One-on-one: Going on a spiritual journey with Bala

What has former Hougang coach and 2016 S.League Coach of the Year nominee Bala been up to since he was released by the Cheetahs? You might be in for a surprise... 

It has been a few months since the shocking announcement that K Balagumaran would not be retained as Hougang United’s coach despite leading them to their highest-ever league finish in 2016.

The 52-year-old, commonly known as Bala by the local football fraternity, has since left the country for spiritual healing but he insisted that Singapore football has not seen the last of him, as FourFourTwo caught up with him over a phone interview.

FFT: So coach, what have you been up to since leaving Hougang?

K Balagumaran

On a spiritual tour now

Bala: I’m actually in India now for yoga and pilgrimage since December 19 and will only be back in Singapore at the end of February.

I actually intended to come here just for two weeks, but I decided to extend it to three months after Hougang released me.

I came here with a group of friends – three in fact – to six different locations in India. We visited some temples in Mumbai, Delhi and this place in North India called Varanasi, where Buddha reached enlightenment under a tree in Bodhgaya.

We went through seven days of silence where there is no TV, no phones, no social media and you can’t even look at people; that was intense

The main purpose is to visit the famous Isha Yoga Center for yoga teachers’ training and upgrading – we went through seven days of silence where there is no TV, no phones, no social media and you can’t even look at people; that was intense.

On top of that, I'm also doing some volunteer football coaching four times a week at the Isha Home School, which is situated in the yoga center. 

There are different batches heading here each year, now it’s the fifth batch since it started in 2012 and I was actually from the 2014 batch.

Now the numbers are increasing and there’s about 140 participants coming for six months to be yoga teachers.

I just want to go through this thing to enhance my knowledge and see how it helps me to have peace of mind, happiness and to de-stress.

Yoga’s been getting bigger in America and Europe. There’s this guy from the previous batch who’s a hockey team coach in Canada and he’s been keeping in touch with me on how he has helped his team for the season by implementing yoga. There were no injuries in terms of muscle tears.

FFT: We know that you’ve been a long-time advocate of yoga. So, can you tell us how the interest started and do you have a cert of some sorts?

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Bala is also a yoga practitioner. Photo: S.League

Since 2009, then I went fully focused and even took a diploma in yoga, as well as teaching special kids. I did it not just to help me in terms of football coaching, but also because it helps me in my life

Bala: It actually started when I was studying in UK in 1993. Back then, it wasn’t so serious; I only did it every week or two weeks for flexibility because I was playing football there.

Only since 2009, then I went fully focused and even took a diploma in yoga, as well as teaching special kids. I did it not just to help me in terms of football coaching, but also because it helps me in my life.

I also took a certification course in 2014 when I was with Negeri Sembilan in Malaysia. There were no matches from July to December during that period because we didn’t qualify for the Malaysia Cup, so they allowed me to take six months’ unpaid leave to attend the course.

FFT: In 2016, we saw how you tried to implement yoga into your training sessions at Hougang. Can you tell us more about that?

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Yoga was implemented as part of training at Hougang. Photo: S.League

Bala: Actually when I was assistant and fitness coach at Negeri, I already implemented yoga as part of the pre-match warm-up.

Even when I was at LionsXII in 2013, I also introduced yoga stretches as part of our recovery – so for example, before we do the pool recovery the day after the match, we do yoga stretches.

It’s only at Hougang where I implemented it deeper; I spoke to the chairman and vice-chairman that I wanted to bring something new and they agreed to give a budget on yoga teachers.

So, we did it three times a week – asking them to sit down and build their breathing techniques (i.e. control their breathing).

This is more for getting the energy in the body and mind; the players need this because they need to be relaxed when under tremendous pressure and to take it positively after losing a game.

This type of yoga is different from the kind which everyone is practising in Singapore; what I’m trying to promote is the classic Hatta yoga which is now modified by the Europeans.

Even those stretches which (former national team fitness trainer) Sasha (Aleksandar Bozenko) introduced are derived from yoga and used for flexibility.