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The Art of Competition: Q&A with Junior Bryant

Football season is back! To celebrate, we met with former NFL defensive lineman Junior Bryant at Sweat Yoga in Santa Monica. After a serious neck injury cut his playing career on the San Francisco 49ers short, he’s transitioned his competitive spirit into the world of finance, and even into his personal yoga practice.

 

Junior Bryant at Sweat Yoga - Manduka Blog

How did you get started in football?

I started playing football when I was in eighth grade. I was fortunate enough to get a college scholarship to Notre Dame. From there I got a chance to sign with 49ers and spent ten years on their roster. I was on the practice squad first as a free agent and made my way along the path until I became a starter. Unfortunately, I got injured before I was ready to be done.

What kind of injury was it, exactly?

I landed on my neck making a tackle. It was sixteen years ago this month.  I’d never missed a game until that happened and was lucky for that. But you know, you play hard and things happen. That’s the positive way to look at it. I didn’t get hurt slacking!

Definitely not! So what kind of work do you do now?

I run marketing and sales for an asset management firm.

Was that always part of the plan?

I did a lot of internships even when I was playing in the off-season. I was always trying to be prepared for the next step because I knew you couldn’t play football forever. When I got hurt, I wasn’t quite ready to make the transition but I knew a few different areas I was interested in and finance was one of them. When a good opportunity came along I took it.

Are there many skills from professional football that have served you well in business?

There’s a lot, actually. My head coach George Seifert used to say, “You’re in business for yourself. We’re a team but at the end of the day, you’re in business for yourself.”

Being competitive and setting goals – it’s all relevant in business. Obviously, the timing is different. There’s an immediacy in playing where you know the outcome in 60 minutes, or a week, or at the end of the season. In business things play out longer. Sometimes there’s a moment where you win or lose, but more often than not it’s ongoing. Still, I think having a competitive nature is crucial to success in business.

When did you first get into yoga?

I went to my first class about twenty years ago. I just happened to stumble upon it at a community event. A lady who owned a Bikram studio had a booth with a table and pamphlets so I checked it out and tried a class. Immediately, I was like, “Woah.” It was something else. I was 25 at the time and in good shape, strong. I had seen some older ladies in there doing these poses and thought “Okay, I got this,” -- but I got worked in that first class.

Junior Bryant at Sweat Yoga - Manduka Blog

What does your practice look like now?

I try to mix it up between a few different studios. I come here to Sweat Yoga, Yoga Hop and a few other places. As a player, I used to mix up my strength training and conditioning with karate or martial arts to keep myself from plateauing with the same movements over and over. I can’t do all of that stuff anymore so at least with the yoga I try to keep it varied. If I go to the same studio always it’s comfortable and you know what to expect, but I've found going to different studios can shake things up and work different areas of your body.

Where have you benefited the most from doing yoga?

For me, it’s my spine. I’ve given myself more movement through yoga. Getting out of bed doesn’t take as long. I’m just trying to lessen the damage I’ve already done so if I can have incremental gains there I’m super happy. It’s all about moving my spine.

Is there anything in particular you look for in a studio?

I like places that play music. That’s something I really enjoy. There are times in a difficult pose where it really helps to zone out into the music instead of focusing on the discomfort.

I also appreciate studios that are more engaged on alignment. When I was playing I was more of a technical player, really trying to be fundamentally sound and do all the proper alignment -- so it really carries over to what I do in yoga. I strive to get all that stuff right.

Junior Bryant at Sweat Yoga - Manduka Blog

That’s interesting because to the untrained eye someone might think football is all fast and hard movements. Yoga is slow enough that you can really focus on those small details. How do you focus on form with so much going on in the field?

It’s quick on the field because there’s so many hours spent that you don’t see that are all about the alignment of our hands, our eyes, our feet and making all these tiny adjustments that effect our performance. Really, every sport has its own technical aspect and great players have just worked at their craft for so long that they make it look like nothing.

What are some hang-ups people might have about getting into yoga? Does the non-competitive nature throw professional athletes off?

When I talk to young athletes I always tell them to incorporate yoga into what they’re doing. To me, it’s an integral part of maintaining your fitness – especially if you’re competitive.

Here's an example. I was at a class recently and for the first time I was able to do a bind in extended side angle pose. The next class I went to though three days later, though – I couldn’t do it! That in itself has now become my mission. Get my spine to where I can move more freely and feel less pain. As a competitive person, I’m pushing myself all the time in yoga. It’s just that you’re competing against yourself.

Fantastic. Last question... Which player was the most fun to tackle?

Hah! I guess anyone on the Green Bay Packers.


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Junior's Manduka Selects:
The Black Mat PRO
Minimalist Tee 2.0
hoMMe Short

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