Ryan Giggs and his debt to yoga
Hatha yoga has balmed those hamstring injuries and prolonged his glittering career
Barney Ronay, The Guardian, 15 December 2009
Thirty-six and still going strong . . . Ryan Giggs in full flow against West Ham. Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images
When the 36-year-old Manchester United player Ryan Giggs was voted BBC sports personality of the year on Sunday night he accepted the trophy with the usual mumbled thank-yous, but stopped short of a special mention for his personal Hatha yoga instructor – a gentle discipline that has often been credited as the catalyst behind Giggs' longevity as a top-class footballer.
Giggs started practicing yoga in 2003. Then he was a 31-year-old reformed good-time boy with dodgy hamstrings. "The first time I did it I was completely knackered," he said last year. "I went home from the training ground and slept for three hours."
This is the thing about yoga, which, to the uninitiated, could look like no more than a series of variations on the notion of lying down in a tracksuit. "There is this perception that yoga is a gentle thing but it has many levels," says Nita Shah, a Hatha Yoga instructor in north London. "In yoga we mobilise all the joints, making the muscle supple as well as leaner."
For Giggs yoga has proved a balm for those persistent hamstring injuries, prolonging a career that has now taken on an unusual reverse trajectory: a player who with age has suffered less rather than more with injuries, and who in 2008 surpassed Bobby Charlton's long-standing United record of 758 appearances.
Perhaps yoga has had other benefits too. One pre-yoga attempt to soothe the Giggs hamstring involved trading in his Ferrari for a car with a slightly smoother clutch pedal. This gives us a glimpse of a previous model Giggs, the tyro teenager who dated Dani Behr and was very briefly caught up in a welter of – in truth – rather mild celebrity behaviour.
Could yoga also be a driving force behind his current air of furrowed and spiritual wellbeing, a burgeoning status as an extremely bendy millionaire Premier League Yoda? Maybe, but also maybe not. Shah points out that yoga demands "great willpower and great inner focus". Giggs himself has described it as "just stretching really".
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