Ballplayers and the Karmic Practice of Yoga

Injuries are something that pronounce their impact differently on every player in the game. Some guys have freakish bodies and recover faster naturally. Others push themselves to accelerate their return. But recovery from some injuries can’t be sped up. Maladies like inflammation are plainly matters of time.

JA Happ went on the 10-day DL on April 18 for having it in his elbow. He’s finally back on the mound in the Majors after being out for more than a month.

Kendall Graveman just hit the DL for soreness in his throwing shoulder and is “taking anti-inflammatory medication and resting,” per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Manager Bob Melvin says he’s been through this before, that it’ll take longer this time, and that the team is going to “let this thing calm down” before trying to build up his endurance again. The passivity in his words is telling.

And if you have the heart to remember the end of Roy Halladay’s career, you’ll remember inflammation in his throwing shoulder cost him time on the DL amidst his body simply telling him, “please, no more.”

Inflammation is a general response from the body that results from cell agitation. It can occur from normal use – “normal” being a relative word. It intends to clear out damaged cells but the process causes pain, discomfort, and inherently imbalanced levels of certain proteins in our bodies. And the things a ballplayer does every day, the extreme motions they constantly put themselves through for more than half a calendar year, make them prime candidates to become victims of it.

Enter yoga.

There’s no causal relationship between yoga and reduced injuries. But as I researched its impact on ballplayers for a job I couldn’t help but think of the benefits. And I did find that it has been connected to balancing the proteins that can get whacked out in players’ bodies through the course of a season.

Researchers have studied a particular form called Hatha yoga, which combines poses (asanas), breath control (pranayama) and meditation. They explored its ability to help aid in recovery from the regular wear-and-tear we put our bodies through. “Regular” is another relative term – think of the twist and torque your favorite hitter exhibits on each swing and how that could eventually cause a dreaded oblique strain.

The study’s trippiest finding centers on epinephrine levels in the brain, which are fueled by the adrenal gland and play a large role in maintaining both physical and emotional stress. In focusing on the differences between novices and experts, experts experienced higher levels of epinephrine on a regular basis. That surprised even the researchers.

Common sense might tell us that the more we have of something, the more we get used to it, and then the less impact it has on us. It’s why a person going skydiving for the first time can find it exhilarating while it’s just another day at the office for the instructor they’re attached to. It’s the same when a pitcher isn’t excited about his velocity inching up through the spring. He can expect it because of what he’s thrown in the past.

The study found the opposite with yoga, though. The body adapts to the poses, breathing patterns, and meditation in Hatha yoga and the person gets better at it; but chemically, they don’t get used to it. It doesn’t become old hat. Instead, the practice becomes invigorating and those who practice it build up what becomes an expandable physiological embankment of wellness.

What’s more is that, based on the study’s parameters, a player could approach expert level at yoga over the course of a single season. A few hours a week could help keep their protein levels balanced through the summer and avoid the fickle complications of inflammation. And beyond even that, it offers a fresh, low impact way to optimize their body that could pay long-term dividends.

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