As a lifetime athlete and NFL wide receiver for both the Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars, Derrick Townsel has always sought strength and stamina in all of his endeavors. But as a professional football player he also noticed too many of his friends suffering from painful injuries and wanted to prevent the same fate, so after his retirement he turned to the benefits of yoga.
Too intimidated to attend classes, he started teaching himself through YouTube videos in 2012. He watched and followed about 20 minutes of yoga videos a day for six months before feeling confident enough to go to class. But in just four years, Townsel-- also known as the "Rasta Yogi" because of his love of listening to Bob Marley while practicing and his distinguishing locked hair--has devoted his life to the practice. For him the results he sees both physically and mentally inspire him everyday.
“I’m so much more physically aware of my body and mentally and spiritually I have such a better since of self,” says Townsel. “I’m just happy to be around.”
Townsel practices mostly vinyasa yoga, a system he admires because of its free flowing nature and alignment of breath and movement. He also loves trying funky arm balances and inversions because it’s an opportunity to do weight-bearing exercises without having to lift weights, an activity that the former athlete was happy to leave behind. He also practices AcroYoga with a friend in town occasionally for added inspiration and challenge.
But while Townsel can do some pretty crazy poses, the practice is about so much more than just the physical. When negative situations come up, he’s found that he responds differently than he used to.
“Negativity reinforces negativity so I try whenever possible to respond with a positive perspective,” he says.
This formerly competitive wide receiver used to be most concerned with gaining yardage but now he’s more protective of keeping his peace than anything else. And that’s the message he wants to convey to students.
“I teach to all levels so if you’re in one of my classes you’ll learn something no matter your level of expertise,” he says. “I want to make my students feel good about themselves.”
He reminds all of his students to start where they are and commit to a few minutes of yoga everyday. You commit your time to what you really care about so if you really want to establish a practice, a few minutes a day is a great place to start. Add in a few sun salutations to start and then go from there.
Tips for Building Strength in Your Yoga Practice
If you do want to attempt some of the particularly challenging poses that Townsel has mastered, you’ll need to gain yogic strength first. Here’s how:
1. Work to your edge.
Work to your full potential in each pose. Don’t go beyond it (you’ll know once the breath becomes stagnated), but always make sure you feel challenged and aren’t just doing the same thing everyday. Each day you'll get stronger.
2. Strengthen your core.
Difficult poses come from a strong core. It’s about building from the inside out. Work on core exercises like plank or plank on your elbows to build that strength first.
3. Don’t forget sun salutations.
Make sure you’re not disregarding the sun salutations that build the stamina you need to attempt some of the more challenging poses. Keep at it. Just like Townsel says “if you want it enough, you’ll find time.”
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4. Move slowly.
If you move too fast, you’re likely to get hurt because you don’t have the physical strength to get there yet. That’s why kicking up into handstand never works. Use your strength, focus, and breath to get up.
5. Don’t worry about the competition.
As Townsel says “don’t base your journey on someone else’s.” Unless you’re practicing AcroYoga with a partner, yoga should be an individual practice. Deepen your practice everyday and then before you know it you’ll end up in places (physically, spiritually, and mentally) that you never thought you would. And that’s a beautiful thing.
How to Do Side Crow
In need of some party tricks? This pose will do. Plus, it has tons of real benefits such as building arm and shoulder strength, improving balance and stamina, improving digestion, detoxifying the internal organs, and reducing stress and anxiety.
-Inhale and reach the arms overhead and then exhale sink down into a squatting position.
-Place the palms flat on the mat in front of you about hips length apart.
-Turns the knees 45 degrees to the right. Place the elbows on the right hip bone and outside of the right knee for stability.
-Begin to lean forward balancing on the elbows.
-Stay here, or if you have the balance and strength, begin to open the legs into a split.
-Remain in the balance for about ten breaths and then switch sides.
-Once you're done with the pose, spend a few minutes doing wrist stretches. Arm balances like these tend to be hard on the wrists so be sure to give them some love.
-Place the tops of the hands on the mat to stretch out the front of the wrists. Hold for five breaths and repeat.
-Place the palms of the hands on the mat to stretch the inside of the wrists. Bend the inside of the wrist toward the front of the mat. Hold and breath. Switch sides.
-Do a few turns of the wrist on each side and then clasp the hands and stretch out the arms.
Want to start a practice but you're not sure how? What's your favorite form of yoga and how has it changed your life? We want to know! Tell us about it via Twitter @OrganicAuthorit
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