Perspective of ‘doing’ Yoga versus ‘practicing’ Yoga by a High School Volleyball Coach

Yoga is good for you. Its benefits are varied, long lasting, and wide ranging:
*Physically, it can be demanding or gentle, whatever your needs.
*Internally, it massages organs and is good for your heart and lungs.
*Mentally, it provides a way for concentration and relaxation to be a focused part of your workouts.

As a physically active person, I’ve been practicing yoga for a few years now. Actually, I’ve been ‘doing’ yoga for a few years; it’s only been within the last year that I really felt like I was actively ‘practicing’ it. I didn’t know the difference until I got there, and I would fail if I tried to explain it - - but you know it when you get it. Viewing yoga as a workout was a stretch for me as an athlete, because in the beginning, I really didn’t see it as a challenge, and I didn’t know how I was going to be a bigger/faster/strong because of it. However, as time progressed, and Debra pushed/prodded me, I came to view this as not only a GREAT workout, but one that I would prefer over others if given a choice. In fact, without lifting a weight, I am substantially stronger; without bouncing a ball, I am more coordinated and balanced; and without a competitor on the other side of the net, I am more focused and goal oriented than I ever have been in terms of fitness. Yoga is truly a way I have become a master of my own workouts, so to speak, and my mat is a place where I know I am completely and totally in control, no matter how I’m feeling or what happened in the course of my day or what I’m physically capable of in that moment.

As a coach of young, female athletes, I wanted to give them, well, all of that. But, it’s a difficult task; that’s a lot to digest, much less master, and you can’t MAKE people like it. So, I have sprinkled in yoga/Pilates activities for the last two years, but in a very isolated way, just trying to give them some exposure to and knowledge of it. I started implementing yoga into our workouts in a very concentrated manner a little over a month ago. My reasoning for this was two-fold: 1.) Yoga is good for you (see above) and will complement our volleyball training. 2.) Yoga is a lifetime activity; long after their volleyball careers are over, players can still have an active yoga practice that fits any lifestyle they choose to live.

A month in, I asked the girls to evaluate their progress. Keep in mind we’ve been doing a combo of yoga/Pilates twice a week for a little over a month, strictly archived classes from Debra’s Joyfulbreathyoga website. They were supposed to write one thing they were good at, one thing they’ve improved at, and one thing they felt still needed work. So, here’s a few of their responses, unedited:

*Crow pose is hard.
*I’m really good at down dog and cat cow.
*I child’s pose (I know that wasn’t the question but I feel very strongly about it).
*I need to work on planks. HARD
*GOOD: Menasas/Childs pose BAD: Side Crow. Uggg.
*I need to get better at flexibility and arm strength. So, basically everything.
*I’m bad at Ben-ya-a-whatevers. And I’m not very strong. But I still look forward to going every day. Weird. *Well I WAS getting better at plank. Then she made you tuck your knee into it. Which made it HARD again. *Yoga helps your abs for volleyball.
*I have gotten better at everything. It was really hard at first and is starting to be easier.

Their responses proved to me two things: 1.) I have not done a very pointed job with either the vocabulary or with the reasons why I think yoga is important for them. Most thought they were getting better at their menyasa or benyasas or at any rate weren’t sure it was called a VINYASA. Most knew plank, but only a few referred to core strength at all, and I had thought that would be a major area in which they would notice an improvement. Granted, most knew down dog, they sure knew crow (and that it was hard), and ALL knew child’s poseAnd 2.) A LOT of the girls referenced liking, looking forward to, or getting better at yoga. This, ultimately, is what I was going for. I KNOW it’s a good workout, I KNOW they are reaping the benefits; yet, to get twenty teenage girls to agree that they LIKE something as a group, now that is a true accomplishment!

One amazing thing about watching this group in this situation, is that they do have to fight through the challenge of learning a new skill. That’s not easy, because most of them are talented players who have always been one of the best on the team. But this yoga thing, they’ve had to battle through to even be able to be functional at it. It’s not easy, and it’s not something that comes naturally. It’s a really cool thing to step back and watch them strive to reach this new challenge that I’ve thrown at them, as individuals and as a team. More than once I’ve heard one say, “Man, I couldn’t do that last week.” I had a player injured a few weeks ago and she did not work out for one session. As she watched, she commented that she thought as a group, they were looking much better. Unsolicited. An unsolicited compliment from a teenage girl for her peers. Awesome. Many of them wrote something to the effect of it’s fun, I’m getting better at it, it’s a good challenge, or I like it.

I’d like to see them get MUCH better at it. And we will. But this is a great starting place. If they like it, they will work at it. If they work at it, they will get better. If they get better, it will pay off, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m looking for the payoff on the court with improved strength and an enhanced ability to focus. I also KNOW that the experience will make them happier, give them an outlet for working out, and help them face a challenge without backing down.

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Katie Grusing

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calendar March 4, 2013

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