A good friend once told me, “We are the sum of our life’s experiences.”
I have found this to be true.
I'm from a small town on the border of Florida and Georgia, where life revolves around college football on Saturdays and Jesus on Sundays. I have pretty much dedicated my life to football and fitness.
My mantras were always something like, “Push those heavy weights," or "Hit people real hard," and of course, "Pray for strength to do it all over again tomorrow.”
My faith in God was my rock and before I knew it, I had achieved my childhood dream and became a starting linebacker for the University of Florida. #GoGators.
Fast-forward a few years later and I was living in Los Angeles and working as a Financial Advisor for Merrill Lynch. I was still pressing plates in the gym, but my body was killing me. The five surgeries and a few concussions I sustained over the years had taken a toll on my body. But still I had to sweat, so I kept going to the gym.
And sure, I had heard of low-impact forms of exercise like yoga, but my thoughts were always that it was where a bunch of hippie people gathered to do some stretching. I never thought it was something I could actually benefit from.
But when an attractive girl in Lululemon pants asked me to come to a class one day, I couldn't help but say, "YES MA'AM!”
The first time I set foot inside that yoga studio I wore tennis shoes and my best North Florida wife-beater tank top. I remember when the overly happy girl at the front desk had asked me if I wanted a mat and a towel, I nearly scoffed at the idea that I might actually sweat.
“I will take the mat," I replied with a slight grin, "but I doubt I will need a towel.” I thought to myself, I am an athlete! A towel for yoga? Please. Mistake number one.
When the teacher opened the door to the yoga room it was seemingly a mad race to get an ideal spot on the floor for their mats. These hippies are serious!
And then as I got ready to lay my mat down, some dude half my size throws his mat down in the spot I was going for. Little man, I will smash you! Somewhat irritated, I moved to the other side of Lululemon girl who had invited me to class.
Once my spot was secure I surveyed the situation. I saw a little Buddha statue in the corner (whatever, he ain’t Jesus but its just one class) and I was pleasantly surprised by all the hot girls in the room. If only the boys back home knew about this! This was a much more ideal way to flirt with girls than at some dive bar over a few Bud Lights. I quickly realized that this yoga thing was heaven for a single guy like myself.
As I began to loosen up, feeling pretty confident about my new pickup spot, that's when it came out of nowhere — almost as shocking as a blind side on the football field — and the class chanted a great big “OM.” What the hell was that?! I started to get really nervous and yes, I was afraid.
I thought for sure that this yoga thing was definitely some kind of pagan ritual. Was I dishonoring God?
Not soon after I went into full-on survival mode. I was sweating uncontrollably. Why didn’t I get that damn towel? How long can Lululemon girl hold this pose? Don’t quit before she does. Be a man! I also managed to sneak in a few prayers that I'd make it through the class in one piece.
After it was over, I took a quick inventory of the damage that had just occurred. But surprisingly, there wasn’t any. I was still unsure about the religious aspect of yoga, but my broken down football body felt great. So with that, I kept coming back for more.
Despite my newfound dedication to yoga, the years that followed were among the hardest of my life. I was laid off from Merrill Lynch during the financial crisis of 2008 and found myself couch surfing on low cash. Nothing I tried seemed to work. Every great idea I had to climb out of the hole I was in seemed to hit a wall. To say I was brought to my knees in tears only once is an understatement.
I can recall not being able to afford a plane ticket to attend the funeral of one of my best friends’ father when he passed away. It was a gut wrenching moment of self-doubt to say the least.
Have you ever had on of those? Where you find yourself standing on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, staring in the mirror dumbfounded, questioning not only your choices, but your resolve. Your very belief system. All I wanted to do was scream and punch my fist through a wall. How did I let myself get here? I was the one who was supposed to succeed!
My prayers become genuine cries out to God.
And during this difficult transition, yoga played a crucial role in turning my life back around. I would walk into class with the weight of the world on my shoulders, but for those 90 minutes all I could do was sweat and breathe.
Simply put, my faith and my yoga were the only things that kept me going. I had found a new mantra: "Sweat. Breathe. Connect."
As I write this today, I could not imagine my life without my yoga practice. My faith is still as strong as ever and my body feels great. I even begin and end my day with an asana routine I developed myself. In the morning, I pray for strength and ask God for blessings to my friends and family, and to fill my cup so I can help others. And when I return to the mat in the evening, I thank God for giving me this day, and ask for his wisdom in the days to come.
After practicing for six years now, all I can really say is thank God for girls and thank God for Lululemon.
Photo Credit: Lucas Rossi