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Former NFL linebacker Gabe Northern talks yoga, depression and football


Damon Howell/photo
    Gabe Northern spends weekday mornings at PHS football camp working with the local high school team. Northern founded the Zoo-ology fitness regime, a fusion of football and yoga that he teaches from his Pickens studio.
    Gabe Northern, the former defensive end at LSU and four-season linebacker for the Buffalo Bills, isn’t easy to miss in a town like Jasper.
    Motorists passing by his new health and fitness studio Zoo-ology, located in a 19th century log cabin at the corner of Cove and Grandview roads, have surely noticed his 6’4”, 270 pounds in head-to-toe camouflage teaching classes outside. 

    Passersby probably also notice his students throwing medicine balls in the air, or flicking two ends of a giant rope wrapped around a tree, or running the speed ladder while tossing a football. What they may not notice is the yoga that’s integrated throughout the session.
    Northern’s career was taking off when a serious hamstring injury derailed it in 2000, eventually sending him into depression so bad he was suicidal.
    “I was going to be playing for the Steelers,” he said. “I got injured just before training camp. That’s kind of top dog stuff because they’re known for their defense. I was going to be part of that legacy, but I didn’t heal up in time. It wasn’t meant to be.”
    Northern was signed by the Minnesota Vikings instead, but said his defense skills were not a good fit for the team. He played one season and then lucked up with a gig at Grambling State (2001–2003) coaching defensive line, then later at Prairie View A&M as a defensive line coach & special teams coordinator. 
    In retrospect, Northern said he can now clearly see his shortcomings while he played in the NFL.
    “I was an injury-prone hothead,” he said. “I didn’t know when to shut up, and that didn’t help me. I wasn’t one of those star players, but I could help you win a game.”
    Northern said his introduction to hot yoga in 2013 has taught him to shut up, changed his mindset and has healed him emotionally, physically and spiritually. Now he wants to share what he’s learned with clients and the Pickens community.
    “It doesn’t seem like it, but yoga and football fit so perfectly together,” he said. “I don’t feel the physical pain I did. I don’t feel that emotional pain. They both have so much to do with the breath, and you have to have love and discipline and respect to make either of them work. I feel like if I had done yoga when I was playing, I would have played five more years.”
    Northern, whose nickname is “Zoo,” created the Zoo-ology training regimen as a fusion of football and  yoga and teaches it out of his Grandview studio, which he calls a “sacred space.”
    “I found this place online and it worked because it was reasonably priced and I can live upstairs and work downstairs,” he said. “When I first came to town, I saw all the Confederate flags and wondered how things would go, but I’ve been so impressed. I love this place. Ninety-eight percent of the people have been top-notch and welcoming for a guy like me. I grew up in a little town in Louisiana and I guess I’m a country boy at heart.”
    Northern has been working with the Pickens High School football team over the summer and wants to help them in whatever way he can.
    “Coach Parker and the football staff have welcomed me,” he said. “I want to become a representation of this place and help build the team up in anyway I can. If you’ve got a good high school team it brings the community closer, and these boys can become models of work ethic and discipline.”
    He also wants to teach the community at-large through his Zoo-ology classes, which he says are perfect for individuals or families.
    “Where else can you go that the whole family can be involved, and the workout can be good for them all?” he said.
    Friday night kid nights and Saturday night adult nights at his cabin are also on the agenda to help foster a sense of community.
    “Before it was all about me, and how good I was and how many sacks I made,” Northern said. “I wasn’t giving the glory to God, and it took me a long time to realize how that and yoga would benefit me. To get out of that hole and to be where I am now is a miracle.”
    Northern can be contacted for classes at 706-669-9908.