Football Yoga teacher Sharon Heidaripour helped Arsenal skipper Laurent Koscielny get back from injury and hopes to change the football world
WHEN Laurent Koscielny went down with a serious Achilles injury just ahead of the World Cup, it didn’t just affect the Arsenal and France centre-back.
His Football Yoga teacher, Sharon Heidaripour, had become a close family friend over the previous months and was left devastated by the news.
Football Yoga instructor Sharon Heidaripour has helped the likes of Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny get over injury[/caption]
Sharon has also worked with Robert Pires – she spent nearly six years as a sports masseuse and physio at Arsenal[/caption]
“That was a real down point in my career,” Sharon tells SunSport from her north London apartment.
“You’re so close with the player and their families and working with them… I felt like I was going to the World Cup.
“It was just such an exciting time.
“I was eating breathing, sleeping football yoga and during the last couple of months, my job was really focused on him.
Sharon was a big part of Koscielny coming back to fitness last month – thanking her on social media[/caption]
Sharon also worked with Santi Cazorla during her time with the Gunners[/caption]
“Then suddenly the injury happened. It was such a heartbreak.”
Sharon adds: “The way [Koscielny] and his family were feeling emotionally, knowing the pain they were going through on a human level.
“Then the pain that came up for me from my injury even though it was 20 years ago.”
Sharon had been working as a physio and sports masseuse for Chelsea and then Arsenal before leaving to create her Football Yoga brand in 2016.
My Football Yoga experience
I was in trouble 30 seconds into the warm-up.
I’ve never been flexible and haven’t been able to touch my toes in more than a decade – add that to a number of injuries I’ve never had sorted and the sweat was already pouring off my forehead.
Plus, we all have a pre-conceived idea of what yoga might be, lots of ‘uhmm-ing’ and ‘aah-ing’ while breathing deeply and thinking of butterflies and a beach in Thailand.
But this wasn’t anything like that.
It took a while but eventually, I realised these stretches would be very useful for football – one of the poses even sees you pretend to kick a ball as hard as you can.
The deep breathing is very relaxing and helps clear your head of whatever stress has been cluttering it.
The next day I was stiff all over but the day after I could feel the tension had cleared from my shoulders and neck and I had more flexibility in my hips.
I’ve been doing the poses ever since – now, I can even touch my toes.
By Tom Sheen
Sharon was a professional footballer in her teens before two devastating knee injuries[/caption]
She had done one-to-one holistic sessions with Koscielny, Santi Cazorla, Patrick van Aanholt and Robert Pires – as well as a huge number of young players – and the concept was taking off.
But the Koscielny injury had left her on the brink of quitting football altogether.
Sharon had once been a promising footballer herself before injury ruined her own career before it really got started.
Born in Iran, where she played football “as far back as my memory goes”, Sharon and her family moved to Sweden at eight and was playing for one of the best teams in Scandinavia – Jitex.
But when she was 19, the right-winger suffered a terrible knee injury.
After recovering, Sharon was called into a training camp with the national team and disaster struck again, suffering another bad injury to the same knee.
She created Football Yoga as a way to prevent injuries and to help players mentally recover from injury strugglesShe had to wait a year for an operation and admits she was “totally lost” during that time.
“I was a lost soul,” she says, ” I had lost that one thing that I knew anything about and wanted to do.”
She barely managed to get through school and feeling “suffocated” in Sweden, moved to London.
But, Sharon admits, she went “on a detour into no-man’s land” that involved lots of alcohol, drugs and partying.
She describes her 25th birthday as the worst day of her life, with the realisation she would never fulfil dreams of playing in the Olympics or at the World Cup.
Sharon moved back to Sweden for nine months and had an epiphany – if she couldn’t be a footballer she would work in football and help other players avoid and recover from injury.
She went through clearing and got a place at London Metropolitan University, where the view out of the window showed Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium being built.
That gave her a goal and although the course took five years instead of three – the theory side proving a bit of a challenge – the extra years allowed Sharon to get in extra work experience and placements that her peers didn’t have time for.
Sharon had seven clubs on her CV and was already working at Chelsea three days a week before she graduated – then taking a distance-learning masters degree in Liverpool, travelling up and down as well as working part-time for the Blues and non-League Thurrock.
In 2010 she then took the bold step to quit Chelsea halfway through the season, joining Arsenal a month later as a physio: dream fulfilled.
Throughout her time Sharon, who worked with Arsenal players from Under-8s up to the reserve team, had been practising yoga in her own time to help her deal with her knee injury and a back injury.
In her five years at Arsenal she had also started to integrate yoga movements into her rehab and sports massage sessions – rather than teaching ‘yoga’.
“We were having good results, players were being told by doctors they were due back in May and they would come back in March.
“They were feeling good and the feedback from players was great.
“I was like ‘wow, this works.’”
But Arsenal were not interested in expanding her methods, they were happy with the service as it was.
“I wanted to work with players and their minds, body, emotions.
“There was so much more I knew I could bring to players – I was doing it outside the club – but I wanted to do it with them.”
SunSport reporter Tom Sheen with Sharon – blame spilt hair gel for the stain[/caption]
Sharon takes a holisitic approach when helping a player recover and prevent injury[/caption]
Over an 18 month period, Sharon then considered quitting the Gunners to start her own business but was talked out of taking the plunge.
Eventually, the time came.
“I left and the first six months were really tough. I thought about going back to Arsenal. It was almost like suddenly I was out of football.”
But Sharon had been working with the son of Robert Pires, who was in the Arsenal youth set-up and eventually started working with Santi Cazorla – whose son was Arsenal in the academy – when the Spanish maestro was trying to recover from his horror ankle injury.
Sharon now works with dozens of players at all ages and levels, all via word of mouth, with some of those doing so in private, while others – like Laurent Koscielny – happy to let the world know they have a yoga teacher.
Scandinavian players even travel to London during their off-season to get in sessions with Sharon.
The poses are designed to help the flexibility and stability of athletes[/caption]
But Koscielny’s injury in May almost caused her to quit Football Yoga.
Sharon had been working with him three times a week from the start of the year and had the Gunners skipper on track to be a key player in France’s World Cup campaign.
“We worked all those months, he felt great physically and mentally, was doing amazing things on the pitch but he still got that injury.
“A couple of weeks later I found out I was pregnant, all these hormones were coming up, I was really down and depressed.
“Again I hated football, it was very difficult to watch the World Cup – especially as France were doing so well.
“It got to a point where I thought ‘I don’t even know if I want to do this anymore.’
The poses are a full workout, stretching most muscles in the body[/caption]
“The love was gone, the passion was gone.
“It was like if I can’t help players, why the hell am I doing this.
“I didn’t start this as a business, it was because I loved it, because I wanted to help, didn’t want players to go through what I went through.”
Eventually, Sharon got over the injury and has continued working with Koscielny and other players.
Her plans are even bigger now.
She has started her own Football Yoga academy, teaching others her methods.
Sharon, despite being heavily pregnant, remained much more flexible than Tom[/caption]
“The new vision is to change the football world,” says Sharon, “by bringing yoga and mindfulness to younger players.
“On a physical level, their bodies will be more mobile and their stability will be different.
“If I bring in yoga from a young age you can prevent this. But also things like breathing, it helps the players.
“Obviously, it’s a contact sport so injuries will happen.
Sharon has big plans for Football Yoga and hopes to franchise it around the world[/caption]
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“But how you’re feeling during that time while you’re injured could help how quickly you come back and also prevent another injury.
“Working on the mental and emotional aspect of it, working on it holistically.
“We want to prevent certain injuries.
“We want to prevent players who do get injuries to not get depressed.”