The Rise of Yoga in the NBA and Other Pro Sports

Joe Johnson is a seven-time NBA All-Star, arguably the best player right now on the Brooklyn Nets, and the fourth highest-paid athlete in the league last season. So it’s a tipoff that things are changing in the game when the 32-year-old shooting guard says the most crucial workout he does is not lifting, sprinting, or shooting, but yoga. “It’s better than weight training or anything of that sort,” says Johnson, who averaged 39.2 minutes and 21.2 points in the playoffs this season. “It’s therapy for my muscles, and my muscles need that more than anything.”

Johnson is not alone in his appreciation and practice of the ancient Hindu discipline. Over the past decade, more and more NBA players — and pro athletes from all sports — have taken up yoga and, more tellingly, discussed openly how important the practice is to their game. Most notable among NBA yogis is LeBron James, who recently credited an early-morning class for his ability to beat cramps in Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Spurs. The league’s all-time minutes leader, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is also outspoken about his zeal for yoga, saying it was a big reason he was able to play as long and successfully as he did. In addition, Kevin Love, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Durant, and Kevin Garnett are all open about their yoga practice and have frequently talked about its benefits for basketball.

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