Typically, Jasmine Bradfield teaches yoga to people seeking spiritual solace and relaxation. These days, however, she’s tackling the Stephenson High School Varsity Football team. It’s the first time she’s had an all-male class and the 100-member team has one goal in mind – to help them be more flexible on the field.
In preparation for the 2014 season, the Jaguars have added yoga to its rigorous practice schedule this summer.
Recently, when the petite, 5’4 Bradfield stood before the team and introduced herself as its new ‘coach,’ there were snickers and whistles followed by a hushed silence.
“Initially, they were looking at me with that ‘What is she going to teach us?’ look. But by the end of the class, they were clapping. I could hear them saying amongst themselves, ‘I like this’ and ‘I hope she comes back.’ So I think it worked for them,” said Bradfield.
Yoga, which has been around for more than 5,000 years, has become increasingly popular in today’s health and fitness scene. Many practitioners tout its benefits of stress relief, improved flexibility and overall wellbeing.
Bradfield returned to teach yoga at Stephenson this summer after fellow alum and coach Michael Harper invited her to work with the football team. Harper requested her after seeing her bendy yoga selfies and inspirational quotes on social media.
“I put Jasmine on the team because I remembered her enthusiasm for football when I was a player here at Stephenson,” said Harper, who started coaching at Stephenson in Spring 2013. “She is a diehard Stephenson football fan and she has a high football IQ.
Bradfield, 24, started practicing yoga in 2007, just after graduating from high school.
“I was never athletic prior to studying yoga. I took yearbook and four years of gym,” said Bradfield. “I liked stretching and eventually, was asked by my gym instructor to lead my peers in stretching before gym class began. I did this so I wouldn’t have to dress out and to avoid taking electives.”
Bradfield said yoga also was an escape from peer pressure.
“My friends started getting pregnant and my other friends were doing social drugs and I didn’t know how not to get lost in that. I was leaving the nest and I wanted to fly straight.”
Bradfield gets paid a dollar per student to teach a 30-minute yoga session to the 100-player football team twice a week for the remainder of summer.
One student appreciated the lessons so much that he contributed $5 to help cover some of the players who didn’t bring a dollar.
“I really didn’t want to do yoga at first, but I liked when we were lying on our backs relaxing,” said rising senior Austin Sanders, who plays Center.
Stephenson’s head football Coach Ron Gartrell said corpse pose (lying down) is one of his favorite poses, too.
“One of the things we need is flexibility. I think this will help with concentration and should help us with balance.
Darren Bowes, a rising senior, was the only one who brought a yoga mat.
“They told us we couldn’t wear socks so I borrowed my mom’s mat. I see all the hall of fame players talking about yoga so I know it must be good for us,” said Bowes. “My favorite part was the relaxing part at the end because there is nothing relaxing about football.”
Harper believes that the yoga practice will pay off for the 5A Jaguars who had a 9-3 record, losing in the early rounds of playoffs last year. Stephenson had the second best record in the county behind Tucker High School, which had a 14-1 record.
“We’re always looking for that edge,” said Harper, “and I am anxious to see the change in core stability, flexibility and balance in my guys.”
Bradfield said yoga is great for athletes, especially football players.
“The poses I teach will help open their hips. As the flexibility in their hips improve, so too will their balance and stability. You have to be able to stand stable in order to take the kind of hits these guys are taking.”