Sometimes I like to think I discovered yoga; the truth is, yoga found me. I initially envisioned yoga to be practically the polar opposite of sport and exercise.
Beginning at a very young age, I spent countless hours each week swimming, trying my hand at gymnastics, playing soccer, softball, basketball, and volleyball. Even though volleyball eventually became my main sport, all of these activities require a concrete goal, a means to an end – a win, a better time, a perfected move. Sure, I would work out on off days in a gym, but all of this training was specifically intended to improve some focused aspect of my game.
Not surprisingly, the concept of stationary exercise on a 7 by 3 foot mat in a small and humid room did little to stimulate my competitive instincts. I had spent more time being admonished by an abundance of coaches than I care to recall, but their being hard on me gave me an incredibly strong sense of competition and motivation to improve.
Unfortunately, despite volleyball serving as an outlet for the many stresses of a teenager’s life – school, SATs, colleges, and even petty dramas – success on the court constantly generated a sense of dissatisfaction in my game; a continual need to get better.
But that was okay. After all, I was taught that contentedness quickly turns into complacency, and complacency marks the demise of any future in the sport. So I continued to work my butt off so as to chase the unachievable. And somehow I thought I thrived on that concept. And yoga certainly presented itself with no such end goal for me. How could it be anything other than, quite literally, a futile exercise? After all, there’s nothing to win and no one to yell at you for your lack of perfection!
When my friend Catie suggested I join her in Susan Hauser’s class at Yoga Tree, I begrudgingly agreed. It seemed very doubtful to my cynical perspective that something called “Warrior 2” would improve my defense during practice on Thursday.
But, to yoga I went. Shocked by the apparent normalcy of the participants, my mind’s stereotypes about the fairy-loving and delusional “yogis” were quickly squelched.
What I envisioned as glorified stretching soon revealed itself as an intense workout that focused on intrinsic improvement as opposed to the immediate improvement I had previously desired.
While Susan encouraged the class to push ourselves, she was not screaming in my ear, telling me I wasn’t good enough. It was up to me. I could do nothing, and no one would yell at me. However, I found that the competitive environment had prepared me well. I found myself motivated by the process itself. While jarring, this change seemed to be the exact balance I needed in my life.
While success in volleyball is arguably possible through the fuel of feeling subpar, success in yoga is feeling good about yourself.
A journey, yoga is not about a specific end goal. I discovered that with yoga, I have an opportunity to focus on the process. Now I understand that life itself is a process.
My focus on end goals and tangible feats compromises my happiness. Simply put, I was not enjoying the process, but rather got caught up in a constant chase for some elusive goal.
While I maintain a very forward-looking perspective on life, yoga has introduced me to the journey and its value. In yoga, I am not trying to win. I am trying to strengthen myself both physically and mentally, and if new asanas are achieved along the way I am thrilled. As I frequented the studio more and more often, yoga soon became a place where I could also make more friendships. Although I place the value of yoga more heavily on its spiritual and mental side effects, yoga has greatly improved my flexibility and upper body strength. These physical changes have transferred onto the court, along with a newfound sense of self.
I feel more equipped for the stresses of life I have encountered and will encounter in the future.
Yoga has ultimately counterbalanced the cutthroat environment of competitive sports for me, leaving me healthier and happier. Yoga has changed the way I view and treat others and myself.
I feel so incredibly grateful for Yoga Tree, Susan Hauser, and all of the wonderful people who surround me each and every class.
Yoga Tree Teen Ambassador
Maddy S. is a junior at Branson High School where she first became exposed to yoga as a means to supplement her volleyball training. Soon, she discovered that yoga was not just supplemental exercise, but a way of life. As a result, she has become avid in her devoted practice and recently been privileged to serve as a Teen Ambassador for Yoga Tree in the Bay Area, as well as for Athleta.