My yoga story — how CrossFit shapes my teaching and practice
The first experience I had with yoga (and all the yoga I had access to for several years after that) was a Jane Fonda VHS tape. I was fifteen, my mom bought the tape, and we tried it together. I was hooked. Videos were the only yoga option for a teen in Canyon, Texas. There was no yoga studio, no gym, no online streaming classes. There weren’t even any community classes at a church. The only workout option in town, besides school sports, was the fitness center at the local college and there certainly was no yoga there. I did that Jane Fonda tape at least a hundred times and, though I didn’t realize it then, I think it kept me from getting the same hip and knee injuries my cross country and soccer teammates were getting. By the time I was in college, I had retired my tape, thinking my roommate would think I was weird if I did yoga in our dorm room. But anytime I felt stiff or needed a good stretch before a run, I always busted out a downdog and a couple of lunges first. By my sophomore year, I had run two marathons (with no yoga) and developed a severe hip injury that kept me from running for several years. I would be in pain by the end of my shift waiting tables at a local restaurant and was popping ibuprofin just to go for a walk.
After a few months of this, I started back at the TCU gym lifting weights and doing light cardio. My new roommate would come with me and go berzerk counting calories on the cardio machine, making sure not to replace what she burned with what she ate for dinner. Gaining a couple of pounds from not putting in 50-plus miles per week made this behavior seem normal and I followed suit, counting every calorie and fat gram obsessively. Then we discovered a yoga class. This wasn’t any ordinary yoga class…this was by far the hardest workout I had ever done. It was a vinyasa flow class, but the instructor added weight exercises with a body bar and a challenging core workout. That night was the first time we left the gym to get dinner and didn’t pay attention to the calories. We attended faithfully until the end of the semester when she graduated and I left for a four-month study abroad program in London. Once again, I found myself with little access to yoga classes — I was too broke to pay for classes in a studio and my American VHS tapes did not work in the machines there. After four months of walking the city in high-heeled boots and debauchery befitting a 21-year old thousands of miles from home and accountability, I developed a painful stress fracture in my ankle.
When I came home, I couldn’t wait tables for at least six weeks and was on crutches a large part of that time. My mom signed us up for a family membership at a nearby gym with a large variety of yoga and pilates classes. I took as many of them as I could, just keeping weight off of the injured leg. The ten pounds of English beer, fish and chips, and exotic cheese I had put on in London melted off, plus a few more (without running a mile). After my ankle healed, I dove headfirst into as many yoga classes as my school schedule would allow. When that gym closed, I bought a couple of new yoga tapes and did them in my apartment a few times per week.
Over the next few years, I took as many classes and bought as many tapes as I could. In 2004, I decided to get a certification to teach and took YogaFit’s level 1 course. I taught at Fazeke’s Gym for a year and at the Arlington School of Self Defense for three years, taking another YogaFit level along the way. By this time, my career path changed from journalism to public relations and teaching was conflicting with work, so I stopped. I kept taking classes at the gym I belonged to and kept buying videos, but my practice was getting sparse. By the time my husband, Kyle Brandt, started his CrossFit affiliate, I was only making time for yoga once or twice a month. I was doing a lot of CrossFit and was enjoying the results. My first pull-up was even more exciting than the first time I was able to pull myself up into crow. But I didn’t really get “hardcore” about it until later. I wasn’t particularly concerned with lifting heavy, or, “as prescribed” and I cherry-picked workouts.
When Kyle and I decided we were opening Brandt Fitness and Self Defense, I knew I would be teaching yoga again and started practicing again as much as I could. And then something terrible happened. In June of 2010, I woke up one morning with horrible pain in my abdomen. I went to the urgent care center and discovered I was pregnant…but I knew I was losing it. On the morning I was scheduled for an ultrasound, the pain was so bad I could barely get off the floor. The pregnancy was ectopic and was eight weeks along. As I was signing papers to schedule surgery for later that day, I collapsed onto the floor of the doctor’s office due to internal bleeding. Luckily, we were on a hospital campus and they were able to rush me into surgery within minutes.
After the surgery, I couldn’t do anything physical besides light walking for six weeks. Nothing prepared us for the physical and emotional pain of this ordeal. Exercise has always been my way of coping with difficult times, and I wasn’t able to move. I hadn’t ever tried restorative or yin yoga, not realizing the benefits, but now it was the only asana practice I was able to do. I’m thankful to have discovered it at this time in my life. It took me fifteen years to realize that “easy” yoga is just as beneficial as the kind that makes you sweaty and sore, but now it is a regular part of my practice. Even after I was physically able to go back into intense workouts and vinyasa classes, I kept doing yin and restorative classes as much as possible. The surgery and its consequences felt like a really unfair interruption in the journey to opening our gym, but ended up contributing to the way I practice and teach yoga in a really big way.
After we opened and I was getting deeper into yoga and working towards the more challenging balances and inversions, I realized it was helping me with CrossFit. A few weeks of working on a particular arm balance somehow got my hanging power clean to 80lbs. Several months of teaching vinyasa classes and suddenly I am banging out 15 pull ups in a row. A regular yin practice helped me to be able to recognize when an aching muscle needed rest. But being in our gym every night with the dedicated CrossFitters who are always trying to best their last score or heaviest weight all while developing an innate ability to listen to their bodies and pushing themselves to achieve amazing things shapes my attitude about the sport. CrossFit, when practiced and coached thoughtfully, is a lot like yoga. The most dedicated do it every day, do mobility exercises to stave off injury, read everything they can get their hands on about it, develop strong friendships with classmates and push themselves to do try new and exciting things with their bodies…just like yogis. The challenges presented by CrossFit helps prepare practitioners for challenges in their daily lives…just like yoga. So I began to try to do prescribed weight as much as possible and started doing almost all the WOD’s (workout of the day) every week. We also started following the Paleo diet, which was so life-changing it deserves another post. After almost a year of working towards prescribed weight, I finished almost five rounds of this year’s games workout 12.3. I had never push-pressed 75 lbs. for a whole workout before. With every passing milestone I reach in CrossFit, my yoga practice reaches new depths, and my students get a more thoughtful teacher. I’ve always known there is a deep connection between mind and body, but never has it been so pronounced as after a tough week of CrossFit.
The stress of the surgery and it’s aftermath, running a new business and working full time is heavy. But even on the hardest days, I know that if I can make it to my yoga mat, a CrossFit class, or both, the rest of the day will be better. Challenging my body (and other people’s bodies) to do something amazing — whether it is my heaviest power clean or mastering flying pigeon — makes me a little more confident that I can handle the physical and emotional demands of whatever comes next.