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Shavasana and Shootin’ Hoops: Men’s basketball team poses unexpected lesson to GroupX yoga instructor

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The men's basketball team is guided through a yoga flow, a series of poses that synthesize for a unified purpose in the body

The men's basketball team is guided through a yoga flow, a series of poses that synthesize for a unified purpose in the body

The men's basketball team is guided through a yoga flow, a series of poses that synthesize for a unified purpose in the body

Gabrielle Wilkosz

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When GroupX yoga instructor Betsy McKinney was asked to take on a special section of yoga with the St. Edward’s men’s basketball team, she expected to teach. Instead, McKinney said, she was the one who learned.

For five weeks during their pre-season starting Sept. 5, the young men lined up in two rows on the paneled wood floor of the Alumni Gym every Tuesday for yoga lessons.

Some tall, some lanky, the men’s basketball team shared a commitment to their craft like McKinney, who earned a certificate in yoga instruction last July. She devoted the month before her senior year to 12-hour-long workshops, 5 days a week at Black Swan Yoga. Teaching the men’s basketball team would put her knowledge to the test and prepare the team for their season.

“It was interesting to see people who are very strong with their area of expertise struggle with something like yoga, which is new to them,” McKinney said. “It’s the same with me, too. I’m strong in a yoga sense, but if someone threw me a basketball, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

McKinney was given instructions by the men’s basketball coach to focus on “sculpting and strengthening” —  a deviation from McKinney’s personal norm. The senior English Writing and Rhetoric major said she was used to more stretching-focused, relaxed flows.

“I had to find a way to challenge these players who were already so strong,” she said.

Sophomore Dorian Lopez, one of 15 members on the team, is a transfer student from Oklahoma Christian University in his first semester at St. Edward’s. Lopez said that when he first heard his coach announce that the team would practice yoga once a week, he liked the idea “a lot.”

“I’ve always wanted to do yoga and never had the opportunity,” Lopez said. “It was good for our team to get our bodies right. Our bodies just hurt the whole time, but it was a good type of ache.”

Though the St. Edward’s men’s basketball team has teamed up with yoga instructors in weekly workshops during previous semesters, for both McKinney and Lopez, combining basketball and yoga was a first.

“[The team] tried to focus as much as possible,” Lopez said. “It was in and out because not all of us could get every position. You would hear a bunch of ‘ows’ and ‘that hurts’ and ‘I don’t bend that way.’ It was a lot of fun.”

McKinney said that throughout the classes, the team made yoga their own, bringing with them a sense of camaraderie and family-like connectedness.

“They’re your quintessential team — they like to sing and punch each other,” McKinney said. “They mess with each other, it’s really sweet.”

Because of this, the GroupX instructor said her experience teaching yoga to the men’s basketball team changed her preconceived notions of yoga and enlightened her beliefs on yoga was.

“The most important thing is that my definition of yoga has been greatly expanded, which was helpful for me,” McKinney said. “I feel like I came in thinking, ‘They don’t even know what yoga is.’”

“To me, yoga is serious,” McKinney said. “But teaching boys who have no utterance for reverence or peace and calm made yoga into something else altogether. They play sports, so they’re used to roughing it and playing hard. Meanwhile, yoga is more about mind-body connection. The experience showed me that yoga really can be anything for anyone.”

For now, the basketball team’s yoga classes have ended as the team prepares for their first home game on Nov. 14 against Southwestern University. At GroupX, McKinney continues to teach three sections of yoga Monday, Wednesday and Friday, open to those with the $30 GroupX pass. But for McKinney, the team won’t be easily forgotten.

“They called Shavasana (a pose where one lays flat on their back) nap time. They didn’t know they weren’t supposed to wear socks. They were so funny and sweet,” McKinney said.

Lopez said he feels similarly, noting that at the end of the say, basketball and yoga are the same with balance, stability, having to use your core and breathing.

“Differences? Not many differences,” Lopez said. “Basketball has more contact. Yoga is more on-your-own freelance stretching. I like to hit people, not trying to sound aggressive, but it’s fun. I guess it was cool having my own type of energy — chakra.”

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Shavasana and Shootin’ Hoops: Men’s basketball team poses unexpected lesson to GroupX yoga instructor