A 6’6” professional basketball player walks into a yoga studio. No, this isn’t the set-up to some punch line about how he needed an extra-long stretch—it’s the start of an entrepreneurial journey. Here’s how Jason Deutchman, a former professional basketball player and founder of Yoga Strong, saw the opportunity for making yoga more approachable for guys like him.
“Yoga became my secret tool to help with basketball.”
Deutchman grew up playing basketball, and by the time he entered his teenage years, he’d decided to pursue basketball seriously. However, Deutchman tore his ACL (for the *first* time) at age 17, and he realized he needed methods beyond physical therapy to rehabilitate.
“In 2004, there wasn’t as much information out there as there is now,” he points out. “I was constantly looking for different methodologies to get me back to where I was. I didn’t find traditional physical therapy functional for helping me play basketball better.” Plus, the lingering effects of an ACL injury can outlast a PT program.
But then, Deutchman heard about a guy.
“I’d heard about a guy doing yoga with the LA Clippers players, and I was super curious,” he explains. “It was Kent Katich,” known to many as the yoga guru for the NBA in the 2010s and a nationally known name among athletes.
Deutchman got on board with Katich’s yoga workouts and was surprised to find himself thoroughly enjoying his time flowing.
“I got a good workout in, I sweat a lot, and it was a small class with hot girls—what’s not to like about yoga?” he thought to himself. “I grew into using yoga as my secret tool to help me with basketball. It was a constant every year for me to revisit yoga as the injuries piled up. I’ve had six knee surgeries, I’ve torn my ACL three times, and I’ve even had a collapsed lung. I’ve used the breathwork and mindfulness of yoga to recover from all of that.”
“Being involved in that world was a struggle”
At the time, Deutchman was often the only guy in any given California yoga class, and the mat he toted around Los Angeles had pink lotus flowers on it.
“I didn’t want to walk around with it,” Deutchman laughs now. “So I always had an idea in the back of my head to make yoga itself and what we were using for it more approachable for guys.” He points out that at this time—the late-aughts—streetwear trends were huge, and fashion and hip-hop culture had merged among NBA stars.
“I always thought there was a way to put the two of them together for something better suited for men. If men thought yoga was more approachable, they’d like it better,” he reasoned.
So, after seven years of playing overseas in Southeast Asia, Deutchman returned to California with a new goal of healing his body.
“I was now 33 years old, and I needed to heal from the rigors of playing basketball for so long,” he says. “The culture of yoga had changed—lululemon is now mainstream, so is boutique fitness, so is Peloton and activewear. I realized that your accessories can be an extension of your personality the way your fashion is.”
From there, the idea for Yoga Strong was born.
“There’s a better way to celebrate your workout”
With the goal of offering high-quality yoga accessories in more fashion-forward patterns that appealed to both men and women, Deutchman started working.
“Yoga Strong hits a gap in the market where you have all these nice clothes and nice fitness classes—you shouldn’t have to buy the mat and towel from Amazon. There’s a better way to celebrate your workout,” he says.
He sought out a local LA designer to get her input on where fashion trends were heading, so they could design product around those forecasts. “We want our products to be fashionable, not novelty, so they’re long-lasting and you love the item,” Deutchman explains. Think florals for spring and tie-dye for summer, instead of a graphic print of avocados.
And with athletes as one of their core communities, Yoga Strong also focused on the technical aspects of their accessories.
“Athletes are very technical, due to their training methods and the way their discipline revolves around their sport,” Deutchman reveals. “I used my background as an athlete to develop what I wanted in a mat: high thickness for sensitive knees and feet, but not so thick that it causes some imbalance where you sink into the mat. Durability, so that I was confident in yoga or lifting weights on the mat. A non slip surface for hot yoga— we use a two-layer composite technology process with a rubber base and suede top layer, so sweat doesn’t sink into the base layer.” And in true California fashion, the rubber base is eco-friendly for overall sustainability.
And how have the athletes responded?
“When I threw these products to my athlete community, they were very impressed,” says Deutchman. “They’ve only seen yoga accessories that you buy on Amazon or find at Target. This was something that they weren’t aware of, that this kind of high quality mat could exist and appeal to them design wise. So far, the feedback has been really great.”
How Yoga Strong accessories help make recovery more approachable
Recovery has been on the rise for several years now (our State of Fitness data in 2019 and 2020 can back that up). Deutchman, maybe more than most people, understands how it—and Yoga Strong—fit into a holistic approach to movement.
“Recovery and exercise are still an important part of my life. I like the way my body feels when it moves,” he says. “Especially over this past year, we feel sluggish and lethargic and our hips get tight from sitting. I make it part of my lifestyle to move every single day. It doesn’t have to be super hard, just moving your body to make yourself feel good.
And while his professional days are behind him, Deutchman still trains and recovers like an athlete.
“I lift weights, I do yoga, I foam roll constantly to prevent injury and tightness because no one should have to live with pain,” he shares. “That’s why we offer tools that you want to use, because [yoga] makes you feel better.” And if having a stylish yoga mat makes you more likely to use it, that’s a win for everyone.
Beyond yoga mats and towels, Yoga Strong also has foam rollers and a massage gun on their site (and we have to say, the massage gun is the most photogenic one we’ve ever seen). That expansion is no accident, nor is it just a business move.
“I always meant to expand,” Deutchman says. “Yoga Strong is meant to be that convergence of different lifestyles put together. We’re not pigeonholed into just yoga or just strength, just male or female. Strength training and yoga have been two divergent paths, and we wanted to bring them together. That’s why we wanted to bring different products to the market: so we can cater to different types of individuals and introduce them to new products.”