When I turned eight, I was the youngest girl on my AAU traveling basketball team. I played rec softball, too. I tried my hand at high school volleyball (it wasn’t really my thing). I’ve been riding horses since I could walk, which takes a whole lot more muscle than you’d think (hanging on, lifting saddles, not letting a one-ton horse drag your little four-foot self around the yard…). In high school, I was on the equestrian team barrel racing in competitions.
Needless to say, I was into sports and I was competitive. And, the general expectation for these sports was to run, lift weights, and get faster, stronger and tougher than your competitor. Have you ever done a rebounding drill in basketball when the loser has to run baseline to baseline 30 times in 60 seconds? Yeah, it gets intense (especially with a group of high school girls–talk about some drama). Cue eye roll.
We would lift weights three times a week, run until we couldn’t feel our legs, and scrape ourselves up diving for softballs. My mind was always at high-speed. You have to be at a high-intensity to keep pushing yourself through the pain, the burn, the fatigue. It was exhausting, exhilarating and rewarding all at the same time.
But, that was when I was a spry high schooler that could bounce back after a 20-minute power nap, and my life was just sports.
Now, I’m not ‘old’ by any means, but in the real world, unless you’re a professional athlete, trying to do that kind of intense workout all the time just isn’t possible. Aside from work, volunteering, juggling bills and household responsibilities, friends, family and everything in-between, there’s no room left in my brain at the end of the day to push through a multiple hour workout EVERY DAY. And, I know we can ALL relate to that feeling.
When I realized my workout life could never be the same as high school, I was a bit lost. I didn’t want to become part of the 80% of adults who don’t get the recommended amount of exercise. And, I wanted to be healthy and feel good about my body. But, I only knew one way to ‘get in shape’, and that was to run myself to exhaustion, gauging progress by the level of drenched my shirt was and the soreness I felt.
My competitive spirit took a hit since I couldn’t figure out how to find a new alternative way to exercise in my adult life. Nothing seemed to be quite right to fill the adrenaline-pumped life of sports I used to know.
That was until I signed up for a beginner’s yoga class…
Now, I had my doubts about yoga. “This isn’t a workout. I’ll probably just end up falling asleep while I lay my face on the squishy mat…” (Full disclosure: this kind of happened one time…) But, I was in my twenties and my friends were doing it, so I figured what the heck, I’ll give it a try. What’s there to lose? (I could at least gain a naptime in my day…)
Ha! Was I wrong. Pleasantly wrong. Some forms of yoga may not have made me sweat through my shirt, but I sure as heck felt those sore muscles the next day. I began to realize each week I went that this was doing something great to my mind and body (yes, I know how cheesy that sounds). And, come to find out, yoga is one of the top ten health practices used by adults today.
But, don’t get me wrong, I felt awkward sometimes. I didn’t know what all these new words were (like, what the heck is a ‘downward dog’?), and I wasn’t all that well-balanced and stumbled a bit, but thankfully it was a beginner’s class, so I wasn’t alone in that.
I’m an outwardly optimistic person, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have those typical negative thoughts about how I look or my weight (“I’m so far away from having a thigh gap! Ugh.“) But, as I would stand in some new pose with my foot here and my hands there (maybe a little wobbly), I would shut my eyes, quiet my thoughts, and feel a sort of empowerment (as in, “why would I even want a thigh gap? That’s not something I want to work toward. I like my thighs, they’re strong. I used to work hard to get these thighs, and it made me a better athlete! Yeah, I love my thighs. Boom.“)
I’d leave that room not only feeling accomplished in an exercise, but feeling better about my day and myself. And, since I grew up an athlete, and yoga isn’t really a ‘competitive team sport’, I started competing against myself. How much more flexible could I get? How much more balanced could I be? How many poses could I achieve without falling over?
Don’t let me fool you, I’m no expert yoga master. I just finally got Triangle Pose and Cobra down (and, those are still beginner moves). I still love sports and play them plenty (I need some of that actual competition against other people!) But, yoga showed me a new way to be healthy without draining my mind and body and instead recharging them. Studies have shown that yoga is a proven stress-reliever, brain power-booster, and will increase your happiness, and I now see that all to be true. It was just what I needed to throw into my exercise routine. Bonus: it gives me another reason to wear yoga pants, too.
So, for all you hardcore sports people out there, who are maybe becoming just weekend warriors and maybe having a hard time figuring out how to live a healthy life with less sports, give yoga a try. Or, heck, even if you’re a superstar and still dominate at sports, try tossing yoga into your life. I bet you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.