The most beautiful thing about Yoga is that it IS for every body! No matter how tall or wide. No matter what sex you are. No matter if you're missing limbs or how uncoordinated you are, Yoga will make you better. Guaranteed. This project has led me to discovering many unassuming black Yogis but the largest of these is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by far! Considered by many to be greatest basketball player to ever live, Abdul-Jabbar's legacy and impact to the game of basketball cannot be disputed. But very few know that the secret to his game is Yoga! Don't believe me? Well take these words directly from his mouth, "I could have never lasted as long as I did in the NBA without Yoga", Abdul-Jabbar told Jet magazine in 1991. He discovered Yoga in 1961 after reading "An Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananda who is credited with popularizing the philosophy of Yoga in the west.
Kareem started practicing Hatha (physical) Yoga in 1976 and continued to practice consistently for more than 30 years! "Yoga is somewhat hard to quantify in terms of benefits because you see them in all the injuries you don't get... For me I noticed improvement in my posture – that was key for me because I had been having lower back problems," Abdul-Jabbar states. "After I started doing yoga positions – asanas — all that changed. My health greatly improved overall", he told USA today in a 2003 interview. Like the last Yogi featured, Quincy Jones, Abdul-Jabbar starting practicing Bikram or hot yoga with Bikram Choudry though he has definitely explored other schools of Yoga. "I do Bikram yoga and a number of other styles too," Abdul-Jabbar says. "People who tend to get into yoga often do what I call a 'yoga tour' — trying different styles and techniques. Eventually you find the one that is your niche."
Yoga has definitely made me a much, much better athlete. Before doing Yoga, I hardly ever stretched which caused my muscles to tighten up and decreased my range of motion over time. I also had a very difficult time balancing because I never worked on balance or really even cared about it, to be honest. Yoga brought me an awareness of my body and my balance and the way I carry my weight around everyday. It seems to be picking up slowly, but Yoga is becoming more and more popular with NBA players today. Joe Johnson is quoted as telling Sports Illustrated “It’s better than weight training or anything of that sort. It’s therapy for my muscles, and my muscles need that more than anything.” Even the arguably the best player in the game today, Lebron James, is a known Yoga advocate. "Yoga isn't just about the body, it's also about the mind and it's a technique that has really helped me... You do have to focus because there's some positions that can really hurt you at times if you aren't focused and breathing right." James told Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2009. Who would have known that Yoga has had such a large part in refining some of the world's best athletes?
I must say that this is the most inspiring discovery I've made yet about black yogis of yore! Reason being that basketball is something I hold near and dear to my heart and Yoga is not something you see a lot of athletes praising. On top of that, Kareem Abdul Jabbar is 7'2" and can sit in Lotus pose which may not seem like a big deal to you but Lotus is hard! Especially for those of us with longer muscles. Lotus isn't something that I've achieved just yet in my own practice but seeing this modern giant do it proves to me that I will accomplish it someday!
"Yoga is just good for you" - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar