Whether you are an elite endurance athlete or a weekend warrior, yoga can be an extremely beneficial complement to your other athletic endeavors. Unfortunately, some of the attitudes many of us bring from our athletic pursuits to our practice of yoga can be harmful if we don't become aware of our beliefs and thought patterns.
My athletic background is in basketball and long-distance running, and I now coach both sports. The magnificent life lessons I learned
while participating in organized sports are truly endless, but many of the thoughts, beliefs and attitudes I adopted from those two wonderful, but difficult on the body, athletics were unhealthy and unproductive. Although they benefited me tremendously when they were contained to certain life arenas, I also allowed them to hurt me while using them in areas of my life that they didn't belong in.
Below are three attitudes athletes should ditch before starting yoga.
1. No pain, no gain.
While yoga can be extremely beneficial for your mind, body and spirit, it can also be incredibly dangerous, just like any other athletic pursuit. Trust me, injuries happen while practicing yoga. I know this through firsthand experience when I slipped a disk in my lower back after ignoring pain and shoving myself into a more advanced pigeon pose than my body was ready to submit to. There I was again; beating my body into submission (an embarrassing life pattern) and injuring myself in the process.
If you feel ANY pain while practicing yoga, it's time to back off and be patient. Just like you couldn’t jump into running 70 miles a week after maxing out at 10 miles a week, you shouldn’t expect to excel in your yoga practice immediately. Be kind to yourself and practice patience in your yoga poses.
2. More is better.
More miles, more weight, more reps. Within your yoga practice, less is surprisingly better. If you struggle less and find more ease in your practice, you will benefit more on and off the yoga mat. Tara Stiles, yoga rebel, explains this point beautifully in her books and videos.
Breathing is of the utmost importance, and if you are struggling while in a pose, your breathing may be compromised. Breathe, relax and melt into the poses like vegan coconut milk ice cream on a balmy summer day.
3. Push yourself.
As a former endurance athlete and basketball player, if I could barely move after a race or basketball tournament, I knew I had pushed myself hard enough. “Just dig” was a favorite motto, as I practiced mind over matter and attempted to push myself beyond my limitations time after time. While this is a wonderful attitude to have in moderation while taking yourself to the next level in your sport, it's detrimental in the practice of yoga.
Pushing yourself can lead to injury. Our bodies are complex, magnificent and miraculous, but they can also be fragile in many ways. Respect yourself and your body enough to allow yourself the space to find the effortlessness in your yoga practice. Yoga should be a part of your self-care routine and not another activity that depletes you.