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He twists top athletes into pretzels

Kent Katich shows the professionals that there's a lot to be gained by stretching to your limit -- in yoga.

January 21, 2008|Janet Cromley | Times Staff Writer

Kent Katich has spent the last 15 years twisting some of the best professional athletes in the world into yoga poses. Some still haven't forgiven him. A 20-year practitioner of yoga, he has worked with scores of NBA players, as well as all-star baseball players and top golfers. He owns a yoga studio in Westwood and a company called All Sport Yoga. He recently returned from Bora Bora, where he held a yoga retreat for NBA players.

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How does yoga help a professional athlete's game?

Yoga improves balance in the body and works the smaller muscles that normally wouldn't get worked. It also improves range of motion, whether that means swinging a golf club, throwing a baseball or shooting a basketball. It builds stamina through breath control and teaches techniques for relaxing in tense moments. Most important, yoga gives you confidence that your body will do what you want it to do when you need it to.

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Do you teach basketball players differently than you would a baseball player or golfer?

Yes. Every sport has specific physical requirements. I break down the movements the athlete has repeatedly performed and the consequence that this repetitive motion has had on the body. We then consciously rebuild the movements through yoga poses so when the athlete performs the move on the field or court, the athlete can do it effortlessly.

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What special needs do basketball players have? Are they less limber?

Generally speaking, basketball players are the least limber, and that's only because they've invested the least amount of time in the process. Every team does what I call token stretching, usually with banter between the players. Yet, basketball players seem to make the most progress when they apply themselves. Their bodies are usually long and lean and suited for yoga.

Sprained ankles are a major part of a basketball player's life. After a few sprains, the tissue, ligaments and muscles around the ankle harden, so it's really important to get these guys on the mat doing warriors, crescents, trees and half-moons to keep the feet and ankles flexible. Their feet also take a beating, and that can cause the whole skeletal structure to get out of alignment. I make them promise to sit in the hero pose (sitting on their heels) while watching ESPN.

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What poses are basketball players particularly good at? How about baseball players and golfers?

Basketball players are fairly adept at warrior one and warrior two because of their quad strength. Baseball players typically spend more time stretching than other athletes so the forward-bend pose that works the hamstrings is easier for them. Golfers undergo better conditioning now than they did a few years ago. There's more emphasis on twisting and strengthening the core. I like doing reverse triangle pose with the golfers. It improves the spine rotation.

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What are the biggest challenges basketball players face physically and mentally?

Basketball players typically lift weights but do very little shoulder and upper-back stretching, which results in restrictive movement in the upper body. So I like to work with them on down dogs because I can also get the hamstrings. Balancing poses are often difficult for them, too. The biggest mental challenge for them is the impatience that comes with the process. They are the best in the world at what they do, and practicing yoga can be [a] very humbling experience.

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janet.cromley@latimes.com

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