I reluctantly stepped on a yoga mat in front of my teacher, Gretchen Robinson. I knew this would be my last attempt at a modality that most were shocked to find I hated.
For years I tried to ingrain this practice into my life, but every time I stepped on the mat, all I felt was anger. My athlete brain kept saying “I don’t get it... let’s just workout!”
After one practice...my whole world shifted. Gretchen instilled in me that the term “yoga” went far beyond just the physical body. Yoga meant movement, mindfulness, meditation, and ultimately, going inward.
The following year I would find myself on the mat over 300 times.
In some ways, my commitment to this practice felt strange. Was I ready to devote myself once again to a practice of any type? 15 years of relentless dedication to an athletic career just about doused any flame of passion I had in me, yet at the same time I longed to fill that void. The truth was, yoga didn’t just give me something to be devoted to, it brought me face to face with the open wounds that allowed a void to exist at all.
As this incredible journey has lead me from student to teacher of these practices, I cannot help but wonder what my athletic career would have been like with these modalities incorporated. Although physical flexibility is probably the first thing that comes to mind-and is certainly something that would have prevented injury- yoga would have given “Mariah the athlete” so much more than that. It would have given her flexibility of the mind, a sense of centeredness with a steady and deep breath, a calmness that can only be found when the mind is quiet. It would have allowed her the ability to respond versus react, and taught her to be fully engaged in every moment of competition while surrendering the result. She would have found inner and outer strength she never knew existed. There is little I wouldn’t do to turn back time and share with her the knowledge, strength and flexibility (mental and physical) that I have now.
Every day I have fallen more in love with my practice. The deeper I fall, the deeper inside myself I go, chipping away at layers of myself built up over a lifetime. There are no words to describe the transformation that takes place on an inward journey because you can’t speak to something that is pure experience. All I can say is that yoga was not the modality I had been searching for, yoga was the question, the journey, and the answer all in one.
The tools I have received have changed my life, and now I will bring what I have learned to the world of athletics-a world that will always have a special place in my heart.
An Open Letter From an Athlete
WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT
There are approximately 400,000 NCAA student athletes competing each year, and 5 to 7 million high school student athletes involved in competitive interscholastic sports. Data suggests that athletes are far from immune to depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders.
Injured Athletes studied report mental health issues.
Athletes studied showed clinically elevated depression after performance.
Injured Athletes studied experienced behavioral/mood disorders.
Additionally, every emotion triggers a physiological response which may impede performance and lead to injury. Mindfulness practices and yoga movements can help prevent burnout and improve athletic performance.
The Inner Athlete Program is a comprehensive, simple program that coaches and trainers will be trained and certified in to gain the knowledge, skills, and tools to enhance athletes’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This program is designed to implement seamlessly into the everyday training, language, and culture of the team.
REFERENCES 1. Based on numbers reported by 16 states in 2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1995-2013 Middle School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data, available at http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline 2. Merkel, D. (2013). Youth sport: Positive and negative impact on young athletes. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 151. doi:10.2147/oajsm.s33556 3. Taliaferro LA, Rienzo B, Miller MD, et al. High school youth and suicide risk: exploring protection afforded through physical activity and sport participation. J Sch Health. 2008;78:545–553. 4. Jon Almquist, Tamara C. Valovich McLeod, Angela Cavanna, Dave Jenkinson, Andrew E. Lincoln, Keith Loud, Bart C. Peterson, Craig Portwood, John Reynolds, and Thomas S. Woods (2008) Summary Statement: Appropriate Medical Care for the Secondary School-Aged Athlete. Journal of Athletic Training: Jul/Aug 2008, Vol. 43, No. 4, pp. 416-427. 5. Merikangas KR, He JP, Burstein M, et al. Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in US adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010;49(10):980–989. 6. Timothy L. Neal, Alex B. Diamond, Scott Goldman, Karl D. Liedtka, Kembra Mathis, Eric D. Morse, Margot Putukian, Eric Quandt, Stacey J. Ritter, John P. Sullivan, and Victor Welzant (2015) Interassociation Recommendations for Developing a Plan to Recognize and Refer Student-Athletes With Psychological Concerns at the Secondary School Level: A Consensus Statement. Journal of Athletic Training: March 2015, Vol. 50, No. 3, pp. 231-249.
Coaches will learn specific breathing exercises, along with how, why, and when to use them. These breathing techniques allow athletes to respond vs. react, self-regulate, have better focus and concentration, help improve cardio vascular capacity, and strengthen internal core muscles.
Coaches will become proficient in teaching yoga-based movements and different ways to implement them into their training. These movements help release physical and emotional stress within the body, and help heal and prevent injuries through strength and flexibility.
Coaches will learn specific techniques which will allow athletes to quiet their minds, become engaged in the present moment, and reset their minds to promote positive thought and intention. These techniques can help elevate performance and navigate day to day life.
Coaches will learn specific relaxation techniques, along with how, why, and when to use them. The practice of relaxation can help reduce anxiety, increase blood flow, and improve cognitive function.
Coaches will be given topics of discussion as a tool to shift the athletes' perspective in and outside of their sport. Shifting perspective will allow athletes to deal with stress in a more positive way, and be able to respond vs. react.
Coaches will be provided information on how to enhance the team environment for optimal camaraderie and performance.
Coaches will receive extensive training over the course of five days.
Coaches will receive a certificate indicating their completion of the Inner Athlete Mindfulness Program
Contact Inner Knowledge for more information.