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September 20, 2010

Los Angeles high school stars dive into yoga

LOS ANGELES - One day it's Student Body Right, the next it's Downward Facing Dog.

Some of Los Angeles' best high school football stars are being introduced to a new position - or is it a pose? - as they gather in an urban park to take yoga classes in an effort to work their muscles in different ways, prevent injury and help with recovery.

And for such brawny tough guys, they sure moan and groan a lot.

"Intense," said senior linebacker Dennis Taylor Jr., a 230-pound senior from Fontana, Calif., who squats 500 pounds. "The standing part was crazy. I thought I was about to pass out for a second but at the end it felt really good, my body feels great now. I came in a little bit sore but right now I feel good, ready for next week."

Yoga classes are fairly common to athletes in the NFL and college - not for L.A. high school jocks. At least not until now. B2G Sports, which runs football camps and clinics in the area, is responsible for introducing the Los Angeles prep stars to yoga. After an hourlong workout - mainly with beginner poses - the dozen or so prospects promise to be back the following Sunday.

Nina Boyajian, the yoga instructor, taught the players how to breathe, how to visualize and how to stretch early in the workout. For the "intense" description the football players gave, the setting sure didn't reflect that. The workout took place in the shade under trees. A dog ran past them chasing a tennis ball. The sound of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball echoed in the background. It was all very peaceful, Zen-like.

But then the poses grew more intense. While everyone was standing, Boyajian said, "Everybody put your right leg up as far as you can but this time I want you to swing your leg through and put your knee toward your forehead."

And then came something called the "table top." Hands were placed at the sides and players had to lift the fronts of their bodies as high as possible - to seemingly emulate a table top with their stomachs in the air.

"Ideally," Boyajian, who is an attorney as well as a yoga instructor, told them, "your hips are so high you can't see your knees."

Now picture that one.

Crunches weren't of the typical variety, either. The players weren't allowed to put their backs or legs on the ground, instead had to rest all their weight on their rear and perform the abdominal workout.

Toward the end of that exercise, the instructor told everyone to hold the pose at the bottom of the crunch so their heads, backs and legs were off the ground.

For Lacy Westbrook, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive tackle from Compton Dominguez, the workout was not easy. But it sure helped.

"It's pretty tough holding those positions," Westbrook said. "The stretches really worked the hips and worked the knees and it felt good. I'm doing it every weekend for sure, especially after a hard game you want to stretch all the hard, worked-out muscles to get back loose and feel more comfortable.

"I didn't know what to expect. I was expecting to relax, do some poses and do some breathing. I didn't know yoga was so much more than just that."

B2G Sports is trying to get the word out to all Southern California prospects that it is offering weekly sessions. The organization's goal is to spread awareness so more players will be healthy and productive, especially late in the football season.

The response among Los Angeles football players has been better than one might expect. Stigmas about yoga - that it's for women and not tough football players - are fading, B2G co-founder Ron Allen said. Professionals are using it. College players are using it. Now Allen hopes it becomes common for high school players to use it.

"You talk to guys in their 30s and they have all kinds of (pain) - knee joints, shoulders," Allen said. "Looking back on it, if we would've done this stuff back then our bodies would have been in a lot more condition to be loose and be able to sustain those tough movements.

"There are a lot of pros that are starting to do it. A lot of college guys are starting to do it. For the kids, it helps because those are their heroes, those are their role models. If they see Dante Hughes (of the San Diego Chargers) doing it or Omar Bolden at Arizona State doing it, then it's cool enough for me."

More players are expected each week, including standout offensive lineman Jordan Simmons from Encino, Calif. Orange, Calif., 330-pound offensive tackle John Lopez, a 2013 prospect who already has an offer from UCLA, did the yoga workout two weeks ago.

With these tough L.A. football stars, yoga is seemingly catching on.

"It's totally different between weightlifting and this," Taylor said. "Yoga is the thing to do. That's a workout. That's a real workout right there. You do yoga and you see you're not as tough. That is intense."



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