Joe Johnson finds power in discomfort.
The quickest way to devolve into a cushy, soft mound is to find yourself in the luxury of comfort. It’s pushing yourself to the limit, after all, that leads to results. And, the joy of sitting on the couch for eight hours aside, testing your own boundaries is good for the soul.
You can find Johnson powering up his own body in the sweltering heat and healing discomfort of his hot yoga studio. But it’s in that discomfort that he finds his ability to grow.
“It's not easy, man. It's probably the hardest thing I've ever done in life,” Johnson tells En Fuego via Zoom call. “And it took me about a few years before I could mentally lock-in and get past the heat. You know, it's like the hardest thing.”
This is the same dude they call Cool Joe, ISO Joe. He’s the one with ice in his veins; someone who cultivated his ability to hit the biggest shots by sweating out the toxins.
He’s an icon, a man who is renowned for his longevity as he is his production. A seven-time All-Star, Johnson played 18 seasons in the NBA before stepping away. But he didn’t leave the game, instead, he dove into the Big3 league where he not only won the championship in 2019 but also claimed MVP honors.
So, when it comes to playing basketball, he knows a thing or two. But he is also an expert in what he considers the secret sauce to staying fit as he approaches 40.
Back in 2010, Johnson had been dealing with Achilles’ tendinitis and missed a west coast swing. Back in Atlanta, the Hawks trainer at the time, Wally Blase, was on his way to hot yoga that evening. He asked if the rehabbing Johnson wanted to join.
Quick to scoff at the idea, Johnson turned it down immediately. However, he was eager to get back on the court. So, sure, why the hell not.
“The feeling that it gave me after class, I couldn't find anywhere else,” he admits now. “No matter how many weights I lift or how many miles I ran, I couldn't find that detoxification.”
Over a decade later and Johnson is still singing yoga’s praises. He is convinced it helped not just the duration of his NBA career but also the longevity of his athletic ability.
For those who take their yoga cool or their exercise not as stretchy, hot yoga is a scene, man. Generally, you are in the kind of environment we all spend most of the year trying to avoid. It’s hot, humid, and uncomfortable.
The room is often set to 104-105 degrees with humidity at about 40%. It’s your general nightmare scenario if you’re walking around a theme park in Orlando. But, if you’re trying to harness the power of now and stretch your body to its ultimate, it’s perfection.
“That was just everything,” Johnson recalls about his first foray into the hot yoga studio.
“It lengthens the muscles. And to be honest with you, it makes you a lot quicker, faster. Your reaction time a lot better.”
Johnson is at another remarkable moment in his career. Recent reports purported that he has an eye on an NBA comeback. But whether he finds his way back to the association doesn’t negate the fact that he remains busy.
He’s launched his own hot yoga studio from Little Rock, Arkansas. He is coming off a stellar campaign in the Big3 with a hope for more, and he is in the initial throes of starting his own youth academy.
Giving back is a big part of all of this. Offering insight to budding athletes is important. After all, practices like yoga shouldn’t be kept from those who could use its regenerative powers. He points out that there are so many great players that don’t have the opportunity or platform to shine, and he is determined to rectify that.
He’s seen a rise in the acceptance and passion for yoga in basketball circles. He’s witnessed players in Brooklyn and when he was in Utah come out and ask about the details behind the practice.
But he admits that some remain oblivious to how beneficial this can be for their careers. “it's tough, man,” Johnson explains. Yoga remains too time-consuming for some players. “But I swear, the benefits that you get from it, man, you're not going to find that nowhere else.”
At 39, Johnson is still able to do what he does because he has dedicated so much time to the sweltering confines of hot yoga.
“The flexibility, the endurance, the mobility that you get from it. And, you know, it puts you on a different level as far as you really think in the game. And for me, if it wasn't for yoga, honestly, I'm not even sure if I’d still be (playing) to this day.”
For Johnson, it comes back to discomfort. There is a therapeutic difficulty in stretching. You are taking your body to places it’s not used to being.
Yoga does that for the body and the mind. It normalizes the outer reaches of what you previously thought possible.
Breaking that boundary of comfort has remarkable results.
“It is the belief that you've got to have in yourself,” Johnson continued. “It's got to be unmatched.
“Regardless of what somebody tells you can't do or can do, you've got to believe you can do it regardless. And that's just having confidence. I know sometimes we're a little fearful in the things that we're trying to get into or we move on to something new but that's the only way you can grow, man, is if you get into a situation to where you are somewhat uncomfortable.”