There seems to be a trend these days—over the past few years, actually—of basketball players embracing yoga. The stars like Blake Griffin, LeBron James and Kevin Love (who you can see doing some poses in the video up top) integrated yoga into their lifestyles, and it’s affected their game in nothing but an absolute positive fashion.

Kent Katich, an esteemed yoga instructor who works with Love and a number of other athletes, provided SLAM with some insight as to what exactly yoga is, its stereotypes versus its reality, and how it can help basketball players of all levels improve their game. For yoga workouts tailored for athletes, head to gameonyoga.com.

SLAM: Can you explain a little about yoga itself? What exactly does it entail, what are its goals?

Kent Katich: In my opinion, yoga is a way to connect with yourself, to become more aware. It entails stretching, breathing, really getting in touch with your body, and really understanding what your limitations are. From a physical level, it’s stretching and breathing. From an emotional level, it’s an inner awareness as to how you’re operating, what you may be feeling internally. That’s the basics.

SLAM: Very cool. Why might someone want to pick it up?

KK: We all, as we age or as we try to improve ourselves, we run across challenges whether it’s an injury or whether it’s from a biological standpoint of your genetic makeup. We have to learn how our body works, and the way to do that is putting yourself in challenging positions and at the same time staying calm, learning composure and how to breathe properly.

For me, I wanted to keep improving. I knew as I was aging, the body starts to break down, and my goal has always been to have longevity. I don’t think people can always rely on other types of conditioning such as running and lifting weights. I think at some point you have to integrate the practice of yoga because it’s a very diverse practice. From doing restorative practices to very physically demanding, to learning balance to correct any deficiencies that you may be having—even if you’re not an athlete—I think it gets you more in tune with who you are.

SLAM: What is it about yoga that would make it especially useful for a basketball player? How have you seen it affect Kevin Love’s game and help him become better?

KK: I’ve been working with Kevin for at least six years now, and the way I have seen it change him is he’s taken a keener interest in his own development. He’s taken responsibility for what his body and mind has to do in order to compete at a high level and to succeed. He’s gotten more in tune with his diet, he’s lost weight, he’s lost body fat, he’s become more flexible, he’s become more mobile, he’s become stronger. He has become more in tune with his cardiovascular—even as far as his breathing patterns and mind patterns. It’s an overall development, and a person has to embrace the idea, and then they have to commit to the practice. Then they have to be persistent, and they have to be consistent. That is something he has done, and I think he has shown that in his development in the League.

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SLAM: Do you think yoga is something a lot more players will look into to help their bodies and minds while they’re playing and make their careers last longer? Or do you think it’s still going to be a slow transition?

KK: Ten years ago, it was sort of bubbling. Five years ago, it accelerated. I think right now, most of the skepticism is gone. Individuals such as Kevin, Blake and LeBron—they are role models, and they’re showing people, “Maybe what you thought [yoga] to be…isn’t that.” I entered the practice the same way. I didn’t necessarily know what it was, and it took me time to explore it, to grow into it. But I knew there was something there, I just had to find it. I think these athletes are changing the perceptions of what [yoga] is, and that’s going to accelerate and process much, much faster.

SLAM: It’s really interesting how yoga’s been brewing among pro ballers for so long.

KK: Here’s the thing—it’s been brewing, but no one put it on the front burner. I also worked with Giancarlo Stanton, he’s 6-5, 240. For a young 25-year-old that is being called the most powerful man in the history of baseball, for him to embrace yoga and to demonstrate it and to be a face to what the practice can be—it speaks volumes. When I enlisted [Love, Stanton] and said, “Let’s see if we can make a huge impact instead of a dent,” they were all on board. They get it. They know what it’s done for them, and they see its benefits. Everybody is sort of taking off the mask…and [realizing] it’s something we can all benefit from. I think we need to share it with people that may have a little apprehension. What was once perceived as being too feminine, I think that’s going away.

SLAM: Finding out all these big guys like Love, Griffin and LeBron are embracing yoga despite the unfortunate stereotypes is definitely cool.

KK: You can put the message out there…and it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s true. But if you put it out there enough, people begin to believe it. [Marketers] put out this image, people started to see it, and that’s the image they bought into. I say that’s not an accurate image…you’re missing out on hundreds of millions of other people that don’t necessarily fit that stereotype. Kevin Love is not wearing tights, and he’s not chanting. I think all these athletes are really contributing in a huge, huge way to totally, radically change the concept. They’re instrumental in shifting our take on this particular practice.

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SLAM: Have you met anybody that was really against the idea of doing yoga, and then changed their mind? With any athletes, did you see that happen to them?

KK: Yeah absolutely, most. The agents of these young men will steer them toward me. and the guys they’re doubtful. They’re apprehensive, and they have the same false perceptions that we’re speaking of. Once they come in, they see I’m not unlike them. Once I put them through a practice, they realize it’s not what they thought. At that point, it’s up to them to want to…integrate it into their lives. The challenge everybody has in life is to continue something. If you know eating french fries is not the best thing for you, well, if you keep eating them you’re just doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing. That’s the decision you make. If you have a positive experience in a yoga session and you choose not to do it, that’s just the choice you make. The athletes that I mentioned have incredible work ethic, and that’s why they are where they are.

SLAM: Right, even before they were to take on practicing yoga, you already knew they had that character.

KK: That’s the easiest part for me! I know they’re incredibly disciplined and they have incredible work ethic. That’s already working in my favor when they come in. After that, it’s just introducing them to a new way.

SLAM: When you’re talking about working with different athletes, is your focus only the physical aspect of yoga? Or do you tie in some of the other lessons?

KK: I start with the physical because that’s what they’re familiar with. If something is going on in their bodies, we have to address it. Ultimately though when I work with guys if it’s long enough, it evolves into a little more mental, a little more emotional, a little more spiritual if you will.

SLAM: That’s cool, it makes it different from your regular workout. It’s pulling together everything.

KK: Yeah definitely, it’s more than just biomechanics. There’s layers to it.

SLAM: To bring this back to basketball, what would your advice be to anyone involved with basketball—what should they do if they want to start?

KK: My first suggestion is to try everything, and be open-minded. Explore. Go to a class with your mom, and then go to a class with a friend. Watch a DVD, try doing something alone, read a book. Gather as much knowledge as you can, and apply it. Knowledge is power, and if you want it, it’s there. It’s easy to find. Don’t be afraid of what you think it is. That’s the message I wanted to put out with Kevin Love: It’s doable. Don’t limit your thinking, it’s doable.