I'll be honest, I'm not here today to speak on the ways that the practice of yoga physically improved my athletic capacity. All though, it did of course, and I could rave all day about the way yoga vastly increased my mobility and core strength and breath control.
But that's not today's topic.
Instead, I'm sharing with you how yoga was responsible for two key transformations in my life as an athlete mentally. Before you hesitate to read on or start to roll your eyes, understand that I have been an athlete for several years and I understand that an enormous amount of mental strength is necessary in any program. Feel free to read that again.
Regardless if you are a competitive body builder or powerlifter, trying to gain muscle mass or lose weight or burn fat, or you simply want to be healthy and mobile because you sit at a desk all day or have a long commute - you MUST get uncomfortable. If you are going out of your way to do something new you must push yourself to a point where your brain is going to say, "Hey, you know... it would be so much easier if we just didn't do all this hard work."
Because it is WORK.
And we need to recognize that our attitude directly affects our ability to show up all together.
You may be familiar with the quote, "Comparison is the thief of joy." While I now know and understand this thoroughly, for most of my life I did not. I had a habit of constantly comparing myself and what I did to others, and whatever I brought to the table never seemed good enough.
Why Yoga Helped Me In the Gym
During the early years of my fitness journey, I was incredibly hard on myself because no matter how hard I would train or how strict I made my diet, I never felt like I measured up to so-and-so... Then I began a regular yoga practice.
And I would love to tell you that I was able to just flip this switch and love myself unconditionally and completely forget about what everyone else was doing, but that was entirely not the case. I would get so frustrated with myself if I wasn't as flexible as this person, or if that person could do an inversion that I couldn't, until I became abundantly aware of my attitude and recognized that this isn't what yoga is about... Yoga is about meeting yourself where you're at, and respecting that individual. We are all so incredibly different, our minds, our bodies, our careers, our lifestyles. It's completely unfair to ourselves and others to try and play this comparison-game.
Finding Empathetic Joy!
Recently a girlfriend of mine and I were working out together. She and I could certainly be considered the same level of athleticism, however she was significantly stronger than I was at barbell movements. At one moment after we finished deadlifts (she was pulling my personal best weight of all time for multiple reps like it was nothing, by the way), she asked me if it ever bothered me that she was stronger than I was at certain things. I answered very honestly, "No, not at all."
Though at one point, it absolutely would have! And unfortunately, I would likely come to resent her because I was jealous of something she had.
But I understand how being joyful for others can be both motivating and a tremendous asset in building relationships that support my lifestyle, thanks to yoga. It doesn't matter how much more weight she can lift than I can, or her size, or anything else in her life. I can be joyful and admire my friend without any reflection back on myself.
And when I show up, I am showing up for myself.
I am doing the very best that I can, and I am okay with that.
Yoga has challenged me to see my friend for who she is, without making her simply a mirror for my own desires or feelings of lack. The ability to feel excited about her performance, gives me joy too and ultimately deepens our friendship and accountability partnership because I can love and appreciate her no matter what.
Maybe you're not an athlete, but I'm sure you've felt the comparison gremlin. And if you are an athlete, you know it well! Getting to a state of joyfulness for others is absolutely work but it is liberating work!
If you are a competitive athlete SO MUCH of what you do revolves around understanding other competitors - give yourself room to just be you. Maybe that means you take up a yoga practice! But we cannot exist happily in a state of "never-being-good-enough"-ness. We need room to breathe and understand that while it is always okay to have goals and aspirations, we are more than enough right we are in this moment.
Yoga Builds Endurance
Another key transformation that yoga has brought to my training practice has genuinely improved my capacity to do more work. It's quite incredible and I never realized yoga would have this effect on me!
Let's talk Meditation. When we really break it down, meditation is basically the practice of paying attention. We observe without our typical bias. This practice allows us to take a huge step back from our "problems" and the things that typically overwhelm us and approach them with a new sense of clarity. We use this as a tool for navigating life. While we may assume that meditation is only done sitting in silence on a cushion with incense burning, this practice can actually be done anywhere, so long as we have some sort of anchor to keep us centered. Most times, that anchor is our breath (and it's a darn good one too because it's not going anywhere). We can drop into this state during our physical yoga practice when certain poses are challenging or uncomfortable, and we can breathe into those poses to find some ease and stay there rather than panic at the sensation of our burning muscles and bail out.
Well, I adapted this to my training, and the results are epic. I typically listen to music if I'm working out alone to get me fired up and motivate me during my workout, but the first time I started my training session and I didn't have music and I wasn't training with a partner, I had a long haul ahead of me. A couple of rounds in, I became very aware of my heart rate and my breathing and my muscle fatigue, and though I would have started getting frustrated in the past with the amount of work left and my lack of energy, I simply observed. I continued to move and notice all of the details of what I felt without falling into the typical thought pattern of 'this is great' or 'this is freakin' rough'- and it was truly one of the most excellent meditations (and workouts) I've experienced!
Yoga is a truly magical practice, and it has opened these doors of self-acceptance and patience and grace that have allowed me to fall in love with training all over again. I want my fellow athletes, my friends, and all of my clients to know the freedom that can be found when embrace the mental accountability aspect of our practice. When we train our minds, then training our bodies can truly begin to yield benefits we never thought possible.