Om Run: NCSU Baseball practices Yoga

A yoga instructor introduces a new practice to the N.C. State baseball team

by Katherine Poole
photography by Smith Hardy

“Would you be intimidated by teaching yoga to 35 college-aged guys?” That’s one of the first questions Scott Ensell, Assistant Athletic Trainer for the N.C. State baseball team, asked Justin Anne Patterson. “No,” she replied. “I got this.” 

Patterson has been leading yoga sessions with the baseball team since last October, when Ensell got the go-ahead from the coaching staff to incorporate the practice into the team’s conditioning program. As a trainer, Ensell’s main focus is injury prevention, stretching and breathing techniques, so yoga is a natural fit. And, as it turns out, so is Patterson. “We love Justin Anne. She really relates to the guys. She gets their sense of humor and fits into the group,” says Ensell.

Patterson meets with players for 45 minutes to an hour at the Wolfpack’s Close-King Indoor Practice Facility, where workouts happen right on the field, no mats required. “AstroTurf is perfect for yoga!” says Patterson. “It was made for people to fall down on.”

During the pre-season, Patterson focused on stretching and stability. She also targeted key areas for baseball players like upper body strength, single leg balancing and torso rotation. And for fun, she taught them inversions and arm balances. She laughs as she recalls watching all those large, powerful bodies attempting headstands. Now that the season is underway, she’s transitioned more into restorative yoga, “the stretchy, feel-good stuff.”

Ensell says he’s pleased with the results. Players report feeling more flexible and less sore after intense training practices, including pitcher Michael Bienlien. “I’ve had some issues and injuries like a stress fracture in my lower back, so I was curious how yoga would affect my body,” he says. “I was really pleased with how I felt.” In fact, some players were so concerned about losing flexibility over the holiday break last December that they asked Patterson to make a short video of stretches for them to practice at home. Ensell says, “she’s definitely molded them into little yogis.”

When she’s not training the team, Patterson is a full-time instructor at Indigo Hot Yoga on Oberlin Road, where she has been teaching for more than five years. She also volunteers as a yoga teacher at Gigi’s Playhouse, an activity and achievement center for individuals with Down syndrome. She loves working with people of all shapes, sizes and abilities. “I don’t look like a typical yoga teacher,” says Patterson, “so I like that people can come into my class and think, ‘If she can do this, I can do this.’”

Her ball players have certainly come to believe. The team’s first yoga session was mandatory—Ensell wanted everyone to give it a try. The following session was optional, and much to Patterson’s surprise, the whole team showed up—and kept on coming. “Justin Anne is awesome. She has a great personality and is a fun person to be around, but she definitely knows what she’s doing,” says shortstop Will Wilson, who is also a prospect for the MLB draft. The feeling is mutual. “They work so hard and take me so seriously. I told them, ‘If you all put this much effort into yoga, I can’t imagine what you are going to do out there in the field.’” says Patterson. “I have absolutely fallen in love with these stinky college guys.”