49ers' Brian Jennings stays balanced
From the vantage point of San Francisco 49ers specialist Brian Jennings, every NFL player will eventually leave the game behind.
"Some people do it with their health and some people don't," Jennings said. "My goal is to play as long as I can and finish the game as healthy as I can be."
Jennings, a 12-year NFL veteran, has already carved his path to a long, healthy career. It helps that he is a long-snapper, on the field maybe a dozen times a game, the position minimizing the number of punishing hits he has taken.
But he also owes his health and career longevity to what he calls a "wellness lifestyle" that includes the practice of yoga as a major component.
"The first time I did yoga, it just felt right to me," Jennings said.
Jennings' wellness lifestyle also include massages, chiropractic care, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, nutrition and supplements.
"I do a lot of things that are considered alternative," Jennings said. "It's probably unusual being in a self-destructive business."
Jennings is 36, with a durable NFL career that goes beyond the physical. Drafted by the 49ers back in 2000, he has survived four coaching changes, hundreds of new teammates and thousands of pages of new schemes and plays. His name is on the team's 10-year wall, next to legends such as Jerry Rice and Bryant Young.
"He's seen a lot here," kicker David Akers told the San Francisco Chronicle of Jennings last year. "He's been able to experience good times and not-so-good times."
At the moment, things are very good. The 49ers are 8-3-1 in the NFC West and viewed as Super Bowl contenders after reaching the NFC Championship Game last season. Jennings was the only player left from the last 49ers team to reach the postseason, back in 2002.
Jennings is getting to the point in the long season where he is beginning to feel some yoga withdrawal. He does not practice during football.
"It feels good," Jennings said. "It clears the meridians [the paths through which the life energy known as "qi" flows, in traditional Chinese medicine] and energy systems. During the season, those get blocked and sometimes you aren't moving as fast. I need to get my body back in balance."
In the offseason, Jennings maintains his yoga fitness by attending three or four classes a month in his native Arizona. He said he will get some rest immediately and "recharge" after the season ends.
"Once I stop being tired and needing sleep, I will begin to train," Jennings said.
In 2008, he became a certified yoga instructor, substituting in classes for instructors he liked in Arizona, and once or twice in the Bay Area.
"But I lost a ton of weight doing it," Jennings said. "I didn't practice as much the next couple of years because I didn't want to lose the weight."
Jennings is a huge advocate of the benefits of yoga, including improved posture, range of motion and balance.
"I believe that if your body is working right, your mind is working right," he said.
Jennings said he practices power yoga, a fast-moving sequence of poses set to music of the instructor's choice in a room set at between 90 and 95 degrees.
"It's a traditional Ashtanga framework, but in a more fun environment," Jennings said. "Some people think it's a nontraditional approach, but I believe yoga works whether there's music or not.
"The trick is to get people to attend and do yoga poses. If music helps, play music. If people need the room to be comfortable, make it comfortable. Whatever it takes to get people on the mat. How do we capture people off treadmills and long-distance runners? How do we capture people who don't get any exercise, get them off their couches and out of their offices? To me, the most important thing is getting people to do yoga poses."
Jennings said yoga brings balance to his life, both physiologically and mentally. It has prolonged his career, improved sore shoulders, opened up his hips.
"It helps me playing football and it helps me handle situations with my wife and kids," Jennings said. "Once your body starts to release, you notice profound changes."
Jennings said he hasn't talked much about his yoga practice with teammates over the past couple of years. But yoga is part of his "long-term wellness plans." He would consider teaching again on a substitute basis.
"Yoga," Jennings said, "is definitely part of my future."