Elijah Okoye ’19 uses his passion for yoga to fuel his baseball performance

Okoye and his yoga instructor Bettina Bhavani Neumann perform a pose during the ceremony for Okoye to become an instructor at the Integral Yoga Community Center. photo courtesy of Elijah Okoye

Okoye and his yoga instructor Bettina Bhavani Neumann perform a pose during the ceremony for Okoye to become an instructor at the Integral Yoga Community Center.
photo courtesy of Elijah Okoye

After a long day of classes, tests, and plenty of assigned homework, pitcher Elijah Okoye ’19 stands on the mound, baseball in his hand, with his only thoughts on the next three pitches.

“Strike 1!”
“Strike 2!”
“Strike 3!”

How can Okoye maintain such focus during the game? His answer: yoga.

Okoye’s career in yoga was inspired by his mom. When she became a teacher at the Princeton Integral Yoga Community Center in the summer of his eighth grade year, he began to take classes there. When the IYCC offered a class to train new yoga instructors last January, he signed up.

“[My mom] convinced me to start thinking about it. I had taken a little yoga, and when the [class] came out, I said, ‘Why not?’”

He then became a certified instructor, currently teaching a new “Teens Only” class at the IYCC, and plans to use his newfound knowledge to benefit and improve the performance of the baseball team.

“A lot of the flexibility helps. I’ve been a lot more flexible and limber after taking the class … I know there are a some really good stretches for the spine, like sun salutations, that, [to] the team, would be really helpful for avoiding injury.”

The aforementioned benefit of focus originates from meditation, a component of yoga.

“I think doing meditation before every game is really helpful to clear your mind, because you come straight from school, and your mind is clouded with academics. Quick meditation, for one or two minutes, would help to clear your mind.”

Okoye has introduced some of these practices to some of his team members, including Zack Yoelson-Angeline ’18 and John Girouard ’18.

“I actually really enjoyed it. We all thought it was really fun to do. It was something a little unorthodox, something we never tried before,” Yoelson said.

Yoelson, who had no experience with yoga before, has already felt some of the benefits that Okoye cites after only a few sessions.

“Baseball is a very mental game,” Yoelson said. “You have to go in with the proper mindset. And I feel like yoga, in a way, helps you get in that…mindset. It makes you more mentally prepared to go out and perform.”

As a result of his experiences, he plans to make yoga a regular part of his routine.

“I’m definitely going to take it to my club team, and I’m definitely going to make it my pre-game [routine].”

As for routines for the rest of the team, Head Coach David Roberts and the baseball team have already incorporated parts of yoga into the stretching exercises at practice. However, Roberts still emphasizes the need for core baseball routines and exercises as well.

“For flexibility, it helps, and for focus purposes [as well], but for baseball and [similar] sports, yoga’s not going to help you hit a curveball.”

As for the prospect of Okoye leading a class for the baseball team, Roberts remains optimistic that he will get the chance next season.

“Time is so short, and what I tried to tell [Okoye] was a good time would be when it’s a rainy day and we’ve been in the gym for a while. Unfortunately, he didn’t approach me [about] it until we were in the middle of the regular season, where for so many days in a row, we play so many games. Now, knowing his interest, next year, when it’s a rainy day … I definitely think him leading a yoga session would help.”

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