In Michiana — March 2009
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University of Notre Dame athletes have an advantage down the stretch.

Yoga instructor Steve “Krojo” Krojniewski has been working with teams for 3½ years, providing an exercise that not only strengthens key muscles but helps the student-athletes focus on both their games and their studies.

“For athletes, it helps strength and lengthens ligaments,” he says, adding that the regimen loosens joints, strengthens muscles around joints, lengthens and strengthens hamstrings and strengthens core muscles in the lower back.

“It adds focus. The more you’re focused on your breath, the more in the moment you are. It all comes down to those important moments when you can pull something out.”

Krojo, who is certifi ed and has given private yoga instructions for 4½ years, is also a manager at Lula’s Café near campus and knows basketball coach Mike Brey.

Yoga practice for athletes was coming into vogue about the time he mentioned it to the coach, who was eager to add it to the players’ conditioning. “Phil Jackson did it with the Bulls,” Krojo says.

Now he also holds sessions for the men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, baseball and swimming teams as well as the cheerleaders.

“It came down to putting it out there,” Krojo says. “All the coaches were real quick to sign on to do it. I wish I’d had it available to me when I was that age.”

The athletes take the sessions together — about 15 basketball players, nearly 50 on the men’s lacrosse team — with at least one session a week in the off-season and whenever Krojo can squeeze into the schedule during the season. Sometimes, it’s a Sunday between basketball games on Saturday and Monday.

“They can go on the road, and if there’s not any weights for them to work with they can use yoga,” he says. “You can do it in a hotel room or a lobby. You can go down to a park and do it.

“They all really get into it. They see it as part of their training. It gives them an advantage. There’s so many benefits.”

Basketball standouts Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney agree.

“It not only relaxes you but helps reenergize your body,” Harangody says. “You use every part of your body and need to take care of it. He’s good at pointing that out.”

Yoga’s stretching can offset the tightening of muscles that can come with lifting alone as a strengthening approach, Krojo says: “It’s going to be able to give. You’re able to be more limber and move better without doing any damage to the body.”

That’s particularly good for the arms and shoulders of baseball pitchers and the legs of soccer and basketball players who must make sharp cuts on the fi eld or court.

“I feel more ready out there on the court,” McAlarney says. “It’s kind of a mind and body exercise. You pay attention to your body.”

The first athletes who took the instruction quickly came to appreciate the benefi ts of the stress-reducing addition to their workouts, and now they encourage freshmen and sophomores.

“I think when we first began doing it 3½ years ago, there was a little hesitation on some of their parts,” Krojo says. “At the end of the fi rst class, a lot of them felt a lot of benefi t from it. To me, it’s a great recruiting tool. Being a student-athlete is so challenging.”

“I really didn’t know what to expect at fi rst,” Harangody says. “He took his time with us. He was very patient. It’s been a great experience for me.”

McAlarney says he was excited to hear that the team would do off-court conditioning. Now he sometimes goes to Krojo’s other group classes in South Bend.

The breathing focus of the exercise helps improve mental concentration as well as physical skill — boosting homework performance along with athletic performance.

“The whole thing with yoga is to be in the moment,” McAlarney says. “When you do that, you kind of forget about all the stresses of academics and basketball.”

“They spend that time in the moment — very wisely,” Krojo agrees. “Hopefully, that continues through their whole life.”