Sports superstars across the world are incorporating something called “Joga” into their fitness programs. Here’s why.
Jana Webb counts members of the Toronto Blue Jays, other top MLB players, a few Toronto Raptors, the Toronto Argonauts, and a collection of high-profile NHLers among her clientele. She travels the globe to provide consultations and conduct instructional sessions of Joga, a specialized form of yoga designed and tailored specifically for the needs of high-performance athletes. For Webb, the path that has led her to training some of the biggest stars in sports has been an organic one, born out of a personal need that has now evolved into a thriving business.
Playing competitive hockey, ringette, volleyball, and basketball growing up, Webb possesses a typical athlete’s mentality — she’s focused, driven, and goal-oriented. After being involved in a car accident that left her with chronic pain, she turned to conventional yoga as a rehab modality. But while the breathing and meditation techniques that she learned proved effective in dealing with pain, Webb found that other yoga techniques were not as useful for her athletic body type.
“Although I liked the idea of it being non-competitive and not having to worry about throwing a ball or making a play, what I didn’t like about yoga was how my body felt afterwards,” Webb says. “I have such a tight body and the traditional yoga practice is designed for a very flexible body.”
The experience inspired her to do something about it. Webb travelled to Japan, where she spent a year completing her teacher training. The form of training was called Ishta, which means personalized or individualized. It led her to realize everyone’s body is structurally different and that traditional forms of yoga were not universally effective.
Once back in Canada, Webb was hired by Innovative Fitness, a company owned by former Calgary Stampeders receiver and 1998 Most Outstanding Canadian Vince Danielsen. Through that connection, she eventually began working with the Stampeders, and tailoring her programs in a way that served each player as efficiently as possible.
“I saw that conventional yoga wasn’t going to work for these bigger guys,” Webb recalls. “Those static positions kill their bodies — traditional tree postures and things that require so much mobility were not doing it. I literally just started to change the practice to meet their needs, which were different movements and postures I observed while watching their sport.”
Over the course of two years, Webb followed up with players after sessions to garner feedback on the effectiveness of her programs. She didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the genesis of Joga, a program specifically designed for an athlete’s body.
In 2010, it was Henry Burris, one of Webb’s first clients and just recently the winner of the CFL’s 2015 Most Outstanding Player at age 40, who first told her she was on to something.
“Henry and I were sitting in my yoga studio at the time and he said, ‘Jana, you have to call this something.’ He had won the MOP that year and attributed it all to Joga,” says Webb. “He said his breathing changed, and everything changed for his body. He said he trained his body in a way he had never learned how to before. Jana’s my name, and it’s tailored for jocks, so it kind of naturally became Joga.”
So what exactly is Joga? Webb puts it simply: “The design of the program is to convert the weaknesses of the athletic body into strengths.”
The real value in the program, though, is seen in its ability to identify weaknesses of the participant so that specific attention can be focused on those areas, which, in turn, leads to more effcient and successful workouts in the gym. By refining and optimizing body mechanics, when it comes time to lift weights, doing so with proper form yields better results.
“I always explain it like you are taking your car to a mechanic and you find out maybe you just need an oil change or maybe there’s a screw loose on the back axel that’s causing the tires to wiggle,” Webb says. “That’s what Joga does. It’s a system that assesses the body, and so what athletes have said to me is that they feel their body mechanics are working better. And if their body mechanics are working better and they’re working in proper form, then guess what? They get a better result in the gym with their strength and conditioning coach. When we work on deep flexion in the knees and the hips, for example, actually working through their range of motion, they get a better squat, which means they get more power, which leads to better performance in their sport. The second part is the breathing part. We teach athletes not only how to use their breath for sleep, rest, and relaxation, but also how to use their breathing and their core together.”
When she first started practising yoga, Webb found the process boring. For elite athletes with countless obligations, time is precious. They aren’t going to spend an hour doing something that’s boring, especially if it does not yield immediate results. Moreover, Joga techniques have been developed with the utmost concern for safety in mind.
The last thing an elite athlete wants is to do more harm than good to their body.
“Joga is a foundational piece of fitness,”
“We teach you how to move your body properly within your limitations so you’re not overextending yourself. The system is designed in such a way that you cannot hurt yourself doing it.”
For Patrick Patterson of the Toronto Raptors, when he first began training with Webb, he had never done yoga of any kind before.
“The first session was definitely intense,” he recalls. “It was tough. Up until then, the amount of stretching I’d ever done was on my own with a foam roller or just having the team trainer stretching me. Jana said she’d take it easy on me and build up slow, but even that, within the first 15 minutes, I’m drenched in sweat, and my legs and shoulders are shaking. We had a 45-minute session and stretched afterwards. I had a game the next day and my body felt amazing.”
Very quickly, Patterson began to notice the impact of the sessions with positive results on the court. It’s left him a firm believer in the benefits Joga can offer to elite athletes.
“When you come off the bench, you tend to get cold. The starters go right into the game from warm-ups. Everyone on the bench is using heat packs, using rubber bands to try to stay loose and stay warm. After working with her, my body felt warm automatically. When I got into the game, I was able to jump, I was able to move, I was able to run for long periods of time without getting tired, and my muscles, shoulders, lower back, hamstrings, and all of that just felt good. I have tight hamstrings and a tight lower back, but after working with her, I’ve had no discomfort, no pain, and I just feel pretty good out there on the court.”
Now, with 13 years of experience teaching yoga, seven years’ worth of design and development into the Joga program, and five years into the brand’s existence, Joga is thriving. There are over 250 Joga certified instructors across Canada, and recently, the programs have started to be offered in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix in the United States. For Webb, the ability to help others interested in the fitness profession find work is as much a passion as Joga itself.
The success of the brand, as Webb is keenly aware, depends on its reputation among athletes and others in the fitness community. As a result, candidates are rigorously assessed to ensure they are capable of upholding Joga’s impressive reputation.
“We only recruit people who have a lot of experience, because, to work on the body of someone who makes $25 million a year, you need to know what you’re doing,” she says. “We take it very seriously. Not just any Tom, Dick, or Harry can teach Joga. It needs to be managed; we have quality control and strict standards within the company.”
But, even if you aren’t training to win the NBA Championships or a Stanley Cup, and even if you haven’t been named an MOP or you don’t have a lucrative, long-term contract to play for the Toronto Raptors, it doesn’t mean Joga isn’t for you. At the core of the techniques, it’s just about trying to stay healthy. Webb trains people who play hockey once a week, volleyball on the weekends, CrossFit athletes, and even those who also practise conventional yoga.
“It’s basically a program for everyone who wants to be fit, everyone who wants to feel good about their body, and everyone who wants to be healthy,” Patterson says. “It’s just all about your body being strong and your physique being good. Everyone needs that — everyone needs to have a strong physique, a strong core, and good mobility and flexibility. Athletes need all that, but even average, everyday people who don’t play sports on a regular basis can still benefit from it. They’ll wake up energized every day, not fatigued, not tired, and ready to take on the day feeling great.”
“We’re just trying to make you move better and feel better, because, if you move better and feel better, you make better eating choices, you sleep better, and you have less stress,” adds Webb. “Just by moving in general and breathing with proper posture, you’re able to syndicate all the systems of your body so that you’re a better human being from the inside out.”