November 7, 2012

Lifestyles: Former Penn Goalie Waxman Talks Yoga, Mindfulness

by Matt Forman | | Twitter

Former Penn goalkeeper Sarah Waxman overcame injuries and performance issues with yoga.
© Amanda Kilgour

Three paths, one vision.

A trio of circumstances sent former Penn All-American goalie Sarah Waxman on a journey toward spiritual, mental, and physical health and happiness. They also led Waxman to her current profession. After graduating from Penn in 2008 and traveling for a year, Waxman returned to her native Washington D.C. to become a yoga and mindfulness coach, teaching mostly children in schools while offering private lessons to adults.

A version of this article appears in the November issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

How did you get into yoga?
First, at the end of my sophomore year at Penn, I started getting a lot of shoulder and back pain. I was spending a lot of time in the training room. As a team, we weren't having the year we had hoped, and as a player, I wasn't playing the way I wanted to. My trainer told me, "Yo, Waxman, try something else. Do something that's going to make you better.' There was a yoga studio between my house and the field, and I passed it every day multiple times. They offered a newbie special, and I sat in with Chrissy Muller and Sarah Eastburn. The teacher said, "Inhale, bring your hands to the sky, exhale, touch your toes." The three Division I athletes in the back of the room were the only ones who couldn't touch their toes. It was a wakeup call for me. I was supposed to be this really fit person, a Division I athlete, and I didn't have the flexibility to touch my toes? I was a goalie. You've got to be agile, quick and move your body. Yet I was stiff all over. I loved yoga the first class. I felt so awesome. I kept going, because of the way I was seeing benefits with my body. But I realized there was a lot more to yoga than just getting flexible.

Second, I grew up going to a Quaker school. Quakers sit in silence for their worship. Even though I'm Jewish, I was always raised in a Quaker education. We practiced silence, and that was a foundation for more meditation and visualization practice. My sophomore year at Penn, I had trouble clearing the ball. I would make a save, and I would drop the ball in the back of the crease, and our fastest defender, Kate Parker, would pick the ball up and sprint 70 yards down field — all because I couldn't clear the ball. That was kind of a disaster. This was all around the same time when coach Karin Brower Corbett had me go to our sports psychiatrist. I started working on visualization. I started reading books on visualizing.

Third, I was a pretty heavy kid in high school. I was the kid who got put in goal because I was the heavy kid. There was no way I was running down the field like a midfielder. I was about 80 pounds heavier then than I am now. I started losing weight during high school. I really started being conscious of my body, and recognizing it as a holy temple that I need to take care of.

Any similarities between yoga and lacrosse?
My lacrosse was giving me more things to work with on my mat, and my mat was giving me more things to work on with my lacrosse. I see those two as very connected. Athletes should have time, understanding the relationship of your mind, body and heart. It's something everybody should be doing. Not just yoga, but body movements in general, something that's bringing in a component of mindfulness.

There's nothing that's going to work for everybody. That's the thing in health that nobody tells you. No diet, no lifestyle works for everybody the same. Everyone's body is different. Everyone's lifestyle is different. You need to figure out what works for you. Yoga works tremendously for me, and it's something I can rely on for the rest of my life. But it's not necessarily for everybody. I encourage everybody to find what's best for them — to find the spiritual connection between mind and body and spirit that works for them.

Why is that important?
When we're not taking care of ourselves, it's because of something going on in our life that's troubling, and you're taking out by jeopardizing your health. It's often really easy to take care of ourselves when we have really good things in our life. The most important time to take care of yourself is when there are struggles coming up, or you're in training. It's important to eat right, stretch out your body and get enough sleep. Getting yourself in an environment of people who are also interested in living that lifestyle is important. That's not saying you can't enjoy a tailgate after a win. Live your life 90 percent healthy, and 10 percent whatever you want.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I've never been the kind of person who's able to plan that far in advance. I could never have dreamed up this job, even though what I do now is my dream job. I'm not sure where I'm going to be, but hopefully it's something I'm passionate about and of service to the world.

I hope that every school in the country has a three-part schooling in a healthy lifestyle — body movement, understanding the mind and eating choices. Those three things should be taught to kids at 2 years old, all the way up until they graduate high school. Understanding our ability to do amazing things also comes from the same place that holds us back — our mind can play very big tricks on us.

What's your favorite Penn lacrosse memory?
I have so many memories. I think about them all the time. It was a huge part of my life, and a very challenging one too. I love Penn lacrosse so much. I love my teammates. I love what I learned from that experience. I was part of a 10-person class at Penn. When we came in, Penn wasn't in the top 20. As a freshman, we finished 20th. As a sophomore, we finished 15th. As a junior, we finished fourth. As a senior, we finished second. I was there at a time when we were the bridge for bringing Penn from a mid-level team to a top-ranked team.

I have distinct memories of key moments. Just little clippings of time: making a key save against Duke in double overtime, clearing the ball down field about 50 yards against Syracuse. All the things I had been working on for four years — every day, all summer, even when I was walking to classes — to be able to be in the moment was rewarding. Those small moments are the ones I carry with me and think about often, more so than the celebrations. I always say I've stopped playing lacrosse, but I went out on top.

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