I was a competitive swimmer and equestrian as a kid -- and I was pretty good, too. I stopped participating in organized sports as a teenager for many reasons. But it basically boiled down to the fact that I just didn't feel confident in myself. I still exercised, but it wasn't until later that I saw value in challenging myself in sports, beyond the usual health and weight control benefits.
My father, also a family physician, was and is an avid practitioner of meditation, and he tried and tried to get me to slow down and see the value of mindful exercise. Still, it was decades after his first attempts that I actually tried bringing a mindful component to my exercise habits.
Today, I am going to focus on two of my current favorite sporting tools: yoga and tennis. I know yoga is not technically a sport, but it is a physical challenge and it does help me perform better in all my other various physical activities.
There are so many reasons for me not to do yoga: I am uber-type-A and a workout means high-intensity "doing something;" I have severe scoliosis that was treated with extensive (upper thoracic to lower lumbar) spinal fusion at age 30; and I don't have much time to spend on myself -- when it comes to exercise, I need to get in, get it done and get out.
These are also among the many reasons I need to do yoga. My job overseeing the daily health news at HealthDay's Physicians' Briefing shows me many more. Numerous studies have detailed health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, lower heart rate, better immune function and more.
In my yoga practice, I have learned many things about myself and learned how to navigate my life in a more gentle and balanced way. There is also very attractive energy in a roomful of yogis, all there to work on different aspects of self and move in positive directions.
Some of the poses are hard as heck, but, over time, I have learned that if I listen to my body and don't overdo it, I can stay steady through quite a bit of discomfort -- and the discomfort always passes. I emerge stronger.
The inner strength I get from that is immeasurable. My sister-in-law has noticed my outer strength as well, with what she refers to as "arms that are cut." (It makes wearing sleeveless shirts a bit more fun, but I still think that inner strength is the better deal.)
You know what else is cool? Through the many years of high-intensity workouts, I have always struggled with an "apple" body type. I tend to gain weight in my midsection and have never really had much of a waist. Aerobics and crunches have never gotten me the results I want. But yoga? My core has never been so strong and I am actually starting to see a new inward curve to my waistline at a twice-post-pregnancy age of (almost) 40. The irony! But research backs this up too.
I have also enjoyed mastering new poses that I once thought were impossible, given my back. The feelings that wash through me can only be described as childlike wonder and excitement ... like I must have felt the day I took my first step. I can do this? What else can I do? Bring on the world!
Tennis? Much of it turns me off: It is repetitive, competitive and has so many stops and starts.
But this is also what turns buried parts of me on.
I once (admiringly) described to my husband one of the women I play with as aggressive on the courts. He said he thought I meant assertive -- and he's right. Why would I, who should know better, jump to that slightly negative phrasing about a female who goes for the ball and wants to win? Our coach dictates that you go for the ball. Period. You reach with the racket and -- worst case scenario -- the rackets hit each other. The point is: You want the ball? You go get the ball. No apologies.
One of the challenges I have set for myself on the court is to go get that ball. And never say I'm sorry. Of course, this rule goes right out the window if you hurt someone, but when it comes to making a great shot that they can't get? Watch it fly, resist the urge to apologize for making them run or interrupting the rally -- and win! I think women in particular can use a little more regular practice in this "assertiveness training".
And a note about aggression: A little of that on the courts, too, also helps me. This is healthy place to let out pent up frustration -- whack that ball! One of the other women I hit with has the nickname "The Assassin"-- I can almost see any negative energy dissipating each time that ball gets powered across the courts. Get it, girl! And let it go. Again, what irony!
There were many reasons I stopped or resisted participating in my teens, and many reasons why I started mindfully participating in organized sports again in my 20s and 30s. My self-confidence? Never been better -- and I have myself to thank.