"Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Do you feel the energy that flows through your body?"
Phrases to that effect are sure to have been heard a great deal over the last few days at the headquarters of the Germany national team in Evian, where they are based for the European Championship. The reason? Optional daily yoga sessions have been offered to Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Co for more than ten years now, and will continue to be on the agenda in France, where Germany face Ukraine in their opening UEFA EURO 2016 encounter on Sunday evening.
"Football and yoga go wonderfully together," said yoga instructor Patrick Broome, who has been in all of Germany's European Championship and FIFA World Cup™ camps for the last decade, in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "It's a very good addition for athletes to experience their body through different movements and to use their body in a non-competitive way. On top of that, it's a good way of preventing injuries. We can stretch and extend muscles that are overused and relax them. It helps with recovery. It's a wonderful way to relax. At major tournaments all the players complain that they can't sleep because there's so much tension. Yoga's good to help establish a bit of distance and to feel more relaxed again."
Was Germany's fourth World Cup title at Brazil 2014 therefore a consequence of his work? "It was certainly one of many important pieces of the mosaic that combined to form that perfect whole."
Broome, a trained and certified psychologist, runs three Yoga Studios in Munich, and counts several members of the Bayern Munich squad as regular visitors. Furthermore, he has given seminars all over the world for the last 20 years.
"I once asked a player to put his arms above his head," Broome said. "He tried but couldn't do it; he just had so much muscle that he couldn't raise his arms above his head anymore. But I also have others who are as agile as cats. Those kind of muscle-bound players are virtually extinct in the game now though," he said with a wink.
Earning acceptance in football was not easy for Broome at first. There used to be a lot of prejudice and scepticism and even today he gets the occasional questioning look when he talks about his work with Germany. "Nowadays most of the players are happy and enthusiastic to do it," Broome continued. "When I'm travelling with the team and meet members of different delegations, sometimes they're amazed that a yoga instructor is part of the staff. However, I know that a lot of football clubs in Germany, England and Spain now have yoga instructors."
It was certainly one of many important pieces of the mosaic that combined to form that perfect whole.
Yoga exercises have even been included into everyday training in semi-professional football too. The German Football Association (DFB) recorded several video sequences with Broome so that youth players could learn how to stretch the back of their thighs and take care of themselves from a young age in order to make sure their muscles do not stiffen.
It was thanks to Olivier Bierhoff that Broome's collaboration with the DFB started in 2005. The former Germany striker, who scored the Golden Goal in the 1996 European Championship final, took up yoga after retiring and got to know Broome. When Bierhoff became general manager of the national team he brought him into the Germany set-up. "A lot of the exercises are toned down and geared towards football; in concrete terms that means I don't do anything that could risk a player getting injured," Broome said. "Everything flows from physiotherapy. It's yoga that's tailor-made for professional athletes."
Jurgen Klinsmann, who was Germany head coach when Broome first became involved, also proved to be very influential. "Klinsmann had the courage to try anything that could squeeze out the last few percentage points from the players," Broome said. "Back then he was ridiculed because he used rubber bands, but now every amateur club uses them too. Among the technical staff here at the DFB, Klinsmann is still very highly regarded because he had the courage and power to implement changes. He opened doors."
In France, the 46-year-old Broome will be tasked with keeping Germany's players relaxed as they chase another title. And anyone who remains unconvinced about the power of yoga need look no further than one player who has been especially keen on taking Broome's sessions: Mario Gotze – the man who scored the winning goal in extra time against Argentina in the World Cup Final on 13 July 2014.