Ex-Aberdeen star Stephen Glass on wonders of yoga

Glass believes he could still be playing football if he'd discovered Bikram yoga. Picture: Jane Barlow
Glass believes he could still be playing football if he'd discovered Bikram yoga. Picture: Jane Barlow
Share this article
Have your say

Stephen Glass remembers the moment clearly. He was in Dublin and finding it harder than expected to adjust to life on the coaching staff after so long spent being one of the boys in the dressing-room.

At 36, he was still young to make the switch to “the other side” having been recruited by former Dunfermline Athletic manager Stephen Kenny to be his assistant at Shamrock Rovers.

Waiting for wife Carla to come over from Scotland and rescue him from himself, he spotted an advert for Bikram yoga. The couple were already “hot yoga” converts, but the Bikram way is significantly different. They sampled an introductory package and were bitten by the (sweaty) bug – one of the differences distinguishing the Bikram method from other forms of hot yoga is that it must take place in a room heated to 105 degrees, with 40 per cent humidity.

Of course, now that Bikram Choudhury, the founder who trademarked the technique in the early 1970s, is holed up in the Hollywood hills with a string of lawsuits, including alleged sexual harassment, having been filed against him, the practice has been hit with a definite image problem. But Glass remains an avid devotee – as are the likes of Andy Murray and Ryan Giggs.

The day after he scored an own goal for Manchester United in their Capital One Cup defeat by Sunderland, perhaps now is not the best time to be associated with the latter sportsman. However, Giggs’ longevity has been attributed to hot yoga.

“It doesn’t mean to say everyone who does it is going to play for Manchester United when they are 40,” Glass cautions.

Had he known about it in his mid-20s, he wonders if he might still be playing. Instead, he is sitting in a café on Easter Road.

Now 37, he is still boyish of looks and there is an undeniably healthy glow about him. He has just finished a Bikram yoga session in a converted old warehouse in the shadow of a stadium where he turned out for Hibs between 2003 and 2007. Except when coaching under-14 and under-16 teams at North Carolina Alliance soccer academy, where he returns today, he has not kicked a ball in anger since retiring in 2011, after he hurt his hip while warming up. He now doesn’t run. Going to the gym has been knocked on the head. Yoga is how he keeps body and soul together.

“I had good balance from being a player but terrible flexibility from 20 years of injuries and playing football every day, and it helps enormously,” he explains.

Something else appealed. This particular form of yoga is always performed in sessions lasting 90 minutes. It is as if it has been specifically designed for footballers. “There is no half-time break, unfortunately,” he says. “Maybe it is ingrained in you somewhere. Even playing golf, I feel I can only concentrate for nine holes which is the equivalent of about 90 minutes.

“It is about breathing exercises, it is about warming up your body from the inside so you can stretch. I do feel if I had found it when I was 25 I would still be playing.”

It is possible to wonder what his old friends back in Fintry, where he grew up in Dundee, might think. There is more than a hint of new age mysticism attached to yoga, in whatever form. “People see it as being a bit weird,” admits Glass. “Giggs is doing it and Andy Murray, David Beckham has talked about doing it. There are dehydration issues for footballers but if you hydrate properly it is not a problem. If players do not want to do it during the season – which I think they could – they could do it in off-season and not run and then come back in pre-season in the best nick they have ever been.

“You are finished playing, it can be a difficult time,” he adds. “It helps you control your mind. You finish playing, what do you do? I was lucky to get a coaching job [at Shamrock Rovers] but when that finished, you come back to Scotland. It’s winter, it’s dark, it’s cold. I have never been a drinker, but what do you do? Go to the pub, fall into the traps that are there for an ex-player. You have to be careful. It keeps your mind healthy as much as anything.

“You become a bore as well,” he smiles. Whether Scottish football is ready to embrace something that struggles to shed its association with touchy-feeliness and leotards is another question. Has Glass extolled the virtues to big Terry Butcher, around the corner at Hibs? “I don’t know Terry that well,” says Glass. “It’s not for me to tell him what to do.

“Some managers are open to it now,” he adds. “Things have moved on a lot especially now Giggs is a poster boy. If I was 25 I would be sceptical as well, because I was then too. But people need to broaden their horizons a bit.”

Glass is certainly doing that in his professional life. He is now back in the States, where he played for Carolina Railhawks, after returning to Scotland on New Year’s day for his latest Pro-license coaching assessment. Although he started his career at Aberdeen, and grew up supporting Dundee United, he feels as though his bond with Hibs is perhaps the strongest. His Scottish base is in Peebles, within easy access of Edinburgh – and his yoga commitments.

Because of his brief ties to Dublin, Glass met former Hibs manager Pat Fenlon on a couple of occasions. While they got on well enough, Glass did find one of his decisions unfathomable, particularly in light of his own experience as a left-sided player. It concerns the deployment of the currently in-form Lewis Stevenson at right-back.

“He did not deserve to be playing there,” says Glass, firmly. “I don’t know what would have happened if I was told to play right-back. Lewis is a left midfielder – he can play on the left side, but don’t ask him to play on the right side of the field.

“I am pleased to see he is doing well,” adds Glass, whose time at Hibs coincided with Stevenson’s breakthrough seven years ago. “He gets a bit of stick. When he is playing badly, all the Hibs fans think he is the worst player in Scotland. When he is doing well, they are all wondering ‘why do we give him stick?’ Lewis knows what he is. He is fit, works hard, and has good ability.”

On being asked whether he remembers a manager ever having such wild ideas for him, Glass says: “I had John [Collins] come in with the idea that I wasn’t going to play anywhere at all! He didn’t tell me in so many words. He came in with an idea that I would not add to his team. He didn’t tell me that, he didn’t have to – his selection told me that.”

There are no hard feelings, however. They were pundits together on Sky when Hibs played Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup earlier this year, and Collins greeted him like an old friend.

Glass will miss tomorrow night’s televised match between his old clubs, as Aberdeen continue their own revival. Man of the Match when they last won a trophy, in the League Cup final against Dundee in 1995, he cannot believe it is now so long since his first club lifted silverware. “I was there for a couple of those years too, so it’s something I have had a hand in too,” he says, before predicting a 2-2 draw tomorrow. “Both teams look like they have goals in them.”