Boxers Throw Their Mats in the Ring with Yoga

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While boxing remains one of the last of the old-school sports, progressives such as Shawn Porter are exploring new ways to enhance their performance in the ring.

Walk into any boxing gym around the world and you’ll see the same stations and exercise instruments that have been a mainstay ever since the Queensberry Rules were first established. As training programs, diet regimens and supplementation have evolved in the sport, so have the workouts. One that is increasingly being experimented with is yoga.

Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Floyd Mayweather and Adrien Broner are just some of the notable fighters who are looking to find calm in the eye of the storm by partaking in the physical, mental and spiritual practice of yoga in order to improve their flow and fluidity come fight night.

Porter, the WBC World Welterweight Champion, is busy preparing for his blockbuster world title unification against undefeated IBF counterpart Errol Spence Jr. on Saturday, September 28, from Staples Center in Los Angeles. The bout headlines a PBC on FOX Sports PPV, beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.

“When you enter the ring, you have to shut off whatever else is going on and become an animal,” said Porter. “You have to still stay present in your body and in your breath, and that's what yoga teaches you. I've coached myself through yoga. I really do push myself in ways with it that most people can't.”

The two-time world champion has practiced Bikram yoga since 2013. His 90-minute sessions take place in a 110-degree sweat box. He swears by it today, saying that boxing and yoga are not counterintuitive, and that it benefits his reach, range of motion and malleability.

“One of the focal points of yoga is breathing. You can’t lose focus, or else you’ll slip. That same can be applied to a fight, and for when a big moment arises,” said Porter. “Boxing and yoga go hand in hand, but you’d never know unless you try it. I would encourage anyone to do it.”

The 31-year-old Ohio native said the more he practices yoga, the more he realizes it pays plenty of dividends mentally and physically.

“Yoga helps me get in the mindset of fights—when it gets hot, you can't quit. When it gets really, really vigorous in the fight, I know how to push through it,” he said. “In that sense, I'm dependent on yoga. In a fight, I would never allow myself to quit. So I never allow myself to quit yoga. It translates over.”

Porter incorporates yoga in his training camps, and by the time it culminates, he’s able to hold and maintain every pose, keep his composure and focus as he breathes through it all.

“I understand that there’s a level of focus and energy that needs to present. When I take deep breaths, it’s not that I’m tired,” Porter said. “I’m calming my mind, and I’m calming my heart and allowing whatever I’m experiencing to take place.”

Although Porter said using yoga during camp translates over to fight night, not all fighters practice yoga the same way.

Boxing and yoga go hand in hand, but you’d never know unless you try it. WBC World Welterweight Champion - Shawn Porter

For his July 20 matchup against Manny Pacquiao, former unified world welterweight champion Thurman skipped on yoga and instead opted for a more grounding experience with Reiki, an alternative and spiritual Japanese healing technique that promotes energy, stress reduction and relaxation.

“I'm definitely a fan of yoga. There's a lot of athletes who are fans of yoga in today's generation,” said Thurman. “Yoga has tremendous health benefits, especially in combination with meditation. It helps with your stretching, centering and focus. Yoga can help with your breathing, so I'm aware of a lot of the different ways it can be utilized.”

As beneficial as yoga may be for Thurman, for Pacquiao, he instead used a massage therapist who stretched and opened up his muscles to improve his mobility.

“I stuck with those basics and a lot of hard training. It's hard to train twice a day and find time to stretch for an hour,” said Thurman. “I like yoga. I'll participate in yoga, but I'll do it more in my offseason than when I'm in season. It's really hard for me to fit yoga into the overall regimen because I'm focused on training hard, strength and conditioning and losing weight.”

 Yoga is an overall trend that’s growing in the United States, and it’s the same for boxers. For his fight against Conor McGregor, Mayweather performed Bikram yoga, just as Adrien Broner did for his fight against Mikey Garcia. Chris Algieri and Anthony Joshua are two other notable former world champions who’ve bound their body and breath together through yoga.

Olivia Young, founder of Box + Flow, a hybrid boxing and yoga studio, said yoga makes boxers better at everything they do because it brings them better balance to their lives, and eventually, in the ring. 

“I really believe in the integration of these two sports,” said Young, who also practices pugilism at Church Street Boxing Gym in New York. “In boxing, you are exhaling with every punch, eliminating the old so you can bring in the new. Yoga is all about lengthening your muscles—boxing is contracting your muscles. Moving with your body and connecting it to your breath creates longevity.”

For now, Porter is using his platform to spread the good word. He’s already converted his father and trainer, Kenny, and older brother Kenneth Porter II into believers in yoga by having them join him along on his journey.

“Most of the time fighters think yoga is not vigorous or strenuous enough for them to try it. They don't think it will challenge them. I think it’s just a spread of misinformation through word-of-mouth,” said Porter. “As a fighter, if you’ve never experienced it, you’re more than likely never going to give it a chance. But once you realize the benefits, that’s when they start to get into it.”

For a closer look at Shawn Porter, check out his fighter page.

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