Mitch Madl, 15, grew up playing all kinds of sports: basketball, football, soccer and wrestling. Then, last fall, while playing football, he was hit during a game and developed a pain in his lower back that wouldn’t go away.
Madl went for months unaware that he had a condition known as spondylolisthesis. At some point he fractured his spine, and one of the vertebra had slipped out of place. The doctor told him that his football injury had inflamed it and that he needed to refrain from many of his activities.
Being sidelined has been tough for him.
“I can’t play any contact sports right now,” Madl says. “They told me I had to quit my baseball team, too.”
While his doctor restricted his involvement in contact sports for the time being, at his last appointment, the orthopedist told him that he could swim and do yoga.
“Yoga makes me feel a ton better,” Madl says.
So this summer, in addition to helping his father on their farm outside of Baldwin, he has added yoga classes 3-4 days a week.
Madl is hopeful that when he enters Baldwin High School next fall as a freshman, he’ll be able to participate in his old activities.
“I want to get back to those sports again,” he says. “And be without pain.”
Fortunately for Mitch, he found a style of yoga that suited him.
“I think the biggest misconception among teens and adults is that yoga is boring,” says exercise physiologist Kathleen Kastner, who has been teaching yoga for nine years and is owner of Maya Yoga in Kansas City, Mo. “People who like to be challenged and work hard tend to migrate towards asthanga, power and vinyasa yoga.
“I think practicing yoga for teens is extremely important because it helps complement traditional workouts and sports by elongating their muscles and giving [teenagers] increased flexibility and freedom in their bodies,” Kastner says. “The teenagers who come to my classes are usually extremely tight from their sport of choice and have very little flexibility and range of motion. It’s almost scary!”
This message seems to have made its way to at least one of the area coaches.
Last summer, Free State head soccer coach Kelly Barah incorporated yoga into the men’s soccer practice regimen. Classes for the women’s team were added a couple months later.
“Coach Barah is pretty in-tune with cross-training athletes,” says Lawrence resident Tami Keasling, who taught the classes. “He has been very open and encouraging of my involvement,” noting that there were no problems with ACL injuries for anyone on the women’s team this season.
“I would like to take credit for that!” she jokes.
A message Keasling relays to her students is that they should never compare themselves with anyone else in the room.
“It is not what your neighbor and friend is doing,” she says. “So many things impact our ability to do a certain pose — how we feel today, what happened at school yesterday, how much sleep we got, injuries...
“The breathing techniques we incorporate into yoga can help calm a teenager who is stressed about a game, a test, a girlfriend, or a boyfriend,” Keasling says.
One area teen who has experienced the calming effects of practicing yoga is Katherine Marshall-Kramer, 15.
“I know it’s good for me. I’m calmer, and I can handle myself better when I am practicing regularly,” she says.
“I can always tell when I’m not practicing yoga enough. I get moody, and my knee starts hurting,” says Marshall-Kramer, who has been practicing on and off since she was 4.
When she was 11, she began competing for titles.
Many might find “yoga” paired with “competition” to be incongruent, but for Katherine’s mother, Elizabeth Marshall, owner of Bikram Yoga Lawrence, there is no inconsistency.
“You’re competing with yourself,” Marshall says. “The training for the competitions is a relatively short amount of time, so it’s good for young people to have a goal and find out what they can accomplish in a short amount of time.”
An additional benefit to the competitions is the confidence they instill.
“The competitions are the only time I like being on stage,” Marshall-Kramer says. “I was so afraid that first year. I was a nervous wreck! But the people at the judge’s table were just smiling.”
Marshall-Kramer competed in March in the U.S. Yoga Federations Yoga Asana Championship, where she won the silver medal and the right to compete in the International Championships, which were this weekend in Los Angeles.
“It’s hard for someone who doesn’t practice yoga to grasp the magnitude of what a little movement combined with deep breathing and stillness can do for a person,” Kastner says. “But it truly can work miracles in people’s lives.”