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3 Questions for…Our Yoga Experts

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— February 10, 2020

3 Questions for…Our Yoga Experts

By Lisa James
  • Advice from people who know what they’re talking about.
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3 Questions for…Keith Mitchell

Keith Mitchell (keithmitchell59.com) enjoyed early success in football, first at Texas A&M and then in the NFL—until a spinal injury on the field left him paralyzed at age 31. That’s when he discovered yoga, through which he has regained his health and found a new direction in life.

Mitchell explains things this way: “The athlete died. I knew myself as a football player; I had never connected with what Keith wanted. In what we often perceive as dark places, there’s a lesson to be learned.”

How can yoga help athletes move to a life beyond sports?

For all athletes, injuries and time eventually become undefeatable opponents. That creates a space of doubt, depression and a sense of a role that’s been played out, and there are no fans waiting to see the outcome. This becomes a physiological blow that causes an identity crisis for most athletes.

There are no programs to help ex-players transition. That’s true even regarding players in college sports, high school, Pop Warner; these kids are getting injuries that affect them for a lifetime.

What’s the biggest difference in outlook being a professional athlete and where you are now?

Being an athlete is a role that you play, a persona. It’s like you choose the role of athlete before you choose to grow as a human being.

Yoga builds my relationship with myself; it’s a deeper connection. When you start to listen to your body, your body will speak to you. It’s an evolution of growth and development as a human being.

We meet the facades of people. Therefore, we are malnourished of that one simple thing called connection; this equates to much of the chaos we see in the world.

What are you trying to accomplish through the gatherings, held through schools and other organizations, sponsored by your Light It Up Foundation?

We bring the practice of mindfulness, building the awareness of resolving problems. When we decide to create changes within, that creates a ripple effect on the people and places around us.

So we share these opportunities of connection. The most challenging thing is for people to be vulnerable.

3 Questions for…Lauren Walker

Lauren Walker (emyoga.net) believes that yoga is half of the answer for better health—and energy medicine, which influences the subtle forces that flow through us, is the other half.

A certified yoga teacher, Walker combines these powerful practices in The Energy Medicine Yoga Prescription (Sounds True).

Why do you think yoga has become so popular in the US?

Yoga is proving itself in study after study to be a very helpful practice for a number of physical, mental or emotional challenges. And it’s cheap. All you need is your body—you don’t even need a yoga mat.

Many people seem disconnected from their bodies, and social media seems to play a role.

How can energy medicine yoga help?

One of the languages the body communicates to us in is pain. And that’s something we don’t like to look at; we tend to anesthetize ourselves. So the screen is just one way to disconnect from our bodies. It’s an incredible tool, but as Ram Dass said, a wonderful servant but a horrible master.

When you have pain, that’s energy that is stuck. The idea of EM yoga is to give the energy space to move and to give it a path. At the end of the day, you should not feel pain anywhere.

What is the single most important daily habit someone can establish to stay energetically balanced?

Energy needs to move forward. If you’re moving forward and your energy is moving backward, you can’t get anything done. And every energy system in your body needs to be crossing over. [see below]

This work is easy: You can do it in the shower, at the bus stop. Little, simple things are going to change your life.

A Quickie Eye-Opener

Not a morning person? That’s OK: Lauren Walker offers the following two-step energy mover, part of a longer sequence that she calls The Wake-Up, from The Energy Medicine Yoga Prescription.

1. Locate the ends of your collarbones towards the center of your chest. Right below them are two small hollows (not the large hollow between them); draw the first three fingers of each hand together and thump those spots (known in Chinese Medicine as Kidney 27) 10 to 12 times. This gets energy moving forward.

2. March in place—striking the right knee with the right hand as the knee raises, the left hand striking the left knee—10 to 12 times. Brush your hands together as if dusting them off, then do 12 crossover marches in place with each hand slapping the opposite knee. This gets energy to cross over.

3 Questions for…Jason Papalio

Talk about learning the hard way: After years of suffering sports-related injuries, it took an Achilles tendon rupture for Jason Papalio to “truly understand the importance of athletic recovery.”

In addition to assisting clients as an athletic recovery specialist by combining “two things I love, sports and yoga” (jasonpapalio.com, @jpapalio1), Papalio serves as yoga coach for the New York Cosmos (nycosmos.com, @NYCosmos) of the North American Soccer League.

How do you use yoga to help Cosmos players, and how open are they to doing yoga?

Sometimes it is guys who are injured or guys who are inflexible; I help them with flexibility, with stability. A lot of them have tight hamstrings, tight hips. If those areas are very tight, it affects movement efficiency—it hampers them in terms of movement out on the field. Guys who do it see the benefits. It’s a resource, so why not take advantage of it?

What other sports-specific benefits have players experienced?

It’s such a fast-paced game—they’re running for practically 90 minutes straight, so there isn’t much rest. It’s very taxing, very demanding. They need to focus on breathing and getting their nervous system back in line.

[Yoga helps players] reduce injuries, perform at a higher level, hopefully, extend their careers. The goalies use it a lot—they take a lot of pounding because they’re diving a lot. They wind up with rounded shoulders, so we do a lot of chest openers; that allows them to be more agile and active in a game.

How common is yoga and other alternative healing modalities becoming in soccer?

It is growing. Coaches reach out to these soccer teams in Europe [where soccer has been an organized sport longer than in the US] to find out what techniques they’re using.

Teams provide modalities such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and massage to help the athlete perform at the highest possible level—they want to provide the athlete with as many benefits as possible. The athlete is an asset; if they’re sitting on the bench or not completely focused, that’s a depreciating asset.

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