The NFL may have banned “excessive” touchdown celebrations several years ago, but they didn’t say anything about mindful ones.
That’s how you might describe the signature end-zone move of the Houston Texans’ Arian Foster—it’s a “Namaste bow” inspired by the running back’s personal yoga practice.
“It was after my rookie year, and my brother said, ‘If you start scoring, you need something that’s you,'” Foster says. “I feel like the ‘Namaste bow’ best describes not myself, but the message I want to convey to my fans—I recognize the light in you. I want to be appreciative of the game and everyone watching.”
Espousing a yoga philosophy isn’t the only thing that makes Foster an atypical football player. He practices meditation, was a vegan for a season, and says he can eat up to seven pounds of kale in a sitting. Instead of promoting artificial ingredient-packed, processed brands like Pepsi and Papa John’s, Foster endorses and invests in Health Warrior, the makers of chia seed superfood snacks. (Um, the scandal-plagued NFL should really consider putting this guy in the spotlight more often…)
We caught up with Foster to find out more about the totally fascinating pro-athlete’s take on wellness.
So how long were you vegan, and why did you decide to stop? I was a strict vegan for a good seven months during the 2012 season. It was a personal choice to stop. I felt like I didn’t have to go to that extreme. However, it’s a common misconception that you can’t get sufficient protein and caloric intake as a vegan. I actually felt I recovered a lot better when I was vegan. The bumps and the bruises went away faster. But, I felt like I got what I needed out of it. It raised my consciousness about what we put into our foods and how they’re made. Once I really got that, I decided I could manage eating the the food that I grew up with and really enjoyed, while being more aware of how it’s made.
That sounds super balanced. Why did you decide to go vegan in the first place? It was actually a documentary called Forks Over Knives. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I got in touch with the doctors on that documentary and they helped me do some research on how I could do it as a professional athlete.
So what were you actually eating at the time? I was eating all plants as much as possible. I was instructed to eat until I felt full. I started to get very regular bowel movements. I felt the cleansing process almost immediate. I mean, I really got cleaned out. I was eating more because the food I was putting in me was good for me. I could eat as much as I wanted to without having health risk factors. I can’t eat seven burgers at once but I can eat seven pounds of kale. I love to eat anyway.
What was your teammates’ reaction to your new diet? They have their jokes like, “Oh, you going to eat the field today?” It’s all in good fun. The funny thing is that two years ago when I was a vegan I requested black bean burgers in the cafeteria, and they still have them. People still thank me for that because they’re so delicious.
How often do you do yoga and what type? During the season, I try to get into the studio at least once or twice a week. Sometimes it’s hard to stay consistent, especially if I’m beat up. I know it’s good for me but with everything else I can’t find the energy. We have a new regime and they keep us in the gym longer. I do Bikram.
How did you first get into it? It was actually because of my father. He always told me to take ballet or yoga to stay limber. I couldn’t see myself doing ballet so I tried yoga and ended up loving it. It’s good for balancing yourself and getting you more limber than you can possibly imagine. In football you use really quick twitch muscles. This elongates. My father played football when he was younger and his big thing was being limber and maintaining balance. When I started yoga I saw exactly what he was talking about.
How common is it to do yoga in the NFL? I wouldn’t say it happens a lot, but players are interested and will try it. I get asked a lot about it. It’s new ground in the NFL, where it’s very traditional training. We do a lot of heavy lifting and sprinting. Yoga is a little unorthodox. But if you look at studies, it’s more important than doing something like squatting a thousand times.
How did you find meditation and why do you like it? I’ve always been in into it and have considered myself a deep thinker. I read up a lot about it and am still trying to find myself in there. I think it’s a practice of getting to know oneself and trying to find your inner consciousness. As a young soul, I’m still trying to do that. I got into it because my father told me about an experience he had with meditation. I do it by just sitting in a quiet room and trying to clear my thoughts. There are spaces in between thoughts and you try to stay in those voids as much as possible. It’s hard for me because I’m always thinking.
What are some of your most important causes as an athlete? I believe in fighting childhood obesity, which is why I love Health Warrior bars as a replacement for candy bars. And I’m trying to get athletes to be aware of what they’re endorsing. I get that you have to follow the money and keep the lights on, but we should still be conscious of what we’re promoting. I still laugh when I see the McDonald’s ads at the Olympics.
Do you feel that your belief in veganism, yoga, and meditation is at all in conflict with football, since it’s such a violent sport? I think there’s a lot of chaos in the world, but it’s all about balance. There is light and dark, good and bad, peaceful and non-peaceful. A harmonious world can be a very odd world. I take it how it is. —Jamie McKillop