Before Christmas, I noticed a new fitness class designed for Athletes being announced on Bookface which made perfect sense and I was surprised I hadn’t heard of anything like it before. It was a yoga class designed to build strength and flexibility along with all the other good things you get through Yoga. These are key ingredients of a successful career. And as it turned out, the instructor was none other than current National Adventure Racing Series Champion (Ladies Expert Division) Laura O’Driscoll. So there must be something to this Yoga malarkey i thought that perhaps we could all learn from.

We are thrilled to announce that Laura will be contributing tips, tricks & techniques in upcoming magazine issues. So keep an eye out there for that.

We spoke to Laura about how she got into Yoga by pure chance and how it has enhanced her both as an athlete and a person. She give us her back story, we hope you enjoy it…

The Accidental Yogi

Dabbling in yoga over many years, but never quite finding the right teacher or style that enticed me enough to take time out of my run, bike, swim routine, it was only in 2012, a car accident sidelined me, forcing me to search for alternatives to my usual “don’t stop ‘til you drop” approach to sport, and life.

Recovering from a full meniscus tear in my knee, and whiplash, my usual go to recovery of swimming was initially not an option. I went from 100%, invincible, training for my first 70.3 Ironman, to zero. The adrenaline received from hours of training that I had relied on for many years diminished, fast.

A friend convinced me to try out a very talented local yoga teacher, Kiera, who taught a power yoga class, hoping to benefit from some physical and mental therapy. At this point I was candidate for knee surgery and feeling very sorry for myself. I had been told that I would be lucky to run 5km, at a stretch 10km, again. For me running was like breathing. I was determined to prove the surgeons statement wrong.

My first class was very much love/hate. I hated that there were so many poses that I could not do. Especially when those around me seemed to fall in and out of these same poses almost effortlessly. My naturally competitive ego took a minor bashing to say the least. Savasana (the resting pose at the end) frustrated me. I felt I was losing precious time. However, fit for little else, I eventually surrendered to it.

But I loved the movement and mobility, the sense of strength and body awareness, the calm, the encouragement from Kiera, ensuring me that it was ok that I could barely touch my toes, and that in time I might even get past my shins without bending my knees. It was a great lesson in accepting my physical limitations, but it took a few years for me to be totally ok with this.

I may have gone a little yoga crazy after that. Yoga replaced my run/bike/swim for a short time. The power yoga in particular gave me a physically strong practice, aerobic advantage and, as time passed, a calmer mind.

After a second visit to the knee surgeon, he was shocked at the improvements and encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing, and that he would place me on the public list for surgery, biding me more time. I was convinced that strengthening, particularly in the quads, core and hips, and the creation of greater openness and mobility in the knee joint, had been achieved through practicing yoga. I was somehow managing the tear. Within a few months, I was back swimming and biking. The running was elliptical trainer hell, but I was determined, and hopeful.

Four months after the accident I completed the 70.3, placing third in my category and qualifying for the World Championships the following year, however, all on strong, anti-inflammatories. I could hardly walk for weeks after, my first shuffle being months later. I was mad at myself, for letting the ego take over, finally resolving to surrender to recovery and listening to the body.

Less that a year after the accident I was blissfully running down off Slieve Foy into Carlingford when, distracted by a herd of Cooley cattle on the rocky lane into the village, I fell hard on my torn knee, bursting the kneecap open and exposing tissue. I was to fly out to India in less than a month to immerse myself in a yoga teacher-training programme. I hobbled back to the car, drove home and was met with a surgical appointment in the post. At this stage I had forgotten I was even on a waiting list, and as surgeons are not permitted to operate on an open wound, I took it as a convincing omen that I could manage well enough without. Either or I was off to India, never looking back.

As an athlete, yoga has taught me how to listen to my body, become aware of niggles, strengthen neglected areas, stretch overworked tissues. It taught me mental focus, but also how to shelf the ego. It taught me patience. It taught me about form and how much stronger we can be with core engagement and controlled breathing. It taught me about my physical limitations and how to be ok with these. Mostly, it taught me how to focus on what I can do and accept what I cannot.

Over the next few issues I want to share some of my yoga tools with you. But my best advice for now is to find a yoga teacher and go to a class. If you hate it, find another class and go to it. There are dozens of yoga styles, and a wide variety of teachers out there, and hopefully in time you will find the one that works best for you.