Yoga—Gateway Drug to Fitness

By Courtenay Verret – September 3, 2013

What do you do when you’re a former elite athlete whose physical abilities are limited by chronic injuries? And how do you restore your inner peace after waging a battle with cancer?

For Christine Moses, the answer to both of those questions was yoga.

Physical fitness was always an important part of life for Moses. During the 70s, she trained at the National Academy of Artistic Gymnastics in Eugene, Oregon, a training site known for producing high-caliber athletes and Olympians. After four years of training six days a week, seven hours a day, however, the wear and tear on her body was beginning to take its toll. Following a move to Minnesota with her parents, Moses switched to diving and forged an impressive collegiate career at Princeton. “I went to Nationals several times, won a couple of national meets, went to Olympic trials,” she reminisced. “I just gave my heart to the sport until my body died.”

In spite of intensive physical therapy and strength training, Moses could not seem to outrun the physical damage that had been wrought by her long athletic career. Her knees began to fail her, buckling at inopportune times—like on the diving platform. “If you’re trying to throw yourself and your knees buckle, you’re going to hit your head on the board; I broke my hands [trying to break a fall]. The higher I went, the more distracted I got,” Moses admitted.

Adding insult to injury, Moses’ rotator cuffs also began to fail, preventing her from even lifting herself out of the pool. After multiple knee surgeries, Moses graduated from Princeton (attending the ceremony on crutches) and hobbled away from sports altogether, choosing to focus on things she felt had long been neglected. “It was all about my body when I was growing up; it really wasn’t about my mind or my spirit,” she explained. “These last 25 years, that’s what I’ve focused on, and this year has been about integrating all three.”

The drive to integrate her body back into the equation was sparked about five years ago, when Moses “stumbled into” a restorative yoga class. She was drawn to the practice but, because of her extensive, chronic injuries, found it difficult to hold many of the poses. That all changed a year later, after moving to Austin and meeting Abby Lentz of Heartfelt Yoga.

A certified Kripalu yoga instructor, Lentz is perhaps best known for creating HeavyWeight Yoga, specialized classes in which she empowers her students—regardless of shape, size, or physical limitations—to utilize and modify poses that fit their needs. “Most people come to yoga thinking about the stretching, getting stronger, more flexible…the physical benefits,” Lentz noted. “But, in fact, people return to the mat because of the sense of well-being yoga brings to them…I wanted to bring these benefits to people who never thought they could do yoga just because of their size.”

“I had all of these issues, and she made yoga accessible for me,” said Moses. “I felt immediately accepted; I was able to make yoga my own and do what I can; if I can’t do it, then I get to modify the pose.”

With her newfound practice, Moses began to regain some of her previous flexibility and even participated in the making of Lentz’ second HeavyWeight Yoga DVD. The ability to move her body again was life changing: “Oh my gosh, it opened up an enjoyment of yoga instead of a fear and a hesitancy. Now, it’s like, ‘Yay! I get to go to yoga!’” she joked.

Earlier this year, Moses’ practice unexpectedly took her to a much deeper level. After recovering from yet another physical setback—cancer surgery—she attended a three-day yoga retreat that sparked a realization: “If I’m going to be healthy, my body has to be strong,” she asserted. “The more yoga I do, the stronger I’m going to be, and the better I’m going to feel.”

Today, Moses credits her yoga practice with reducing the swelling from her lymphedema, lowering her blood pressure, and changing her mental perspective from “victim to victor.” She credits Lentz for gently guiding her to this place of reclaimed health. “She’s very nurturing,” Moses explained. “She really coaches and tells me how to incorporate yoga into everyday life…you can nurture/accept yourself; you can be happy. You don’t have to have perfect posture/poses to get a lot out of it…she’ll support you in any way you want to do yoga.”

“Chris has shifted in so many ways,” mused Lentz. “When we talk about her decisions, especially now with her cancer treatments, there's a calmness and clarity about her. Then, physically, she's moved to taking better care of herself…Chris will come to class and do nothing but Savasana, because that's what she really needs…it shows me I'm doing a good job teaching what's really important about yoga, which is listening to your Self.”

Moses refers to HeavyWeight Yoga as a “gateway drug” to fitness, noting that many people, women in particular, are often intimidated by exercise or just don’t know where to start. “You can start here; you are accepted here; you are welcomed here; wherever here is for you and your body,” she affirmed. “You can go at your own pace, no matter what.”

The road to newfound physical, mental, and spiritual health for Moses has not been easy or without its setbacks—yet, she is optimistic: “Competition is what I lived for 20 years, and then I had to walk away from sports to find out who I was and what I wanted to do for my life. Now I can come back into being fit, loving my body, and enjoying my body because I’m not the competitive athlete anymore. This is the place people can do that.”

 
 

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