The first time I realized the benefits of practicing yoga for cross-training, it was by accident. I had been a swimmer in high school (100 Butterfly and 200 IM) and was a Master’s swimmer in my 20s. In 1995, I taught swimming at the 92nd St Y in New York to support my dance “career.” A choreographer that I worked with suggested that I start taking yoga classes. After some initial resistance, I eventually stepped into my first Iyengar yoga class.
While my first class wasn’t great, (the teacher barked orders of poses we were supposed to do, giving very specific directions as to what we should do to make the poses “better”), I somehow made it through. I felt strong, relaxed, and oddly calm. My type A, perfectionist personality was always on the go. I literally lived my life by a schedule that was organized to the minute. I never moved at a slower pace, this felt different. But, I decided to take another class, this time with another teacher.
My next couple of classes were amazing. I found a kinder teacher who was encouraging and supportive. He told us to use as many props as our body required, and how to move our body so that the poses made sense. At first I wasn’t interested in using props since my “I can do it, I don’t need help” mindset was in full force (click here for more on the benefits of props). But, after some gentle encouragement, I found that they actually make the poses feel better. I felt more stable on my feet, and opened my mind to the possibility of accepting support. Again, I felt strong and relaxed, and even though I was already flexible, the stretching was specific and intentional, and felt really good.
After about 3 yoga classes, I got back in the pool to do my regular swim. My stroke felt different. I felt more graceful in the water, gliding more with each stroke. I was aware of how my arms connected into my back and felt able to “grab” the water better with each pull. “Hm, maybe there is something to this yoga stuff,” I remember thinking to myself.
Almost 30 years later, I still practice yoga and swim. I also walk and hike in the woods. Yoga is a big part of my cross-training. Yoga helps me feel better not only while swimming, but while walking and hiking as well. My yoga students who play tennis and golf see a difference in their game. I have triathlete students who add yoga to their training routine, for both the physical and mental benefits. My yoga practice at age 51 is different from my 23 year old self’s practice, but yoga keeps me virtually pain free. Strength, excellent balance and functional mobility keep me moving my body comfortably throughout the day. I am much kinder to myself now than I was then, much more loving and compassionate. I have let go of comparison and self criticism, and can simply accept myself as I am.
Practicing yoga has had a huge, positive impact on my life as an active adult. I understand how my body moves and how to move it efficiently, both in the water and on land. Any athlete or active adult benefits from the core strength and functional flexibility alone. But the mental/emotional effects are also profound. To feel calm and focused when meeting a challenge, is invaluable, both as an active adult, and as an adult in general. Not only is yoga beneficial for athletic cross-training, it acts like cross-training for life.
Join me in May for the first of 3 in person sessions of Yoga For Cross-Training: Yoga and Walking, Yoga and Swimming, and Yoga and Bicycling! Click here for more information!
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