Yoga asanas and pranayama are becoming as common place as sweaty brows in the training schedules of Brisbane’s sportsmen and women.

For marathon runner Melinda Banks, Wednesday starts with vigour at 6am at South Bank Parklands with warm-up stretches and a run to get the heart pounding. In contrast, her training session ends with tranquillity and an eagle pose to restore the body’s balance. Melinda is one of an increasing number of sports enthusiasts and professional dancers turning to the ancient discipline of yoga to exercise the mind as well as the body. She first practised yoga at a ‘yoga for runners’ program offered by West End’s Core Yoga. “Since then I have continued to make big improvements in performance as a competitive runner,” she says. “My yoga practice makes it a lot easier to enjoy tough marathons particularly because it provides training balance and focus on the breath.”

Melinda’s teacher, Chanthalah Webster-Tight, has long recognised the link between the performance of the mind and the body. A former professional dancer and yogi, she is also a qualified physiotherapist. “I first realised the benefits of yoga through my nanna,” she explains. “She suffered a serious back injury in the 1930s, which resulted in part of her fibula being fused onto her spine. She practised yoga each day as a form of rehabilitation and to maintain her mobility. I reached my own understanding when I combined my dancing with yoga. My movements became more mindful and my body more resilient. My physiotherapy Masters then gave me the medical science to explain why,” Chanthalah says.

In contrast, her business and life partner Nathan Tight, who was also a professional dancer, was born to yoga, with his mother Diane Nance-Kivell opening one of Brisbane’s first dedicated yoga studios in 2000. Nathan understood from a very early age the capacity of yoga to unite the physical body and the spirit. “Yoga has guided the way I use and think about my body, be that dancing, choreographing a performance or simply crossing the street. In the same way, my teaching is focused on each muscle, each organ, and every nerve fibre, and how these contribute to the body’s activity and wellbeing,” he says.

Still dance devotees, Chanthalah and Nathan both teach within the dance department of Creative Industries at QUT, helping dance students maintain healthy bodies despite the duress of heavy dance schedules. After experiencing yoga as students, professional contemporary dancers Hannah Taylor, Cara Szabo and Cath Mullins incorporated yoga into their lives.

“A yoga class is just as important as a dance class. It works similar muscles for strengthening, flexibility and alignment but it provides [mental] balance as well,” Cath says. Additionally, many athletes opt to explore its age-old spiritual benefits as well.

Chathalah explains the use of the Aum chant at the end of classes: “While the physical exertion of the breath activates individual vocal chords and the vibration within the body massages internal organs and glands, it is the unity of sound in the room that completes our 90 minutes together and leaves us with a joyous feeling to continue the rest of our day.”

Words by Maria Ceresa  |  Images by Patrick Sherlock