Throughout the stay-at-home order in Colorado, my number one fitness goal has been to recommit to a yoga practice. Not that I’ve ever truly been committed in the first place—my longest streak of consistent yoga practice was during the 2018 Sober October.
But whenever I have included yoga practice into my routine, I’ve felt better, stronger, and more centered. So about a week into quarantine, I made a decision—why not add some daily downward dogs to help me stay limber without my usual weekly bodywork and to keep some of the COVID-19 induced anxiety at ease?
On Monday, I hit four weeks straight of daily yoga practice. And although I didn’t notice it right away, my 20 to 60 minutes of mat time a day seem to be making a difference.
I find myself breathing more slowly and intentionally throughout the day. I feel like there is more space to think and that there are pauses between the chaotic nature of my thoughts, which seem to continually be flying through my head. My shoulders relaxed down out of my ears, and my lower back moves more freely. Most notably, I feel better, more limber, and energetic when I get out of bed in the morning and don’t seem to need the normal 15 minutes of movement to shake feeling like the tin-man.
Yoga will make you a better athlete and a healthier, happier human being. It doesn’t take a daily 90-minute class commitment—just 15 minutes a day can make a huge impact, and add up to almost two hours of practice each week.
Here is how hitting my yoga mat for 15 minutes a day has helped me be a better athlete.
For a long time, I put all of my focus on what a pose should look like, and because I could never seem to turn myself into a human pretzel (or even touch my toes for that matter), I declared myself a hopeless yogi. But the focus is on intention, not outcome, and noticing how each movement or breath feels rather than looks.
The more I practiced yoga, the more I was able to bring that intention and thoughtfulness to my running and more challenging workouts. When I was on my last of four 10-minute intervals—that also happened to be into the wind, uphill, and at 9000 feet—I was able to accept the movement and how it felt rather than worry that the pace on paper wouldn’t reflect the effort. This is an invaluable skill and allows me to be fully present in a workout instead of worrying about how slow I’m going even while the effort is extremely high.
We are athletes because we love to move. Yoga will help you to experience the sensations of that movement fully.
Many people talk about yoga and injury prevention in relation to stretching and strengthening, and honestly, that was my sole purpose in re-kindling my yoga practice. I just wanted to run healthy. Injury prevention and increasing mobility have proved essential. Still, I have also noticed that the more I practice the more aware I am of the tiny muscles in my body, how they are connected, and what it feels like when they move.
The more aware you can become of what it feels like to move within your own skin, the more you will be able to be aware when something changes or is amiss.
An hour-long yoga class in a studio is a luxury, and for me has been the significant barrier of entry into the yogi world. I do not have time to make it to the studio for an hour, nor do I want to pay the high membership fees. But I have been able to find ten to fifteen minutes in a quiet corner with my mat.
A big part of yoga for me is the ability to be present. Even after a short—but focused—practice, I find that I move more slowly. I often practice right before breakfast or coffee, and I will make my breakfast with more intention.
At first, I was inclined to skip the breathing exercises that come at the end of most yoga classes. But when I pressed pause and moved on to my next activity, I noticed I missed out on some of the benefits I listed above. My mind still raced, and I would find myself moving through my day, checking boxes as usual.
Learning to use your full lung capacity holds obvious benefits for any endurance athlete. Yet to make the most of your efforts and training, you also must make the most of your recovery. If you can use the breath to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and place your body into a state of relaxation, you can make the most of training—and be more present to experience life.