How Yoga Made Me A Better Athlete And Person, As Told By Olympian Elena Hight
Admittedly, Winter X Games star and two-time Olympian Elena Hight's first encounters with yoga were not the most enjoyable.
The 26-year-old snowboarder tells Elite Daily,
I honestly didn't like it at first, but it made me feel so good. And I would get out of class and be like, 'Why do I feel so good if it's so hard?'
Some five years later, the answer to her question is clear.
In both her personal and athletic lives, yoga has made a very tangible and positive impact.
The fitness practice has been so good to her, that as the Hawaii native sits down for this interview in the athletes' lounge at Buttermilk Mountain, the site of the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, a conversation about yoga produces just as great a smile as does a mention of the single most notable moment of Hight's professional career.
When speaking of the intense focus and concentration that help her land such tricks, Hight says,
It's one of the best feelings in the world, when there's nothing else around you except for what you're doing. It makes the moments really special.
And that feeling is just one of the many reasons Elena Hight says yoga made her a better athlete and person.
Most snowboarders tend to have notable strength in certain muscles to help land impressive flips and spins, but that strength often brings a stiffness that makes it hard for athletes' bodies to absorb hard impacts and falls, Hight says.
A limitation of flexibility ensues, she explains, but the five-time X Games medalist asserts yoga reverses that effect. She explained,
After a little while it just started helping me so much with my injuries and during snowboard season staying loose and not getting injured. So it's become a huge part of my life. ...Having the balance between strength and flexibility, which comes from yoga, it gives your body way more movement and just makes it much easier to bounce back from a hard fall, 'cause your muscles are looser and more, what's the word I'm looking for, resilient.
Sure, it's helped her physically, but yoga also has a "huge mental aspect," she was quick to remind us.
Yoga, and the practices that come with it, like meditation, helped Elena up her concentration. How she's been able to improve in that regard has "correlated so much with snowboarding."
According to Hight, "If you can't keep your mind focused on what you're doing you definitely can't land your tricks."
And it's makes sense, too. As opposed to other sports where athletes are expected to perform over an extended period of time, snowboarders like Elena must impress during runs that last no more than a minute. She says,
That's the thing about snowboarding: If you're not there you're not gonna be able to do it.
Concentration during those specific moments, then, is key.
Hight extended the concept of concentration into a conversation about "being present," and how important that is for those who practice yoga.
Always being present, she says, is what comes with internalizing the eight limbs of yoga, particularly pratyahara, the fifth limb, which demands a control of one's own senses.
And for Hight, it seems clear that an effort to perfect pratyahara has helped her clear her mind of all things that don't matter, especially in crucial moments. She said,
What yoga teaches is that when you come to your mat to practice the physical practice, you're letting everything else go. So, you're not worrying about the dishes that you have to wash and the person that said something rude to you or that kind of thing. And I think that that concept, bringing that into sport, is so important, especially for what we do. It's such a high-risk sport.
Practicing yoga brought a benefit to Hight's everyday life that has helped her cure one of her more relatable qualities: a lack of patience.
I'm a little impatient. I'm an athlete, I like to like be moving and going all the time and not waiting for people. I get excited about everything. [But], you know, it's not always like that. You have to wait in line and get on airplanes, that sort of thing, and I think just being able to be present and enjoy any moment has come from practicing that in yoga.
Hight made it clear why she continues to explore new avenues in yoga. Her simple explanation?
I like to practice a lot of different kinds to keep me excited about yoga.
Now, the woman who counts hot yoga, Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga among her favorites, is ready to take the next step.
This summer, she'll aim to become certified, which will allow her to teach yoga. And, if yoga really has had as positive an impact on her life as she claims, Elena Hight is likely to become an even better athlete and person for it.