Myles Turner is using yoga to reshape his body and his NBA career

LAS VEGAS -- As a loudspeaker blares the rhythmic sounds and chants of Shiva & Krishna Lounge meditation music, a nearby vent is pumping out 98 degrees of heat into a hot yoga studio in scorching Las Vegas, where the temperature outside reaches a furnacelike 110 degrees on this July afternoon.

Dripping in sweat after nearly 30 minutes of vinyasa flow yoga poses, Myles Turner is about to attempt something he hasn't been able to hold for longer than a few seconds.

Turner, on his knees, starts with his hands and forearms on the floor before turning the top of his head onto the floor. Taking his knees off the floor and stretching his legs fully out, with his rear end up in the air and his long legs extended out with toes still touching the floor, Turner begins to shift his 250 pounds from his knees toward his back and then to his head and arms.

He inches his toes closer toward his body as if he is on tippy toes to transfer all his weight toward his core until his upper torso is above his head. He then curls his knees in the air toward his chest before pushing both legs straight up.

It takes the young Indiana Pacers center four tries to do something he has spent the past three months working on -- his 6-foot-11 frame is upside down and in a headstand for nearly 30 seconds before he grunts and finally breaks out of the pose.

"Did you get that on video?" an excited Turner asks.

Since he frustratingly fouled out with 4 minutes, 33 seconds left and a disappointing eight points and four rebounds in the Pacers' Game 7 first-round playoff loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Turner decided to turn things around by completely getting out of his comfort zone and challenging himself this summer with renewed purpose.

"A goal of mine is to be an All-Star," Turner says. "I think that is one thing that every NBA player dreams of."

"I know I feel different," he adds. "Just my movements on the floor ... I feel more, I don't think 'majestic' is the word for it, but I feel better, not as wobbly. I feel a lot stronger overall."

Turner improved dramatically between his first and second seasons, leading some to believe he could take the next step to becoming an All-Star. But while the Pacers surprised many last season and took the Cavaliers to seven games in the first round, Turner took a step back personally last season, with his numbers dipping nearly across the board.

Cutting Popeyes fried chicken, Waffle House and Whataburger out of his diet and no longer devouring eight slices of pizza in one meal, Turner hired a personal chef; he has sculpted his body from 14 percent body fat down to nearly half that. In mid-June, Turner posted before-and-after pictures of his body, and new six-pack, on Twitter that went viral.

"I took a look at myself in the mirror last season, and I was pudgy," Turner told ESPN after sweating his way through an hour-plus vinyasa flow hot yoga session in Las Vegas last month. "I was getting tired a lot faster, and a lot of that had to do with eating fast food, eating pizza the nights before games.

"Everybody told me about my diet, but last season it started to affect me. I guess getting older, my metabolism is not as high as it used to be. ... I was getting gassed."

Turner is still only 22, but he was eating like a 16-year-old the night before a game. Now he has made a potentially life-altering change in his workout and dietary habits. Under the guidance of Kevin Garnett's longtime trainer Joe Abunassar, Turner has spent the majority of his summer on a secluded ranch in Fort Worth, waking up when the sun rises and running before the Texas temperatures soar to triple digits, lifting weights and going through track and field and boxing workouts along with his individual basketball regimen.

But it might be the challenging ashtanga and vinyasa flow yoga sessions two to three times a week that have helped Turner improve his flexibility, strength and confidence heading into what could be a pivotal season in his career. Turner's main yoga instructor, Fort Worth-based Bridget Gibbs, has the big man often doing yoga trapeze.

"It is not normal yoga," said Abunassar, president of Impact Basketball and trainer who has worked with big men like Turner, Garnett and DeMarcus Cousins. "People have seen Instagram pictures of Myles hanging from a ceiling. He has to balance himself, hold and pose suspended off the ground like a Cirque du Soleil-type actor."

Turner hopes that stretching his physical and mental limits will lead him to reach new heights in his fourth season. Eligible for a rookie contract extension before the season starts, Turner wants to help Indiana get to the next level after losing in the first round of the playoffs during his first three seasons.

"Getting that monster [LeBron James] out of there, the East is a little more wide-open," Turner said. "It is still going to be competitive, but I am tired of losing in the first round. It has been three years."

In addition to extending his range -- he shot 35.7 percent from beyond the arc last year on 2.4 attempts per game -- Turner wants to lead the league in blocked shots.

"Just be the best defensive player I can be," Turner said. "I know I can score the ball, and I know my offense is going to come, but be better on pick-and-rolls, be able to switch, wreak havoc on the rim, be that back-line anchor guy."

Turner has been part of the USA Basketball program since 2013, and he was on the 2016 USA Select Team that practiced against the team that won gold in Rio. Last month, he practiced and trained as part of the player pool for the senior national team that will represent the U.S. at next year's FIBA World Cup, and his potential Team USA teammates noticed a more confident Pacers center.

"I mean, he's a talent," said Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, who watched USA practice from the sideline and fed passes to teammates like Turner during individual drills as he makes his way back from left patella surgery. "Honestly, he is an underrated big in our league right now in terms of what he is capable of doing. He had a lot of talent on a perimeter-oriented team, so he is not getting as many touches as I would like to see, personally."

After a USA Basketball practice, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Devin Booker, Victor Oladipo and Turner went through one-on-one individual drills. On one turn, Oladipo faced Turner and drove past his teammate to the rim only to see Turner recover and reject his shot from behind.

"He is moving a lot quicker and seems a lot more confident on the floor," said Pistons All-Star center Andre Drummond, who also is in the 35-man USA Basketball team pool and has twice achieved that All-Star level that Turner is hoping to reach. "He already has been a skilled player. Just him losing weight and being more conditioned is going to bring out his game more and more."

New Pacers teammate Kyle O'Quinn joined Turner in some 5-on-5 pickup games in Las Vegas and came away thinking this could be a breakout season for Turner.

"Myles looks more fluid and explosive," said O'Quinn, who signed with the Pacers in free agency. "He is primed for a big year. If he lets the offense come to him, he can get 20 a night and be an All-Star."

Abunassar looks at this season as one when a young center can potentially take a big leap forward.

"When a player has a relatively successful first couple of years, you either make that jump to the All-Star level or you don't," he said. "They say third or fourth year is when they make that jump. I think Myles sees that opportunity, and we all do, to take himself from a starter and very good NBA player to a perennial All-Star.

After an early-morning workout followed by six games of 5-on-5 with the likes of O'Quinn, Philadelphia's Amir Johnson and former Knick Amar'e Stoudemire, Turner drives over from the Impact basketball gym to Vegas Hot Yoga and Pilates studio to meet Yuko Haneda.

Haneda has worked with several professional athletes, but she's immediately impressed to hear that Turner wants to do vinyasa flow and "throw some inversions in there." She says most pro athletes focus on stretching, but Turner wants to do something she has never heard any athlete ask her to do -- arm balancing.

The 5-2, 90-pound Haneda spends the session continuously stretching and contorting her body into increasingly difficult poses. She tells Turner what to do and then shows him. As she demonstrates the poses, she makes each one look far more effortless, than it actually is, barely breaking a sweat throughout the hourlong session in the hot yoga room.

"I am impressed by him," said Haneda, who has been a yoga instructor for 11 years. "Some people don't get it [right away]. They don't connect the body to the mind."

"This is not easy, for sure. He has strength and balance already. And he is still young. It is so hard to get to the point where you want to do yoga at 22 years old. It requires a lot more mental patience."

Turner says he first tried yoga before college at Texas but didn't really start practicing until two years ago, when he walked into a yoga studio in Indianapolis on a whim.

"It takes a lot of focus, a lot of breathing and a lot of body control," Turner said of yoga. "Blocking out everything that hurts and everything that is going on outside of the class and just really focusing on every distinct muscle because if one muscle is [off], you fall over."

At times, Turner looks like a graceful figure skater, balancing his body on one leg with another leg in the air and his arms stretched far and wide. On other poses, Turner looks like he is trying to bend and stretch his muscles in pretzel-like poses simply not meant for a person his size.

"I just feel like if you brought another 7-footer in here, they would not be able to do some of the stuff that I do," Turner said. "My hips and muscles are a lot more elongated and stronger than what it was when I first started," he said.

Turner's core is stronger, his body is leaner, his diet is cleaner, and he feels more flexible than ever. He hopes that will translate to the court.

Not long after he balances himself on his head in the hot yoga studio, Turner is asked about the new balance of power in the East with James, the man who won the past eight Eastern Conference titles, now in Los Angeles.

Turner is thinking about mastering his next challenge.

"It is a big year," Turner says when asked about his potential contract extension and the possibility of becoming a restricted free agent next summer. "But I think it is just a big year for the Pacers in general. We are not going to catch anybody by surprise anymore. People know what we are capable of now.

"The way I look at it, I have to be that presence for us to take that next step and be that team out of the East. ... I am going to do everything in my power to work hard and give the Pacers what they drafted."