You had achieved a career as a professional sports journalist covering the sidelines at NFL games, probably a dream job for many people. And yet you felt something was missing from your life. Can you explain what you felt was lacking? I played collegiate and pro-beach volleyball, so athletics have been a big part of my life, and I am passionate about it. Reporting on something I love and can relate to as an athlete has been a dream come true. But like anything else, I think we evolve over time and what is important to us now is different than what was important to us 5 or 10 years ago. There came a point in my career where I said to myself…I want to help people, and I didn’t feel like I was doing that to the fullest extent. I wanted to look in people’s eyes and know that what I was doing was making a difference. Instead I was looking through a camera lens day after day. It’s very hard to feel a connection with people when you’re doing that.
The idea for your yoga studio actually came to you in a dream. Can you tell us what that was like? I was at a point where I was desperate for the next step. I wanted to feel like I had a purpose beyond getting a great paycheck and talking about football. Don’t get me wrong, I still love sports broadcasting, but I knew I had a bigger calling. I went down to the beach one morning and sat down and closed my eyes. For the first time in my life, my mind was quiet. It was the most peaceful feeling I’ve ever experienced. When I opened my eyes…it felt like hours had gone by…and I had actually accomplished something I had tried to do for years unsuccessfully….meditation. I think that was the first step in the process of tuning into what was next. That night before I went to bed I literally asked for my purpose out loud. I had a very vivid dream a few hours later. I was walking into a building and looked up and saw a sign that said “The Green Yogi.” People were doing yoga and I was checking to make sure everything was okay. I woke up and wrote down the name and drew the design elements I saw. I felt like I had seen a snapshot of the future. I remember telling my family and they thought I was crazy. But I had absolutely no doubt in my mind it was the next step…..my calling.
Can you tell us about some of the eco-friendly ideas that you’ve incorporated into your studio, The Green Yogi? Everything I’ve done has been with the environment in mind and leaving as small a footprint as possible. I don’t believe you have to compromise the “chic-factor” in order to be eco-friendly. It’s about assessing your options and choosing the option that’s most sustainable. In my case, I left the flooring and walls the way they were so there wasn’t waist, and worked around it. Any wood I used for the build out was FSC Certified (they plant a tree for every tree cut down), I chose low VOC paints, fake grass to save water in our garden and recycled polyester curtains. All our studio waste is 100% recyclable, and we’ve eliminated the need for paper entirely by creating a paperless iPad check-in and registration system. Our retail products are all eco-friendly, even our yoga mats, and I created a candle called OM because the candles we were buying had way too much packaging! All proceeds go to 3 of our favorite charities every month. It’s become our signature scent. We don’t use bags for retail, instead we encourage guests to use their yoga bags or their strong yoga arms to carry their products to their car. We use hand towels in the bathroom and make our own cleaning solution with tea tree. Every time we make a decision…the environmental impact is considered.
How important do you think it is to make choices to eat organic food and buy organic clothing and household goods when possible? I think “when possible” are the key words there. If there is an organic option….I go for that.
How is yoga useful for treating sports related injuries? Yoga builds strength in a gentle way and when our muscles are strong, our joints are supported and can heal and stay healthy. I also believe it’s important to stay as flexible as possible. Tight muscles lead to all sorts of problems. It puts us out of balance. When we’re out of balance for too long, injuries occur.
Player safety is a big topic in the NFL these days. Do you think yoga could play a role in helping to prevent injuries? I’ve worked with so many athletes who have incorporated yoga into their workout regimen and are now having injury-free seasons for the first time in their careers. Professional sports can wreak havoc on your body. It destroyed mine. Yoga helped increase my flexibility and range of motion so my body has more flow…it is more pliable. It added a good 5 more years to my athletic career. It also increased my core strength. That’s where all movement is generated. When your core is strong, your body can adequately sport itself when it’s fatigued.
How do you balance running a yoga studio with making regular appearances as a reporter on NFL Network? No matter what I am doing, I’m always a business owner first. For me, communication is the most important element of leading a successful team. I am constantly in communication with my team. When I’m on set, I get to wear a different hat, and it feels good not have to worry about all the little details of running a business. I can just focus on sports. It’s become more of a mental break instead of a job.
Most of the classes taught at The Green Yogi are Power Vinyasa Yoga open to All Levels. Why did you decide to teach in this style, and how do the students benefit from it? As an athlete I experienced the benefits of power yoga first hand. I believe it has all the elements the body needs….strength, flexibility and pure relaxation. You don’t have to go to the gym, then come to yoga. You get everything you need in 75 minutes. It’s great for people who don’t have a lot of time, but still want a mind, body, and spirit escape.
What was the most memorable experience you’ve had as a yoga teacher? And your most memorable experience covering sports? One of my students stopped me on the street a couple months ago and said….”thank you for opening The Green Yogi. It has changed my life. It’s my sanctuary.” Then she started to cry. It was so touching. It inspired me to do more and to touch as many lives as possible with yoga. In terms of sports, one of my most memorable moments is interviewing Jeremy Shockey in the locker room after a game at Wembley Stadium. He hung his wet towel on his body (I don’t have to tell you where) and said “Is this okay? I’m ready when you are.” I wanted to laugh and say “how did you do that?” but I kept it professional. I grew up with two brothers, so I wasn’t offended. I was more curious about the physics of the whole thing Needless to say….it made for an interesting interview.
What advice would you give to someone who is totally new to yoga? I hear “I’m not good at yoga” a hundred times a week. Yoga is not something you’re good at. It’s something you practice. It’s like a relationship. You don’t go into it automatically good at it. It takes work. And when there are challenges, you work through them. If you’re new to yoga, know there will be challenges, but if you make serving your body the priority over perfecting the poses…you’ll see a beautiful, natural progression in your practice. If you always begin your practice with the mindset that you are just observing and exploring your body, you can let go of the ego and the need to be perfect and just enjoy the process.
Mary Strong is a sports journalist and former pro beach volleyball player. She has worked for NBC, CNN, and Fox Sports Network. She can currently be found reporting football news on the NFL Network. Mary is also the founder of The Green Yogi, an environmentally friendly yoga studio located in Manhattan Beach, CA.