How Yoga Helps Build Athletic Performance

From the Show: Talk Fitness Today
Summary: Yoga is more than just "stretching." Learn how you can use it to build up your athletic capacity.
Air Date: 12/20/17
Duration: 19:43
Host: Lisa Davis
Guest Bio: Jake Panasevich
Jake-PanasevichJake Panasevich is a yoga teacher in Philly specializing in yoga for men and office workers.

He is also a yoga trainer for professional athletes.

Listen to Jake’s recent interview on NPR. You could also learn more about Jake in his featured articles in Men’s Health, Huffington Post and U.S. News.

Visit Jake’s website at
  • Guest Facebook Account:
  • Guest Twitter Account: @yogawithjake
How Yoga Helps Build Athletic Performance
Drawing from over seven intensive trainings, Jake Panasevich threads the most beneficial practices from different modalities into a unique yoga experience for inflexible, stressed, over-worked regular Americans.

Jake is a yoga and wellness mentor and teacher to a large, committed group of beginners and advanced students alike.

He joins host Lisa Davis to discuss the following:

  • How does yoga help with athletic performance?
  • Can you build strength practicing yoga?
  • What mental benefits does yoga provide?

How Yoga Helps Build Athletic Performance with Jake Panasevich

Lisa Davis (Host): So glad you are listening to Talk Fitness Today. When I was 14 years old, my mother forced me, yes forced me, to do yoga. Now she took me to this amazing guy. He was from India. I was trained at Iyengar Yoga. He was sought out by amazing people and I was this begrudging awkward teen who just thought it was a big pain in the ass. So, for years I did not like yoga. Because it was really hard. I was skinny and awkward and weak and uncoordinated and the whole nine yards. And then I started doing it again in college and then I kind of fell off the yoga bandwagon and then when I was pregnant, I did it every day of my pregnancy and what a difference. So, my daughter is 13 now and I just started back to it. It took me a while and it’s amazing how yoga can help you build athletic performance and that’s what we are going to be talking about today and so much more with the wonderful Jake Panasevich. He is a yoga teacher in Phillie, specializing in yoga for men. Heh, Jake.

Jake Panasevich (Guest): Heh Lisa. Nice to talk to you again.

Lisa: Yeah, it is always a great time. Okay so there’s my history with yoga. Tell us yours.

Jake: Sure: I mean it’s not all that different. I was dragged to my first yoga class just completely resistant and kicking and screaming by a friend an ex-girlfriend and yeah, that first class went by very quickly and I was just confused by the end of it and, but I felt great afterwards. I felt completely relaxed. I slept better than I had ever slept, and I figured I would give it a real shot and, so I signed up for a month and then within that month, I was shocked. All the aches and pains from athletics just kind of washed away and my chronic back pain cleared and after that month, I was completely convinced there is something to this yoga stuff and the rest is history.

Lisa: That is so great and then what was it like to be a man in a yoga class at the time you went? Were there very many others or was it just you and maybe a couple or just you?

Jake: Sure, there was oftentimes just me or maybe one or two other guys in the class. There were very few guys that braved the yoga class but yeah it was definitely different. A lot of yoga teachers weren’t entirely sure how to handle me and my body when I would ask how to advance in certain poses, the answer I got frequently was “heh, these poses weren’t meant for a big dude like you.” So, it wasn’t very empowering at the time and so I made it a point to seek out other styles and different teachers, those who could kind of help me advance and really get a sense of how to work within my body which was much larger than it is now from weight lifting and sports like wrestling and yeah it just took some extra leg work I feel as a guy to really learn how to modify things and keep things safe as I progressed in my practice.

Lisa: Now speaking of yoga and styles, for somebody who is brand new to it, whether they are a man or a woman; what do they want to look for and then I would love to talk about what compliments for example if you are cyclist, if you are a runner, if you are a strength trainer, if you do some other types of fitness, what is sort of the best yoga. So, talk about some of the types and for a beginner; do you have a certain one that you would say you know what, you should start here?

Jake: Sure. So, there’s so many styles out there now. But they all kind of fall under two different branches of yoga. One is more of an Ashtanga vinyasa which is more of like a flow fast paced one breath, one movement. You are moving, in vinyasa. And then the other branch is Iyengar which is more of an alignment based style, where you slow it down, take a couple of breaths in a pose, maybe focus on a specific key action in your poses and yeah. So, the most popular style available is primarily vinyasa which is that flow, that power yoga, fast paced. Oftentimes it is heated and then there’s the more alignment based hatha classes which are often labeled as like an align and flow class which does slow it down, talk about alignment and for most beginners I would recommend starting off with the beginner series if it is available, actually. Oftentimes yoga studios will either require or offer a beginner series once a season, like four times a year and I think it is very much worth doing it just to get really clear on the basics, your foundation and what yoga really is before you jump in there head first and that’s often found in most vinyasa studios and alignment based classes as well. So, I would really seek out those beginner series, go through them before you jump into the all levels classes.

Lisa: You know Jake, it’s interesting because I think that it is so important to take that beginning class because if you don’t, if you are in some kind of flow class and they just say the posture but what if you are doing it wrong and there are a lot of people in the class and I know the teacher obviously tries to help and align everybody up but you really need to have the basics I think to make sure you are doing it correctly and then once you know some of the poses then I think it is great. Like I went back after years of not going and I went to a beginner class, but it was a little bit fast paced for me and I thought geez I might need a beginner’s beginner I mean even though I already knew the poses, and I have been doing Pilates for six years consistently. She did say that I had good form, so I’m think the Pilates must have helped with that. But I think it’s such a great compliment. So, let’s jump into this. Talk to us about how yoga helps build athletic performance and then talk to us about some specifics like I mentioned earlier, running, cycling, weight training. I mean it seems like it helps with everything. But if you have some little details you can share with us.

Jake: Yeah sure. I mean I really truly believe yoga gives you the edge that you need to optimize your fitness, and this is proven across the board from professional athletes like MBA superstar LeBron James, to your average guy just trying to stay healthy while working an office job. Yoga delivers and yoga supplements fitness through many ways; injury prevention, yoga teaches you to be fierce without losing your composure, it teaches you to stay attuned to your breath, which is paramount if you are trying to avoid injury while working in fitness and just self-awareness with that connection to your breath. The yoga really drives home alignment and form and biomechanics in a very subtle way, but it is also super accessible to the masses and it shows you how to move fluidly and use leverage and it also helps with balance, symmetry and if you are trying to recover and get back in there and work out, and give it your all, yoga helps you recover quickly and get back to your workout at your fullest potential. But I think the most beneficial component is how yoga connects you with your why. Like why you are working out, what the bigger reason is, your vision for yourself and if you are not clear on that, your fitness is going to ebb and flow and then ultimately fizzle out. And yeah, I think yoga does help build strength. It is well you known that yoga improves mobility and with any workout, you really want to move seamlessly and but yoga also it builds functional movement through body weight strength training so all those pushups you do, the chaturangas, all the lunges, the warriors, and in every pose you are engaging your core and building those stabilizer muscles through the balancing poses and so it does help build strength and it also helps to complement any sort of strength training you are working on.

Lisa: Well, you know, it’s interesting because whenever I see someone with really kick ass arms like super lean, long beautiful muscles, I always ask do you do yoga. For example, I was picking up my daughter yesterday and we want to get there early so you are not waiting in line forever and there was this woman standing outside her car. I always get out of my car, walk around and we started talking and I said you do yoga, right and she said oh yeah and I was like damn, like her arms were just beautiful and my husband does yoga and he is tall and lean and he has these wonderful long lean muscles and beautiful triceps and I mean to me it depends on what you are looking for but you can get an incredible definition through yoga. That’s why I want to do it again. And to get clear on my why of course, and to breathe and be mindful, but I mostly just want yoga arms. Okay everyone, I’m super official, no I’m not. Well I am a little. I just want my yoga arms.

Jake: Gotta look hot in the hot pants like they say, you got to.

Lisa: Yeah, I’m trying. That’s why I have got to do more yoga.

Jake: It totally tones up your body. It really does. Like in a different way like you said, like I feel like it really leans you out, I mean which I, I mean, I really needed because I was like a rock otherwise.

Lisa: So what did you do before yoga? Were you athletic at all before? Were you doing other types of exercise? Or was this sort of like okay time to exercise, let’s try this? Begrudgingly, as you mentioned.

Jake: No, from the time I was really young six years old all the way through college, I wrestled primarily so I was a wrestler and I don’t know if you know any wrestlers, but I mean short, stocky like kind of like little gorillas and so yeah, I was a wrestler. I played soccer. I loved soccer, but my body was way more built for the wrestling type. So, yeah, I wrestled my whole life pretty much and to compliment that, I also lifted a lot of weights, did all kinds of training for wrestling and yeah yoga really – I was shocked within the first six months or so, I thought I was going to lose all my strength and all my kind of muscle that I had built through wrestling in strength training and it was really just a great way – like I leaned out, like I looked more like a fighter, like I looked more toned and more ripped than I did like bulky and awkward.

Lisa: Oh, that’s nice. Now let’s talk a little bit about yoga for men because my husband was saying. He goes when I go to yoga classes around here I’m the only guy, so he does it at home. He is so, gosh he is so disciplined. He gets up at 4:30 in the morning. He writes because he writes horror fiction novels, he does his yoga, he does his meditation, which is why he is always so much calmer than I am. He is so happy I’m doing yoga again, he goes hon, you need it so bad. Oh my gosh I’m so happy you are doing yoga again. But anyway, but when we used to live Santa Cruz. Well Santa Cruz is like yoga studios on every corner, health food stores on every corner, it is like hip and fun and so there was always lots of men, so I’m assuming most places are not like Santa Cruz. So, my point is, for guys you feel a little intimidated, if they can’t find a cool gym like yours that is yoga for men; what do you advise for them to just go and learn it in the class and they can always do it on their own or just get used to being with a bunch of cool women or whatever works?

Jake: Sure. Yeah, I mean if you are willing to I think there is probably more support to be in a room of all women when you are more single. I have noticed from teaching the guys classes, we get way more support from their significant others because it is all guys. It’s like go, go with these guys. So, if there is not a men’s class available like a men’s specific class, I really recommend doing some leg work, so get on the internet, look up the local studios and search out some of these guy teachers. They are out there. There’s not many but there is usually one in every location I have been to and I think it’s worth going to the guy teacher and if you can get more specific look for the male teacher who has got a similar history as you do. So, if you are an athlete get in to the studio’s website and read the bios of the teachers and really seek out teachers that have had a similar history as you did. And that’s a little bit of extra work but it really helps. If you go to a yoga class with a twenty something year old girl who is also a professional dancer who could already put her foot behind her head, it’s a little bit discouraging at first at least and it’s also like they don’t really understand what it’s like not being able to touch your knees when you bow forward like, so you really want to find somebody who is similar to you, who has got the same kind of challenges you do. So, I would say, do the leg work, find the guy teacher and preferably the guy who has had a similar history as you did.

Lisa: Oh, that’s great. You know I mentioned earlier, yoga for runners and I think what is so great about that is it really helps with the flexibility, right and I think that goes for a lot of your strength training, if you are doing a lot of different types of athletics you get really tight and there is that wonderful stretching component that goes with the strengthening, if you can touch on that.

Jake: Sure. Yeah yoga I mean is so great for running. I have one class I teach that as soon as it is running season, it just fills up. Because yoga is great at stretching your hamstrings, your IT bands, your quads all the trouble areas for runners and if you are running super tight, it is especially difficult on your knee joints. So, if your IT bands are super tight it just creates more torque every time you run, every time you step and after even just a month of yoga, we really start to work out some of those kinks and stretch all sides of the legs so that you are running more fluidly, more pain free and there is also just the focus on the breath that is great for running and any kind of cardio. Like it trains you to breathe more effectively and in yoga you are asked to be aware of your breath at all times and so the breathing technique you use really demands a consciously deep breath and when you are struggling for breath while you are running, it could affect your entire stride. It can affect your entire performance because you are breathing awkwardly, or choppy and so yoga also has that benefit to it too for runners.

Lisa: That is awesome. You know we just have a few minutes left, Jake. Tell us a little bit about your studio.

Jake: I’m sorry?

Lisa: Tell us about your studio where you do yoga for men.

Jake: Sure. So, I teach at not a studio actually. I teach the men’s classes at a gentleman’s church in Philadelphia.

Lisa: Oh cool.

Jake: Yeah, so it’s really awesome because it’s a space that is their own. It is a guy who own this church and he renovated the whole thing. It’s super awesome and he has opened his doors for us and it is a group of upwards to 100 guys that show up for the class now and yeah, my men’s classes are there in Phillie and yeah I do teach at a studio and anyone can go including women and that studio is in Center City Philadelphia. It is called Maha Yoga.

Lisa: Oh cool. Well this was super fun Jake. I always love having you on. Tell us all the ways that we can learn more about you and all the great work you are doing.

Jake: Yeah sure, so I’m on social media and that is where I tend to be most responsive and I tend to keep it more up to date on Twitter and on Instagram it is Yoga with Jake. My website is and I’m planning to run a men series, a beginner’s men’s series here in Philadelphia and that’s coming up. We are shooting for the winter for that series. And yeah, I’m always writing for the US News about yoga. You can find all those articles posted on my social media. If you ever want to learn more about yoga for free, you can find it there and yeah, that’s where I’m at.

Lisa: That is great. Jake, I want to thank you and I want to thank everyone for listening to Talk Fitness Today. you can check us out on social media I am healthmediagal1 and you can also check us out on let’s see, talkfitness2day on Twitter and Snapchat and Talk Fitness Today podcast and I’m so glad you are listening. Get out there. Do some yoga. Get those sexy yoga arms going. Take care. Stay well.
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