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Sunday, August 29, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Steve Kelley / Times staff columnist
Some NFL players trying hot yoga classes as path to longevity


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KIRKLAND — Small rivers of sweat run down Bobby Engram's face and chest, staining his shirt as the instructor commands him to assume the first pose.

Standing in a room with the thermostat set on hell, with his heels and toes together, the Seahawk wide receiver lifts his arms toward the ceiling, inhales and bends himself into the shape of a crescent moon. He holds the position for a full minute.

The stretch is called, "half moon, forward bend, back bend," and Engram believes it and other yoga poses will help him stay healthy and prolong his NFL career.

"When I came to Seattle, I was introduced to yoga," Engram said. "It's something that I think can benefit me in my personal health, but also it can benefit me in my football."

Hot yoga is part of a offseason workout routine, suggested by the Seahawks' strength coaches. The sessions are voluntary, although some NFL teams, such as the Cincinnati Bengals, are considering making some form of yoga mandatory.

"Everybody I've ever talked to who's been through it for a significant amount of time doesn't have the little nagging injuries that people get in their normal lives," said Seahawks assistant strength coach Darren Krein. "It really is a balancing thing. It's a mental challenge and it's an injury prevention-type thing.

"It creates a heat zone kind of like when you're out there doing two-a-days. What we do in the weight room is designed to get bigger and stronger and faster. And what yoga creates is a lengthening where the muscles get back to where they normally should be."

The yoga poses are designed to make muscles less rigid and more pliable. It also teaches discipline and relaxation.

"It's ecstasy for the body," said Linda Burch, who runs Hot Yoga of Kirkland. "It brings clarity and it makes the players lean machines. I believe that if more of them tried it, the Seahawks would have fewer injuries."

In the offseason, Seahawks such as Engram, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and safety Terreal Bierria bend and stretch, breathe and detox for 90 minutes, in a steamy room that reaches 105 degrees.
 
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"It's not a calm kind of yoga at all," Engram said. "I like it because it's challenging mentally. To get in the poses and to stay in the poses, I think it's helped me in my mental strength. It just helps you focus. When you're in certain poses, if you're not focused, you're going to fall out of them."

Engram moves into the eagle posture. No it's not some pompon-shaking dance in honor of Philadelphia wideout Terrell Owens. Engram balances on one leg, squats and pretzels one leg around the other.

This isn't for every football player. Seahawk safety Ken Hamlin tried it.

"I did it one time and that's the only time I'm ever going to do it," he said.

It's hard and it's hot. And the disciplined tranquility of yoga is the opposite of the explosiveness of football.

"It's probably the toughest thing I've ever done in my life as an athlete," cornerback Ken Lucas said. "A lot of players give out. I remember the first time I went, I fell out.

"I felt bad because I was the first one to go down. We had women in there and I thought, 'I can't let these women outdo me.' I guess that was just a little male chauvinist thing. But it was hard, man."

Engram is a cerebral football player and yoga seems like something that would come naturally to him. He is the kind of player who always is looking for an edge, always looking for something else to help him grow. He didn't turn hot yoga into a competition. He looked at it as another tool to get better.

"It's made me grow in different ways," Engram said. "Physically, it's helped me open up different parts of my body that were really tight, like my hips and my hamstrings and my ankles."

For Hasselbeck, offseason Fridays were yoga days.

"You're trying to flush out all the soreness from a week of working out," he said. "You're trying to stretch through some of the scar tissue you have. It's a great workout and it gets you ready for the heat in training camp."

If they gave an award for Hawks hot yoga MVP it would go to Bierria. He is good enough to be an instructor. And it isn't mere coincidence that this summer he has had the best camp of his three-year career.

"When we first started doing it, the players thought the instructors would kind of take it easy on us," Bierria said. "But no, they came right at us and wanted us to do everything like we were years into it. It wasn't easy."

In the swelter of a yoga studio in Kirkland, Eastern practices meet the NFC West. Discerning Seahawks have been sweating to the yogis in their pursuits of longer, healthier careers.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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