it helped fix my injuries.”

Upon returning to Oakville, she continued to practice and became certified in Hatha yoga, where she began using this training as her base to specialize in customized yoga training for athletes. Jackson’s involvement with sports and yoga helped her establish and direct Warrior Yoga Conditioning.

“It seemed natural to want to train within the rugby community. I’ve also worked with hockey players and runner,” said Jackson. “Sports that have a high impact on the body can change how an athlete functions. The body can easily get out of balance, which is a key factor to many players.”

There are many benefits that yoga can bring, as it focuses in on areas that the body can’t stretch or that are particularly tight. It’s used to help athletes focus on their breathing, flexibility and core strength.

“Generally, the perception with athletes is that you need strength and power in order to perform well, but it should also be able to compliment the strength and power of training,” she said.

Jackson has most recently worked with the U18 Elite Athletes Development Program (EADP) of Upright Rugby Canada, whose focus is on developing rugby players who are very keen to develop their skills and their game during the off-season.

“We have one session a week, since they train quite seriously. Yoga is mainly just core strength,” said Jackson. “It helps with their flexibility in their shoulders, arms and hips.”

Tyler Leggatt, the lead director of Upright Rugby agreed. “The range of motion that yoga brings is especially important. It reduces injuries, improves core strength and balance so that when athletes, in any sport, spend time on one leg or one foot and change direction — and I think the core strength and energy that comes from yoga is really advantageous.”

Usually seen as an activity geared towards women, yoga has a certain stigma attached to it where the emphasis is less on strengthening. Jackson found that a lot of young men and women who play rugby play into their 30s and 40s.

She said that “with rugby being such a high impact sport, it may require them retire early or take longer for an injury to heal.”

Yoga’s incorporation into Upright’s program last year has encouraged young athletes to focus on their body and game differently, especially amongst the young men.

“They’re teenage boys so it’s a bit of challenge for them at first with being still and calm and focused. And of course the perception of yoga is slowly changing, but most of them came in with a skewed perspective of what it really was,” said Leggatt. “Once they started to go through it they realized it was harder than they thought. Then once you’re in it for three weeks, you start to notice the benefits of it.

“I think a lot of them really enjoyed it, so much so that they really wanted to keep doing it throughout summer, which is a testament of what Angela is doing and to the benefits to the program,” concludes Leggatt.

He recommends other rugby teams and clubs to add yoga into their routine, stating that it is incredibly beneficial for the players.

Ultimately, Jackson would like to encourage the rugby community to try yoga and incorporate it into their training.

“It’s a great way to strengthen rugby teams in Canada,” Jackson hoped. “I’d also love to teach yoga to more clubs and teams.”

Jackson advises anyone who would like to try yoga to shop around. “There are different styles for everyone. Shop around and find an instructor that speaks to you. It’s not just the style but the instructor.”

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