West Brom balancing their yin and yang on the yoga mat
There’s a peaceful revolution quietly spreading through Albion’s training ground this season.
More and more players are starting their working days trying to balance their yin and the yang on the yoga mat with Tamworth teacher Lee Canterbury-Evans.
Last season, 47-year-old Lee would only get three of four players to each of his sessions – held every Tuesday and Thursday before training.
But word is spreading, the classes are growing, and a lot of the new faces are Albion’s summer signings.
“Last season, it would be Craig Dawson, Kane Wilson and Sam Field – and then Jonas Olsson and Claudio Yacob would pop in now and again,” explained Lee.
“But this season, as well as Craig and Sam, Matt Phillips has started coming after his hamstring problems, and we’ve got Gareth Barry, Jay Rodriguez, Jake Livermore and Grzegorz Krychowiak too.”
Lee was first invited to the training ground three years ago by director of performance Mark Gillett because Albion’s top doctor used to attend his yoga sessions in Tamworth and thought it would benefit the players.
It’s always been a voluntary session, but there’s one player in particular who is there week in, week out.
“Craig Dawson has been doing it for about five years,” revealed Lee. “You can tell because he’s never had a strain, or a hamstring problem.
“It’s a preventative tool and because he got on top of it, it’s spread through the dressing room.”
Lee tailors the hour-long sessions to the demands of professional footballers, but he stays true to the core yoga belief in balance. He runs a yang session on Tuesday, followed by a yin session on Thursday.
“On Tuesday we do a bit of flowy, energetic routine to get everyone loosened up after the weekend,” he revealed. “They have a warm down on Monday and they’re back in training on Tuesday, so we try to get them more flexible and mobile.
“Obviously the yoga concentrates on balance and focus. We try and stay focused on breathing, the mind and the body. We do sometimes turn the practice into meditation.
“It’s individual as well, everyone’s got different capabilities. But the new lads that have come in are at a very good standard.
“I was surprised how flexible they all were. None of the men that come to my normal classes are anywhere near as flexible as the players, which is amazing, considering the bulk of the lads, they’ve got some legs on them.
“On Thursday we do the yin yoga. We stay in poses a little bit longer, stretch out the connective tissues, the ligaments and the cartilage.
“It’s a much more mellow and slower class, but if you can stay in position for three minutes, you can get those muscles into a deep relax.
“It just kind of calms everything down before the weekend because you don’t want to go hell for leather before the game.”
Lee, who lives in the village of Hopwaf between Lichfield and Tamworth, first tried yoga in an Indian ashram 15 years ago and immediately caught the bug.
“I had a bad back and the doctor said do pilates or yoga,” he said. “I felt the benefit of yoga straight away myself and once I started doing I just wanted to pass it on.”
A self-confessed puritan at the start of his teaching, Lee has worked with boxers and triathletes in the past, but he’s been forced to adapt his style to the demands of elite-level footballers.
“It’s more like yoga therapy than yoga classes,” he admits. “I won’t do the same class with the lads as I do with the public, I do what they require.
“They do a lot of their own core work so I don’t do much of that – and they’re pretty stable anyway – so it’s just getting them to be more flexible, give them that range of movement, balance and a range of focus.
“They’ve all got individual needs. Mind you, whenever I ask them where they’re feeling tight or where they need working, they all just say ‘everywhere’!”
And the yoga teacher, who moved to the West Midlands from Barry Island in Wales when he was 11, has been blown away by how professional the players are.
“They’re very respectful, very cordial and very professional,” he said. “They know how to react to people, always shake your hand when I come in and say thanks afterwards.
“It’s a really nice environment to work in to be honest for you. A lot of people talk about the money they’re on, but they’re just men doing their job, if we were in the same position as them we wouldn’t be turning it down. They’re nice respectful gentlemen, I’ve never come across any egos.”
Although the majority of sessions pass by peacefully, such is their nature, there was one particular occasion last season when a minor celebration broke out.
“Kane Wilson came to a class and said he’d never touched his toes before,” revealed Lee. “After one class we managed to do it. He was running around saying ‘Oh my God, I can do it, I can’t believe it!’ Most of them that try it seem to get on board.”