Find Your Breath, Find Your Practice: Yoga is For Everyone
I entered my freshman year of college at one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. and received the dreading news, I was injured. What started as a nagging pain results in my shins feeling like they were on fire. Aleve was my best friend. Stretching, icing, heating, hours spent in the training room and gnarly deep tissue massages became all part of the norm. Once the surgery and recovery were over and I was back to 100 percent, it became apparent that if I wanted to be the player I knew I could be, I had to deal with the discomfort and push through. I redshirted that fall season, not just for my injury but in part for my need to develop my skills at a higher level.
Following that redshirt freshman year and the summer before my redshirt sophomore season, I had a choice to make. Whether I was going to permit my head and body to remain average, or if I was going to put in the necessary work to earn a starting position. My shins were in constant knots and I knew I had to find a way, any way to continue to strive.
August 1 came like clockwork each year when you start to feel the preseason nerves in your bones. The familiar ache, sweat and satisfaction. You get to spend every day with your favorite people, your teammates, and continue to work on something bigger than yourself, an opportunity to be etched into the history of your school.
I made it through college, with two national championships under my belt, and was selected for the U.S. Women’s National Development squad in 2009. I uprooted my life and moved to Chula Vista, Calif. to be a full-time U.S. Women’s National Team athlete. Later I was selected to the team and trained with them until 2011. After playing the sport I loved since I was five years old, my body started to fail me. It was exhausted. Field hockey is a great love of mine, but it was also the only thing I knew how to excel at. What’s next?
During my time in Chula Vista, Lululemon came to the facility to provide free yoga to athletes. When my time playing the sport I loved ended, I knew I needed another avenue, a way to stay active, yet not straining my body any more than it was already damaged. I went to class daily and slowly started to feel better about myself, and where I was in my life. I became appreciative of the experiences I had. I began to feel very fortunate for everything that had happened to me. It changed my perspective on life and provided guidance to me in a time of darkness.
Yoga is often misunderstood due in part to the media’s portrayal of flexible, tall individuals bending their bodies into very complex and advanced postures. In reality, the roots of yoga are thousands of years old and concentrated in two actions combined together: breath and movement. When you pause to truly think of those two actions together, you come to realize that yoga can be everything.
In modern day there are a vast array of yoga styles that are practiced all over the world. Each of these practices offers their own benefits and experiences for the practitioner. Some of the most common benefits that you may find in your own yoga practice are stress relief, flexibility, balance, agility, core strength, relief of lower back or hip pain, increased circulation, decreased blood pressure and a clearer vantage point for here and now. Any athlete could benefit hugely by adding yoga to his or her training regimen. Not only for the strength and flexibility aspects, but because yoga brings your conscious into the present and reminds you to cherish and love all that you have in your life. When you learn to move with ease and stop forcing things, you will prevent injuries and your body will open with your mind, increasing flexibility all around you.
In times of uneasiness or discomfort many yogis take to their mat to manage their reactions and bring themselves back to the here and now. Losing a job, breaking up with a partner, or something as simple as losing a game of field hockey, can all be reasons why a yogi will return to their mat. To focus in on themselves. To be thankful for their bodies, families, friends and experiences. I wish I would have known the physical, mental and spiritual benefits that yoga has during my field hockey playing career. During my time of doubt, uneasiness and longing for direction, I could have used the exercise to hone in on my body, and work on my self-care.
Yoga is not a sport, nor a competition. It is an experience of breath and movement, and it can make you feel remarkable when shared. Nowadays, yoga has become my profession and I even incorporate it in to my high school coaching program. Many individuals, including athletes, can benefit from the disciplines of the practice while helping to promote relaxation, reduce stress and improve medical conditions. I know firsthand as a field hockey athlete there is constant high-impact on the lower body, which can result in many injuries. Yoga has the benefit of being a low-impact activity which is also a well-designed exercise program that is used to strengthen and balance all parts of the body. Some of the most common poses that are good in general for everyone, including athletes, are:
- Down Dog: stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches and hand. It also strengthens the arms and legs.
- Reclined Spinal Twist: stretches the back muscles, spine and hamstrings. It also strengthens the legs if the knees are straightened.
- Pigeon: increases external range of motion of femur in hip socket and lengthens hip flexors.
- Frog: deep opener for the groin which mildly compresses the lower back and stimulates the spine.
- Bridge: stretches the chest, neck and spine while stimulating abdominal organs, lungs and thyroids.
It is never too late to pick up a mat and step foot in a yoga studio. Love it or hate it, at least you gave it a try. The experience can be rewarding, enough to hopefully stick as a lifelong passion.
—This article is featured in the Fall 2018 issue of FHLife magazine. From teamusa.org