I’ve been teaching a lot of new yogis lately, particularly athletes new to the practice. It’s powerful to share with them the same gifts my teachers shared with me, and facilitate the beginning of a transformation.
I’ve been there. I remember. I know what it’s like that first time you really feel into yourself.
As an athlete, we are trained to stay in “get better” mode. Faster, further, higher, longer, more pounds, more points, more reps. Even when we win, and even if that win is huge, the only thing anyone really wants to know, focus on or say is, “What’s next?”
This is un-mindfulness training, and it sticks with us forever—unless we choose to do something about it.
Not every path will lead to yoga (though I wish it would), but when it does, my experience says there are a few things a yoga practice can teach an athlete—here are 10 of them:
1) There is no better. There is no worse. There is simply now, with this body, today, on this mat, right here.
Some days we can do handstands; some days we can’t hold tree. Sometimes we’re bendy like Gumby, and some days we’re stiff as a board. “Best” gets a new tense, and a new definition. Do your best with the body that showed up today, even if, especially if, that means resting.
2) No one is competing with us.
No really. No one cares that we can bind and they can’t, and vice versa. There are no trophies, world records or cash prizes here.
3) There is no end goal; the work is never “done.”
The purpose of the asana is not mastery; the purpose of the asana is to tap into our physical body so we can get into our spiritual and emotional self. If that means you use a block in triangle so your heart is open, great. If that means your hand is flat on the ground in triangle, also great. Keep practicing, and things will get easier, and then you’ll find a new way to deepen.
4) The breath is essential.
A yoga practice forces us to notice and move with our breath. No longer is breath simply a function of oxygen exchange, but instead a direct line of connection inward. Lose your breath, and you’ve lost the practice, but control your breath, and you control your mind.
5) Being still takes more work than moving.
Athletes are trained to go, to be on alert, to move. Yoga teaches us to be still, to sit in discomfort and to choose to respond, not react. Who will you be when all your distractions are removed? What is left, when your body is quiet and your mind is not? The work is to do nothing—not everything.
6) Our limitations are perceptions that we create.
You are neither “not flexible enough,” nor “not patient enough” to do yoga. Those are labels you’re choosing to assign to yourself. Do yoga, and you’ll gain flexibility—and patience. We start where we are now, not where we want to be later.
7) Soft is strong.
Taking rest takes guts for an athlete. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourself is pause. You know what your body is asking for; give it that, and not what you think it should want. Forcing yourself to stay in may not actually be the stronger choice. Listen.
8) You are enough.
Yes, you. Just as you are. You are enough. For everyone, for everything, and in every way. You showed up. You are doing the work. Be here now.
9) Yoga is work.
At first, it will feel like physical work. Then, it might switch to emotional and spiritual work. Eventually, it will be all of them. What it won’t often be, is easy, unless you choose for it to be.
10) The practice is done alone, but together. We are held in community.
It is not a team sport, it is not partner yoga (but it could be!), but it is a room full of people moving together, connecting to breath and growing their energy. There is truly nothing like it. Be with yourself, and be with everyone; both times and spaces exist on your mat.
Author: Michelle Sweezey
Editor: Toby Israel