How My Son Made Me a Better Yoga Instructor for Athletes
We’ve all heard parents say the day their child was born everything changed in an instant. On January 8, 2019, my beautiful baby boy was born, and I have not been the same since. Every day with Jack has been a humbling, perspective-checking, exhausting, love-filled experience. And we are only a few months in. My perspective has shifted in many areas of my life, most notably, yoga. Having my son made me a better yoga instructor for athletes. Here are a few reasons why:
My personal yoga practice shifted dramatically after I found out I was pregnant. I could no longer teach or practice yoga in a heated room. There are significant modifications that are recommended for pregnant women. I was completely astonished to find out that I could not longer physically do many of my favorite poses. Yoga postures that used to feel great had me squirming to get out of the pose. I had very limited range of motion with my body changing and growing. As a yoga teacher, I took for granted my range of motion. While I continued to make gains over the years, my ROM had never gone in the opposite direction. Basic poses and shapes that I had always categorized as “easy” were felt from a new perspective. As athletes come to yoga, I remind myself that ROM goes in both directions and the work to get back to where they once were can be a frustrating experience. My goal is to help athletes perform well, and also, to feel well.
Front Row Amy - My EGO
I love vinyasa classes. I’ve taught thousands of yoga classes, trained for hundreds of hours, and attended countless classes in between. I love the feeling of flowing in class and moving with breath. When I first starting practicing yoga, I would always arrive early to set up in the back of the room. I didn’t have the confidence to boldly place my mat in the front row, in my mind, open for ridicule. Once I learned the ins and outs of yoga, I felt great being in the front to encourage others (often doing the most challenging version of the poses). This was all ego. One of my first classes back after Jack, I ended up in the front row. And for the first time in a long time, I didn’t want to be there. I knew what the teacher was going to cue, but I physically could not do it. I had a hard time getting my stomach to engage and it wasn’t properly supporting me. I had to temporarily stop doing several poses, even the most basic plank pose. I could not do chaturanga, a vinyasa class staple, as I didn’t have the arm strength after months of not working out. But there I was in the front row. The teacher made comments as if I was new to yoga, which is what my yoga practice looked like. I was taking care of my body. It was humbling, but it also made me remember, as a yoga instructor, you never really know what’s going on with someone. They show up, look healthy, it looks like they have not ever done yoga, and so you treat them like a beginner. I’ve found that athletes instinctively know their limits. There is a LOT of ego in professional sports and it is important to cultivate a yoga experience that minimizes the ego with functional active recovery stretches. Variations are introduced once enough of the class progresses to the next level on a posture.
Baseball has been my true love since the age of seven. Yoga has become my career, identity, and community. Prior to my son, I hustled around NYC teaching 20+ classes per week. I can say now, a lot of the stuff that I thought was important, simply is not. I gave myself value for the constant hustle. A week after I came home from the hospital with my son, I got a call from an MLB team. We talked about yoga and meditation and the value it has for players and I was hired to teach sessions during Spring Training. Although I physically was still in a lot of pain, I felt so inspired to continue the work that I believe in. I no longer have goals to do as much as I can. I choose to do work that I believe in. I’ve had so many baseball players tell me that they wish they started yoga earlier in their careers. I’m thankful that I can be there now, supporting them with a healthy modality to add to their routine.
Healing from Injury
Injuries cost wins; wins cost money; ownership wants to win. Players are often rushed back from injury. Playing at 80% is better than not having a player available at all, right? I used to agree with that logic. I had an unplanned c-section delivery and I had NO idea what that meant for my body. Six weeks after birth, women go to their doctor for a check up. This is to give them the “all clear” to resume life as they knew it. Let me tell you, six weeks is not nearly enough time for a body to heal from serious abdominal surgery. You can’t drive, climb stairs, or even lift anything over ten pounds for weeks. Prior to my delivery, I assumed once women got the “ok” from their doctor, that life resumed as it was. I was wrong. I was also wrong to think that just because a player is back on the field, that he is feeling better (even if he says he is). Injuries take time to heal. There is a mental component to healing from injury. There are compensation patterns that arise from trying to minimize pain. Communication and trust are a huge part of teaching yoga. Asking the right questions to someone coming back from injury can be the difference from getting the media-perfected generic reply versus an honest answer. Had I not gone through the c-section, I wouldn’t have thought to continually follow-up and check in regardless of initial response. Injuries take time to heal and yoga can help expedite the recovery process.
As a yoga instructor, I am always striving to learn more and be the best I can be for my clients, myself, and now for my family. I will be teaching Jack all sorts of lessons as he starts to grow. I’m more excited about the lessons he’s about to teach me.