Rays add yoga to spring regimen

Rays add yoga to Spring Training regimen

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ask Don Zimmer about yoga and you will get the following reply: "Yogi Berra?"

Zimmer is a baseball lifer, so it's understandable he doesn't grasp the significance of the yoga class being conducted at the Devil Rays' camp this spring. Old school baseball thinking just doesn't lend itself to embracing said practice.

Even Carl Crawford shakes his head about the class that takes place Monday, Wednesday and Friday inside the team's weight room at the Raymond A. Naimoli Complex.

"I know the guys want to get an edge," the Rays' left fielder said. "But you've got to draw the line somewhere."

Wednesday morning, approximately 15 players took part in Dana Edison's class, twisting and stretching their bodies in all different shapes while stationed on blue mats.

In the background, the sounds of new age musician Anugama are playing while Edison looks over the players and speaks.

"Point your toes up, you're going to feel it," she said. "Remember, you want to lengthen your spine ... When you look back at your heels, you don't want to see the inside of your ankles."

Rays manager Joe Maddon did not participate. However...

"I would like to have," Maddon said. "But my schedule is kind of full in the morning. I get a coffee and a doughnut -- just kidding. ... I love it. I think it's great. I think it's going to become more of a mainstream kind of thing as we go.

"It's a great way to build up strength and stamina, flexibility and breathing. The whole thing, it's a great concept. I'd like to see our guys at least give it a try."

Maddon likened the prospect of yoga being accepted to weight lifting being accepted back in the 1970s.

"At that time, nobody wanted to do it," Maddon said. "I didn't want to do it because [we were told,] 'You're going to get muscle bound' -- like, really, I would have that particular problem."

Maddon believes the practice will eventually be accepted once a player has success on the field and credits part of that success to practicing yoga.

Edison has taught yoga to hockey, football, basketball and baseball players and teams, but the Rays are her first Major League team.

Baseball is "a high stress job as much as it is glamorous," Edison said. "It's a lot of stress to be out there on the field. Especially for pitchers, they really relate to the mental aspects of it.

"There's a lot of functional strength training that I do. I work really hard to stabilize their joints. ... I find that athletes have Ferrari engines and Tempo brakes. What I like to do is get in there and help them work those stabilizing muscles. And stabilize those joints to prevent injuries. That's one of my goals."

Ruddy Lugo tried the class Monday, and the right-hander reported being a "little sore."

"And I only did it for a half an hour," Lugo said. "I had to get out of there because it was too tough for me for the first time."

While Lugo respects the class, he said it falls into the category of this spring's new thing.

"Every year there's a new thing in baseball," Lugo said. "There will be something else next year."

Shawn Camp went to Monday's and Wednesday's sessions, and the right-hander said it was the first time he's tried yoga.

"My wife does it," Camp said. "I was so sore [Monday] night, I tried to explain to her the moves we did and couldn't do it."

Camp joked that yoga is like an advanced game of Twister, but he said it's definitely something worth trying.

"I think once you get past the initial stage of it, it's like anything else," Camp said. "You get used to it. It's good for breathing, visualizing and stretching your muscles."

Tim Corcoran observed, "it was harder than I thought." The right-hander said he could see how yoga might help him.

"My hips are so tight, I can see where that will help loosen you up," Corcoran said.

Corcoran laughed when asked if yoga is practiced where he is from in Louisiana. And what might the home folks say if they knew he had taken up yoga?

"They'll have their doubts," he said.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.