Dripping sweat and chugging water in the lobby of the Blissful Spirits Hot Yoga studios in northeast Albuquerque last month, Anthony Mathis said he had found a new love — or at least a new appreciation — for the wonders of yoga.
Entering his junior year with the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team — one that almost didn’t happen as he had planned to transfer before the hiring of head coach Paul Weir changed his mind — Mathis had tried yoga in eighth grade and “didn’t like it at all.”
Now, as he’s trying to break through from the role of deep reserve into regular contributor for the Lobos, Mathis is thankful a return trip to the 105-degree studios of Blissful Spirits was part of the team’s offseason regimen.
“Personally, for me, this hot yoga helps a lot because it helps with the flexibility, and I’m kind of stiff in the hips,” said Mathis, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Oregon. “And it’s something we all get to do together. … I think it’s all good just to change things up around here, but it’s all with real specific reasons to help us be better players and a better team, too.”
The increased flexibility and recovery time benefits the hot yoga brings is a big reason it was a mandatory offseason ritual for the Lobos — and just another of many changes Weir has implemented since being hired in April.
More than physical
The changes aren’t just about the physical aspects of the game or specific on-court strategies. Those who know Weir would tell you his approach is probably every bit as much about building the mental and spiritual aspects of a player and team as anything else.
He places inspirational quotes around the locker room and basketball offices. He wants his team to meditate. He sometimes asks people what book they’ve read lately. He wants those around him to continue to learn and tries to set an example. Weir has four degrees and is working on his dissertation for his first doctorate.
Weir is exploring purchasing sleep pods for his players. Each morning, players down protein shakes or smoothies specific to their needs or what the team is trying to do on that day.
“The physical endurance that they’re about to go through with this (up-tempo style of play the Lobos will use this season), they need that kind of cleansing of the mind,” Weir said. “Just getting a healthy mind and body is very important for them to get out and compete the way we want them to compete. …
“Part of the increased workload that we’re asking these guys to do also requires them to start really taking care of their bodies. That’s what I told them the first day that I got here: ‘What we’re going to put your bodies through is only going to work if you start treating your bodies properly from a nutrition standpoint, a sleep standpoint and a recovery standpoint.'”
And the hot yoga helps in another way, he believes.
“It’s also some time just to relax, clear the mind. The phones are off. You can breath. Things kids today just don’t get a lot of,” said Weir.
With those kids-these-days in mind, such an approach must be received with some rolls of the eyes and skepticism among his team of teenagers and early 20-somethings.
“It was definitely different,” junior forward Connor MacDougall said. “A culture shock maybe, but I don’t think there was really any eye rolling or questioning about it. … It kind of just adds to his personality. He’s an on the go guy. We say he’s kind of funky. We’re getting a kick out it. We come in and it’s something new every day.”
Senior forward Joe Furstinger, another returning Lobo who considered transferring before Weir arrived, acknowledged that some of the out of the box things Weir has asked the team to do have caught him off guard.
“A little bit,” Furstinger said. “He’s really into the mental side of things. He’s brought in different things to do like meditation and this yoga. … But all the things we’re doing has helped with us bonding together real quick.”
Credit where due
Weir is quick to credit new strength and conditioning coach Tyler Stuart, who came to UNM from the University of Florida, for much of the team’s physical gains this offseason, saying it was easily one of the best hires he’s made as he enters his second season as a collegiate head coach.
“He’s been killing us,” Mathis said of Stuart in July, after just about a month on the job. “But that’s what I need, personally. I need to get a lot stronger. He’s been getting me right, so I’m looking forward to keep working all summer.”
Weir doesn’t know what may come next in terms of his pushing the boundaries in exploring how to strengthen the Lobos’ bodies and minds.
And that’s by design. He doesn’t want them, or himself, to lock into one way of thinking.
Will any of it work? Those questions aren’t answered in hot yoga studios in August, and Weir has not said if the sessions will continue into the season. But he hopes it’s a start.
“I feel really good about the foundational changes that we’ve made,” Weir said. “I don’t know what that’s going to lead to come November or January, but I just feel like over time, we’re putting in some strong building blocks for the program.”