Bikram Yoga taught me to work with my body

Apr 17th, 2015

Category: Bikram Bumps Blog

Bikram Yoga taught me to work with my body

Emily Webley-Smith, a professional tennis player tells us how Bikram Yoga helps her in her professional tennis career.

Emily Webley-Smith

Emily Webley-Smith 












Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your professional tennis career?

As a professional tennis player I have been on tour for ten years and reached a career high of British number 4 this year. I have played Wimbledon on a number of occasions and it remains my favourite place on earth to play tennis. I travel 35 weeks of the year competing at tournaments around the world, and have had training bases in India, Australia, Dubai and the USA. An average training day is made up of 4hrs tennis and 2hrs physical training, which is a mix of speed, agility, strength, flexibility and endurance. 

When did you start Bikram yoga and what made you start?

I started Bikram 5 years ago when I was injured and living in London. Following my 3rd ankle surgery in as many years, I was rehabbing and having physio daily and needed an uplifting new challenge to occupy myself with without being able to play tennis for many months…..I am not good at sitting still! Bikram offered an opportunity to push my body and mind in a different way than I was used to, and to work with my body instead of against it, in a non impact way that did not affect my recovery from the ankle injury. It also allowed me to escape the British winter in the heat, and being used to chasing the sun, I welcomed this benefit with open arms!

Have you been to other Bikram studios on your travels?

Yes. For three years I did my off season winter preparation in Australia, and visited various Melbourne Bikram studios as often as I could. I have also experienced other types of yoga in India when I lived there.

 What’s your link with Sweaty Betty?

I am the tennis ambassador for Sweaty Betty, and feel privileged to represent such an inspiring British brand. Not only are their clothes beautifully made and highly functional, the ethos of the company is also a wonderful positive inspiration for women throughout the country.

What do you find are the benefits of the Bikram Classes for you and does it compliment your training?

Bikram offers a total contrast to my sport specific training on and off the court. As well as developing flexibility, it increases my static strength within a full range of movement, and helps to lengthen and work into areas that are tight from playing the amount of the tennis that I do, and from years of strength training with weights. The balance and proprioception particularly in the one legged poses are important for me personally as I have had 3 ankle operations, so Bikram compliments my ongoing rehab for this. Equally important is the mental benefit I feel from the classes. Concentration, focus, relaxation under pressure and determination are all elements that are vital on court, and I can work on these during Bikram.

 Favourite posture and why? 

Dhanurasana is my favourite posture because I always feel strong in this posture, and like I could hold it forever! I’m working on liking the postures I’m not so good at, as well as the ones that I am, but my worst is the ardha matsyendrasana….as a tennis player you would think I should be good at rotating around my core as I have to do this for every shot I play, but my body refuses to listen to me and it amazes me that this posture is even possible when I look around the class. Patience is required, maybe in 20years time I will be able to link my hands…..

 What other ways do you relax and rejuvenate?

I love to dance, shop, spend time with my friends, catching up over coffee or a good bottle of wine, and when I’m travelling I love to explore new cities and cultures. A good massage makes me feel human again after long days of training, but if I need to clear my mind, I run outdoors.

 You must have a busy training schedule, how do you manage and do you have any motivating tips for students who are looking to increase amount of exercise/yoga they do each week?

When people ask my training schedule they are often shocked with how many hours physical work I put in daily, and the vast amount of travel that is life as a professional tennis player. Of course there are occasions when the training is demanding and I wake up so tired I don’t think I can get through the day, but I always do. So it is in these times that I think back to other hard times I have got through, my toughest sessions, my toughest losses, and remember that I am still here. Tennis has taught me that anything is possible, and the mind can push the body far beyond its reasonable limits. I feel privileged to do something I love to make a living, and this makes working hard easy. My advice when people ask how they stick to new regimes or increase their exercise weekly, is simply to find something they love doing, and that they look forward to. Improvement is made up of continuous small efforts made daily and as I’ve got older I’ve tried to become kinder to myself. Each time I do a good days work, I try to give myself a pat on the back, to reinforce that I did a good job. Did I give 100% to my day? Yes. Was it perfect? No. But that’s ok. There’s tomorrow to continue getting better.

Emily Webley-Smith

Emily Webley-Smith