I’m honored to be writing about my love for yoga, meditation, and sports for Breaking Muscle. Growing up I was a competitive athlete. When I wasn’t in school or sleeping, you’d find me at the gym, soccer field, track, or swimming and diving pool. In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be teaching yoga and meditation when I “grew up.” Back then yoga was not mainstream, especially not in the Midwest. Yoga was thought of as exercise for hippies. I wouldn’t have been exposed to yoga if not for my mom, a diabetes educator in Western medicine.
My mother taught me the power of meditation when I was a teenager. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and – in what I now realize was a very forward-thinking step – affirmed meditation for relaxation as part of her treatment plan. She would visualize the chemotherapy as PacMan characters eating the cancer cells and leaving behind the healthy cells.
When I asked her about it, she told me Russian gymnasts were also using visualization techniques to improve their performance. My mom told me about research where one-half the team was doing normal practice 25% of the time and doing visualization 75% of the time. The other half was doing normal practice 75% of the time and visualization 25% of the time. The group that did visualization 75% of the time performed better! I was seventeen years old, and I remember knowing my entire life was going to change from hearing those facts. I still don’t know where my mom did that research, but I guess it really doesn’t matter.
Fast-forward to present day, my mom is alive and well, and I have been teaching yoga for fifteen years. The tools my mom taught me at such a young age helped me improve my sports performances and gave me tools to deal with life’s stressors. Now, I share this knowledge with Olympic and professional athletes for a living. I truly do love my life.
You may be wondering why I’m telling you my life story. I want you to know me, as I will be writing for you every week. I did not grow up in an ashram, although I have spent time at a few. I didn’t even grow up in a yoga capitol like Los Angeles, where I now reside. Like many girls growing up in my era in the Midwest, I was an athlete first. I later discovered yoga and meditation, and it has become the only lifestyle that makes sense for me. And I still watch SportsCenter more than any other show on television. I believe the two go hand in hand. Any time I see an elite athlete perform, I know I am watching a true yogi.
- Yoga teaches us to focus. Meditation teaches one-pointed awareness. Every elite athlete does this when they drop into the “zone.”
- Yoga improves strength by using body weight as resistance.
- Yoga improves flexibility. You knew that already – duh!
- Yoga improves balance, leading to injury prevention.
- Yoga increases peace of mind. Not every competition or event in life will go as we hoped. Yoga gives us the tools to deal with adversity.
We are lucky to live in a time where you can find yoga just about anywhere. Yoga is available at your local yoga studio, gym, community center, schools, and even some churches offer yoga. So get out there and try a yoga class. If you don’t like it the first time, try another teacher or style. I’ll see you on the mat!