Yoga for Athletes Artwork
Season 1 - Episode 10

Yoga and Athletics

25 min - Conversation


Lydia and Brenda, both yoginis and athletes, converse about the parallels and intersection of yoga and athletics, and explore how yoga can serve as a wonderful supplement to sports when done mindfully.
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Oct 21, 2015
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Welcome. I wanna introduce my dear friend, Brenda, and she's the director of recreation and exercise programs at UCSB, as well as an athlete, and as well as an amazing yogi, who teaches classes on Yoga Anytime. Thanks for being here with me, Brenda. Thank you. I want to start of with, well I'm curious about how you came to athletics, what sports that you participate in and also how you came to yoga.

And then I'm gonna add a third component to that. What are the parallels of those two things for you? Okay, so athletics, I would say at a young age, I started swimming competitively, that was kind of my hook at age six, seven, eight, all the way up through high school. And then more around high school, I started to dabble and really dive into field hockey and lacrosse. And from there, continued to focus in just on field hockey and lacrosse in college.

And continued to play field hockey for a bit after college, at a pretty high level. Played with our UF development program. It was pretty focused in. For me, athletics, I would say continued on in more from mid 20s, exiting team sports and then diving a little bit more into getting serious about climbing. And then later in life, at 39, 40, diving into surfing and getting really focused about that.

So the world of athletics is always been a big part of my life. Yoga fell in about, the gift of yoga, around my mid to early 20s, and just happened to stumble upon a class with my mom, who just peaked around the corner, and was like, "Have you ever done that?" So, dove in with her when she was like, please will you come in with me? So we did a yoga class. And I wouldn't say I was hooked from the first moment, but I knew, I was like, oh this is nice, this is good and kept coming back, and there was something that kept bringing me back to my mat. And I think a lot of that was because of some of the parallels, that as I was starting to leave the world of team sport and starting to enter in more of an individual sport, it really brought me in and shared this focus, this mental clarity.

So as for parallels I see between athletics and yoga, is a state of consciousness. Like when things in a team sport, click click, or an individual sports, that state of clarity, the state of consciousness, almost like, I think in athletics they call it the zone. It's this blissful state, it feels joyful, but it feels very slowed down and precise in precision. So I feel like that has a lot of similarities as we're moving into this state of consciousness for yoga of being ever so present, it can arrive the seem, but in a different means through athletics. I think there's also some similarities in movement, in balance, in stillness.

But then some very differences, whereas yoga is much more still, some deeper rest, yeah. Can you share a little bit about your athletic background, and maybe what you think are some parallels and differences? Sure thanks for asking. Yeah. In my late teens, I wasn't athletic growing up.

My father was a musician, so I was encouraged to practice music, which I'm super grateful for. But I didn't really realize it until my late teens, that I was a body mover and so fascinated with proprioception and just body movement in general. So I found snow boarding in my late teens, and then I found climbing. And I pretty much stuck to climbing as my main sport since then. And shortly after I found climbing, I found yoga.

I found yoga and the first yoga class I did, interestingly there was not a lot of movement or vinyasa or anything like that. It was a very slow therapeutic class. But what really drew me in was the deep rest at the end. And I think that's what I was missing. So I think for the difference piece, I think the deep rest, I was in a place in my life where I was so stoked on the athletics and the movement and I could almost not stop moving because the love was so there, but I think I was going a little bit out of balance.

And then, I was just craving this deep rest. And so, that really drew me in, and from that day forward, it was like almost an everyday thing for me, until now. But as for the parallels, I did start practicing vinyasa yoga shortly after, and just fell in love with the details and the subtlety and this movement. And I think the same as with snow boarding especially, cause there was a speed to the, like what you were saying about, there's a speed to the movement, but then there's this really slow piece when you're in the zone. And same thing with the vinyasa, there is a rhythm and there's kind of a rhythm that quiets the mind and then there's a really slow piece.

I always think about it like being on one of those in the airport you go on those fast lanes, and you're looking over to the side and you're going really slow. And I'm like, I love this feeling, I wish I was on this thing, I wish it was longer. Because that's the feeling for me that I get in a vinyasa practice and also in athletics, but interestingly, climbing is very slow. I mean it can be a little quicker. But the mental peace of that discipline, was always what drew me in.

And also, the movement in very creature like in climbing, so I connected to that a lot. In your experience as an athlete, what did you want from yoga practice, and has that changed? Yeah I think it ever flows with where I am with what else is in my life. Am I training for something? If I am training, what part of training am I in?

What does my body need? So I would say, right now what I'm really liking, and I would say I'm in an in between. I'm not training for anything specifically, but I'm pretty active. So I love a really sweet slow flow feels nice. And I really like the deeper rest.

So a blend of, deep slow thoughtful flow and strong, when I say strong, meaning deep restorative. Just being able to let myself go in different poses. Yeah, but at different times in athletics, where it didn't feel so good to be in restorative practices. Where it just felt like I was letting the stability of my joints go too much. So finding that blend of, okay what am I doing, where am I holding tension, am I allowing too much elasticity in?

So just figuring out what are the benefits and what are the things in my athletics am I training that I still wanna hold on to, and not let go of. So yeah, right now I'm really loving the slow flow in my world of bringing athletics and yoga together. How about for you? Well I wanted to comment on what you said. That I did all this research on the yoga for athletes practices that I'm presenting on the show, with a lot of my friends are professional athletes.

My husband is one of them. And the consensus with the professional athletes or people who are really serious about their sport, was that they wanted recuperative, mobilizing, restorative, deeper rest. And from some of them, I heard that they wanted a meditative component, and from some I heard that they didn't want that at all. They just wanted a post yoga little short session, where they could be, of course, mindful, but you know, short, 30 minutes, gentle flow really. It was a lot about gentle flow.

And so, that was curious to me, cause I was wondering if athletes, and I know all athletes are different, you can't generalize and pigeon hole any category of people like there isn't. But I was wondering if athletes wanted something strong all the time, and continued to have that movement, I think some do. What's your thoughts on that? I would say, when I was in that place of training so hard, the training was mostly focused on the sport. So when I had time in my world, that I didn't want that more strength, so for me it was that restorative peace, it was bringing in a little bit more of the alignment and the recovery and the sweet stuff.

Yeah, so, but at this point in my life, I'm finding a blend, a balance. Where I want some of the strong. Even when I'm working hard and training, or have goals for whether it's surfing, climbing, running, whatever it is, and I'm blending more like a cross in my training that I can use yoga sometimes, as that strength peace and that stability peace. But, when I was super focused in the world of athletics, I don't think I would've given up a piece of my training to replace it with yoga. It would of been the supplement for more restorative pieces.

Right. Yeah. Interesting, cause a lot of my friends, they have rest days, and they often tell me that yoga is not a rest day activity, because they feel more tired. Even from the opening, they feel tired. Because sometimes that stretching of the fascia, especially if it's a little bit bound up, it's actually, there's a soreness that comes after.

What's your experience with soreness after restorative yoga? (laughing) So let's talk about longer holds, cause I love this gentle flow, and that's what people are asking for it seems, like the people I've spoken to. But what about like yin, in your experience? Well I think it's depending on body type. So for me, I hold a little bit more tension in my joints.

So I think I can go into a yin class, without going to far, too deep. Versus some athletes having more elasticity in their joints. It's so personal. Yeah very personal. And I think incorporating into the different phases you are in training and how much time you have in your life.

For sure. On that note of how much time you have in your life. You were saying, when you were training, how would you recommend to athletes to weave yoga into their already busy lives and with a training schedule. Right, well I think when we look at yoga, we can look outside the (mumbles), the shapes that we create with our bodies. That it can be the pranayama, the mental peaces.

And it can be little blips, whether it's okay I'm now leaving from a training session to head home for dinner, taking that pause before you get in the car, like okay. Three conscious breaths. It can be a minute, 30 seconds to a minute. Like how do we incorporate these little blips, little stretches we can do in between. Or you know max of 30 minutes.

But even looking at those short five minute pieces. What can we fit into our lives, that can start to add on to the mental peace, breath work peace of calming the nervous system, tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system, like how to really find relaxation throughout our day. Sure that's such a good point. How about yourself? You weaving yoga into already a busy schedule.

My mom, she's not a athlete, she just started doing 20 minutes of yoga everyday. And she doesn't really call it yoga, she calls it stretching. But, she's blocked that out. And that's a manageable amount of time, so I love an amount of time that's not intimidating, still constitutes for a full practice. And then maybe it expands and maybe it doesn't.

But I love the peace that you're talking about. The breath, the different things that could potentially support an athletic life style. That parasympathetic nervous system, turning it on, for sure. I think tiny little bits are better than nothing. And I also think, yoga's so vast, so there's some yoga's that might not fit for everybody.

It's just like the world of athletics is so vast. We're talking about competitive sports and sports that are actually more like a life style, than a sport. But the world of yoga, there's a piece that you could just do breath, and breathe into your belly and relax your diaphragm for five minutes, and that could be something that you could weave in. For me, to being in a individual sport like climbing, I could get a lot of the movement that I might need to work out my energy, and a mental peace that's focused, but then I wouldn't get that deep rest after. So I think, when I get home, just do a short solitary time with deep breaths, and that could be it.

A nice yoga (mumbles). That's for sure. So I think a question that I could lead in here with, is, do you think there is a difference between athletic yoga and yoga for athletes? That's a really good question. Like we're talking about the world of athletics is so broad, but what I'm feeling like, athletes that are really training hard, I feel like our conversation's brought us to this, and my research has brought us a little bit to that they're kind of tending, and you can't generalize, but they're kind of tending towards shorter, recuperative practices.

And then maybe also some of the bio mechanic piece of learning about the body and learning about opposite movements that might support their practice of athletics. I think that athletic yoga, is interesting in the world of yoga, it might get a little flack. That it's not yoga if it's athletic. But what is yoga? There's so many things under the umbrella of yoga, and is that making the assumption, that athletics are not mindful?

Cause yoga is coming into the present moment. And athletics, the movement and the focus, the (mumbles) focus can definitely do that. What are your thoughts on that? (laughing) I agree with you. I think athletic yoga gets a lot of flack.

But I'm just gonna call it a strong yoga class, with options. So to make it available for people. I think that many of us, myself included, arrive to our mats with a lot of extra energy. So I have a lot of fire to burn and if we're trying to make connection with our self, with something outside of our self, well I shouldn't say outside of our self, something that's greater, that we are connected to, in arriving in a (mumbles) balance state, if it takes me a little more to get there, in terms of the energy output, I think that's still beautiful and it feels good. And if I'm bringing thoughtfulness and intention to each movement and each breath, then I believe that's a deep practice, a very deep practice.

And there's something about the discipline component weaved into that, for me, that if there's a challenge and finding balance in the challenge. Cause it's almost like I need something to push up against, to understand that I'm there. And then to have that self inquiry. So sometimes if I have a challenge, then, and I find the spaciousness and ease in it, there's that balance of the sthira and sukha, the strength and the steadiness, and then the ease and it's always that play. Which I think can come into the world of athletics and performance.

Because if you have too much tension, too much strength, performance is gonna go down. And as you said in the world of yoga, we're very aware of this balance between the two, of the strength and the ease. So in performing, whether it's climbing, lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, football, whatever the sport is, if there's not an ease in the effort, it's gonna result in too much tension and not high performance. Right and I can say in my experience as a climber, if I have too much strength and an over grip in my body, then I kind of lose the intelligence of my strategy. So the more relaxed I kind of feel less fear.

Which also, I think comes up in challenging yoga, even though there's a safety, you know the space. And there's a safety of that you're not in the elements and there's not all these risks. But still, the fear can definitely come up. Man I'm sick of (mumbles) sometimes, but yeah, that's something that I learned from yoga. So that if after practicing yoga for over a decade, I'm a much better climber now than I ever was, and I don't climb as much as I used to, but I attribute it completely in learning how to have efficiency in mind and body.

Absolutely, absolutely, yeah. Do you think yoga can contribute to increasing performance? I think it depends on how you do it, how you practice it. So I mean, I think I'm kind of a die hard yogi, so I may be a little bit biased in this sense. I think you should do yoga.

(laughing) No but really, I think it depends on how you do it. I have a really close friend, and I'm not gonna mention his name. But I was researching this and I asked him, what about yoga or do you even like yoga? And he was like, Lydia, I'm gonna tell you all the reasons why I don't like yoga. And it was a really long email about it.

And he's like, so this is what I'm still looking from a yoga practice. And the end of it, he's like, I realized that was a ramble, but this is what I would like from a yoga practice. And it was interesting, it's a lot of the same things that we were talking about today. So I think it's definitely how you do it. If you connect to the (mumbles) teacher, if you connect to the things the things the teacher is into.

If you can connect in when you're practicing. But definitely I think there are a lot of components to yoga that are helpful for athletics. And that ease part is a huge part for me. What about you? Absolutely.

I think there are a lot of parallels, as we talked about at the beginning. And I think that, again, if done with intention, it can increase performance. Or increase recovery time. I do also believe that if not done properly, it can also be harmful. It's just not having thoughtfulness.

Yeah, when you have an athlete, you're so focused on what they're doing and they're performance and their outcome, they wanna show up with intention, and they are. So having a thoughtful teacher to guide them through. Well thank you so much. This was fun. It was really great talking to you about that.

And thanks for listening and hanging out with us. Namaste. Namaste.


Melanie B
1 person likes this.
Great video to watch this morning while doing some of my own yoga. Motivated me to work more on my own athletics (which has been slacking a bit) in the new year.
Lydia Zamorano
Melanie, happy this conversation gave you some positive juju! Big hugs and happy solstice.
David G-
Brenda and Lydia: Thanks for this! I have seen dramatic improvement in my cycling form/fitness/power since I started yoga last March. Had I found yoga when I had bigger cycling aspirations I would have been so much better!  And yes on Yoga Nidra!  A great recovery tool for missed sleep and active athletic recovery.  Here's to getting in the zone more often!   
Lydia Zamorano
David Goldstein Brenda Lear David I'm so happy to hear that you are finding benefit from the practices. Notes like these keep me inspired. Thank you for that. Warmth, Lydia 

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