It’s not a stretch to say yoga gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY AMANDA COMAK

VIERA, FLA. | De­scrib­ing the physique of Washington Na­tion­als sec­ond base­man Danny Espinosa in one word is easy: stocky. Espinosa is a well-mus­cled in­fielder who draws com­ments for his bone-break­ing hand­shake and who awed his man­ager in 2011 with his weight-room rou­tine.

But at home this off­sea­son in Cal­i­for­nia, the usu­ally bulky Espinosa added a new layer to his work­outs: Bikram yoga. The in­tent was to in­crease his flex­i­bil­ity and rid him­self of some of the tight­ness that seemed to plague him dur­ing the sea­son. The hope was in­creased flex­i­bil­ity would pay div­i­dends, chief among them help­ing to stave off in­jury.

“I came into spring and I wasn’t stiff,” Espinosa said. “I didn’t have range-of-mo­tion prob­lems, my arms weren’t tight, my legs weren’t tight. I was like ‘This is an un­be­liev­able feel­ing.’ ”

Espinosa, who can now sit with his legs flat on the ground in front of him and fold his body in half so that his chest rests di­rectly on his thighs, started tak­ing the classes this win­ter at the urg­ing of an old coach and fit­ness in­struc­tor in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

But he’s hardly alone in the Na­tion­als’ club­house.

Stephen Stras­burg, Drew Storen and Bryce Harper also are among yoga devo­tees, with Harper and Storen big be­liev­ers in Espinosa’s pre­ferred Bikram yoga — a class that’s held in a room kept at 115 de­grees.

Ryan Zim­mer­man, Jayson Werth and Steve Lom­bar­dozzi also par­tic­i­pated in a once-weekly class at Na­tion­als Park this off­sea­son with strength and con­di­tion­ing coach John Philbin and a pri­vate in­struc­tor.

In a ca­sual poll of the club­house, plenty more play­ers said they’ve ei­ther tried it a few times or were at least in­trigued.

“It’s very chal­leng­ing if you’ve never done it be­fore,” said Philbin, who has taken Bikram yoga classes with Storen this spring and usu­ally tests out any new work­outs the play­ers bring to him to en­sure they’re not do­ing some­thing that could be in­ju­ri­ous.

The play­ers go through flex­i­bil­ity ex­er­cises each day dur­ing the team stretch, but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily en­sure they’re pay­ing as much at­ten­tion to that as­pect of their con­di­tion­ing as they should. Adding yoga to the picture in­creases that like­li­hood.

“They get into some very, very chal­leng­ing po­si­tions that would chal­lenge any ath­lete at any level,” Philbin said. “But I think the big­gest ben­e­fit is that they’re ac­tu­ally work­ing on flex­i­bil­ity, which is crit­i­cal.”

Not ev­ery­one is a be­liever. One Na­tion­als player, when asked this week if he’d ever tried yoga, shook his head de­fi­antly and said he’d go with the re­sponse he once heard from ESPN’S Colin Cowherd: “If yoga had been in­vented in Ohio, they’d call it stretch­ing.”

But even if it’s not yoga specif­i­cally, the gen­eral trend of play­ers tak­ing steps on their own to add flex­i­bil­ity work to their off­sea­son rou­tines is a pos­i­tive sign.

Stras­burg said he felt the added flex­i­bil­ity would help him re­cov­ery quicker be­tween starts and af­ter lift­ing ses­sions.

Espinosa noted the lean­ness he feels now — a feel­ing that first had him wor­ried he was los­ing weight be­fore re­al­iz­ing he felt skin­nier sim­ply be­cause he was more lim­ber.

And Harper, who be­gan do­ing it with his fa­ther, Ron, to help loosen the ham­strings and quad mus­cles that seemed con­stantly tight af­ter his years as a catcher in high school and col­lege, high­lighted the at­ten­tion it’s helped him pay to his breath­ing.

“I think that’s the big­gest thing that peo­ple don’t re­ally know, es­pe­cially when you’re do­ing the Bikram,” said Harper, who would do it three or four times a week in the off­sea­son. “You’ve got to fo­cus on your breath­ing, and it re­ally helps you out when you’re play­ing. . . . I saw ma­jor im­prove­ments in my flex­i­bil­ity. I felt a lit­tle faster, more lim­ber, it was pretty cool.” And that leg tight­ness? “Gone,” Harper said. “I love it.” NOTES: The Na­tion­als had their only off day of the spring Mon­day. The team will re­turn to ac­tion Tues­day night with Stephen Stras­burg on the mound in Port St. Lu­cie against the New York Mets.

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