I find the whole concept of CrossFit fascinating and invigorating. Soon after tackling my first WOD at Brick Grand Central, I was hooked. Each and every workout, I push my body to go farther and harder than I even knew was possible. I love lifting heavier weights, getting an inch closer to that perfect handstand push-up (yes, that’s a thing), and the camaraderie—well—that’s a whole other ballgame.
A photo posted by Emily Abbate (@emilyabbate) on Jul 19, 2016 at 4:52am PDT
But the thing about CrossFit is that it involves a lot of heavy lifting. Squatting. Pulling. Pushing. All of these constantly varying functional movements at a high intensity, the foundation of CrossFit, can be hell on your joints. Which is why taking the time to focus on mobility is so, so critical if you’re drinking the Kool-Aid.
I’m bad at that part. As someone who craves high-intensity, sweat-dripping workouts, getting into a pigeon pose and squirming in pain isn’t always on the top of my bucket list. I distinctly remember my first-ever hot yoga class about four years ago. About 12.5 minutes into it, I was drenched in sweat, contorted in some sort of lunge-like shape, surrounded by 52 other yogis who were way too close for comfort, and could barely breathe. “How?” I wondered. “How did people do this day after day? Who in their right mind wants to drip this much sweat?” Needless to say, the experience was an entirely different world compared to my usual.
So recently, when I was talking with a girlfriend at my local CrossFit gym about my goals for 2017, I came up with this wacky idea. I would step away from the barbell (for the most part) and add yoga into my routine for three weeks. The goal? To get outside of my comfort zone, stretch a whole lot—and chill the hell out. Sure, the physiological benefits of yoga are rad, including an increase in flexibility and potential improvement in athletic performance, according to a study in the International Journal of Yoga. But having just made a major job transition, my need for zen is at an all-time high.
The rules: Do yoga every day for 21 days. It can be heated or not. It can be at a class or at home. On the days I can’t get to a class, I’ll do a video from blogger Adriene Mishler, behind the popular series Yoga With Adriene.
My goals: Embrace the poses that made my five-marathons-on-the-books hips hate me, slightly. Work on my balance. Catch a few handstands without the help of a wall. And most of all, breathe.
I kick off my month of yoga bright and early on the mat at Lyons Den Power Yoga in Tribeca. Having been to the studio a few times before, I like that there are full locker rooms and feel-good community vibes—plus it’s super clean. Is there anything worse than a stinky, questionably clean hot yoga studio? I digress. It’s wonderful in all the ways that I’ve always found hot yoga wonderful. I drip sweat. I try to nail pigeon without fidgeting endlessly, but don’t. When the instructor tells me to do bridge six times in a row, I have this desire to kick her. (I don’t.) We’re off to a good start.
A photo posted by Emily Abbate (@emilyabbate) on Jan 9, 2017 at 12:23pm PST
After a few days of this yoga streak under my belt, I realize that an hour-long class isn’t in the cards for me today. Too many things on my to-do list. Feeling like I’m in a time crunch, I go to Mishler’s YouTube channel and find a yoga flow specifically for anxiety and stress. The description reads, “Move into the darkness and into the light.” Okay, sure. I realize quickly that stress-reducing yoga puts a strong emphasis on breathing and your connection to the earth. Her voice is airy and wonderful and reminds me of the way your friend tries to calm you down when either A. your boyfriend has left you for another woman, or B. you didn’t land the dream job you applied for.
I also quickly realize that I’m indeed bad at focusing on my breathing when I’m on a zillion work deadlines. Regardless, I complete the yoga video and feel proud that I didn’t stop halfway through with no one watching me practice to hold me accountable.
Even before I committed to doing yoga every day for three weeks, I was eyeing this class called “Power #@#*! Beats” at Lyons Den. I make a Saturdate with a girlfriend to meet there, and embrace the laughter-filled studio when we kick-start an hour of hot yoga to “Eye of the Tiger” and an intense abs segment. This is nothing like Day 4’s 27-minute calm fest.
Something about listening to other people breathe makes me feel unsettled, which is not ideal when that’s a major part of yoga. Maybe it’s because I wonder if I’m not breathing loud enough. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of Brainy from Hey Arnold. Regardless, that’s one reason I mostly elect to take yoga classes that are set to music. Still, I consciously choose a no-music class today to give it another whirl. The teacher has the most soothing voice. The way he talks us through the Vinyasa flow, I feel like I’m capable of anything and everything. I harness the motivation to try and nail crow for the zillionth time, and that’s when it happens. He says: Look forward, not down. And just like that, I get it, even if it’s just for two seconds. I topple to the ground and inhale a sense of success.
Word is spreading about my yoga journey (thank you, social media). A friend asks me if she can join me for a night, and we hit Y7 Studio. I’m excited to wind down my workday with some night yoga with a hint of Jay Z. I’m totally into the dark room, because I’m not feeling super coordinated. It’s exactly what I need today.
A photo posted by Emily Abbate (@emilyabbate) on Jan 13, 2017 at 2:28pm PST
I cried in Savasana. Roughly 12 hours earlier I had called my dad with tears in my eyes because, as freelancers/people with full-time jobs/everyone who has a pulse sometimes does, I’m worried that I’m completely messing up my life and if I should pivot my entire career so that I can possibly start teaching group fitness. On the mat, I feel like I could scream. I’m stressed. I have a dull headache. But being there gives me everything I need. The sweat. The hard work. For the first time, I feel like I’m focused on the yoga instead of everything else. I take it all out on every pose. I twist. Stretch. Sink in, deep. In that moment, at the end of the practice, I’m raw.
Y7 Studio’s theme of the week is Ja Rule and Ashanti. So obviously I arrange my entire schedule for this day around hitting up a class in SoHo at noon. I am happy. I am in my element. I feel like I’m back in 2003 and have instant flashbacks to MySpace and rollerblading in acid-washed jeans. It’s a good day.
Confession: I skipped day 18. As the end of my three weeks of daily yoga comes to a close, I’m on the road and yesterday was my travel day. I bring my only-once-used-before Gaiam travel yoga mat on my trip to California. Disappointed that I let a day go by without getting my dog on, I quickly notice a difference in how I feel without the stretch in my day. My hips feel a little tighter. I wonder: Did I feel this way every day before I started this? Despite drinking a glass of wine before hitting the mat (guilty), I feel grateful for the pre-bed 12-minute flow.
Still on the road, I commit to being at a yoga studio for my last day. I stop into Y7 Studio’s West Hollywood location to take a much-needed hour to myself on the mat. At the end of class, lying there, I evaluate how my body feels. I think about how my heels touch the floor in downward dog these days, and most certainly didn’t before I started. I feel proud.
And just like that, three weeks of yoga—done. The lessons I learned? Stretching is important. Really important. Yes, as a certified trainer I’m well aware of that, but I didn’t realize what kind of difference it would make to do more of it until I did more of it. My body feels more limber. Although I still take the time to foam roll before a WOD, those sessions don’t feel as grueling. I’m not complaining about knots in my shoulders or lower back pain. I feel like I move faster in my other workouts. I feel like I am, as corny as this may sound, the best version of myself as an athlete.
Also: I am capable. Sure, I’ve run marathons and tackled triathlons, but even the smallest yoga goals like nailing crow (which, on the record, I can hold for a solid 10 seconds now) felt impossible before I committed to 21 days of flow. I may not be the best at disconnecting from the world around me, but yoga, more so than running or CrossFit, gives me this one-of-a-kind pleasure that I’m treating myself. Now, my Sunday routine consists of running the 5+ miles to my favorite yoga studio. When I walk out of the class dripping sweat, I feel like I’m completely reset for the week ahead. I feel like I did something for me. And you know what? It’s magic.