A few weeks ago, I was sitting at Ohana Wellness waiting for my massage. I had come in with an ankle brace and a knee brace – one on each leg. I’m not athletic, I’ve never been—even back in my younger years. I got to talking to Saya and the women at the front desk, explaining why I was wearing the braces, and my latest onset of pain. I found myself explaining that no, I may not be an athlete but I am athletic now. Throughout the conversation, we started talking about the power of therapeutic bodywork and the role it plays in professional athletes, and for those of us that are just trying to stay in decent shape in our 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, etc.
In these next few blog series, you’ll hear from a former division 1 football player, a professional ballerina, and a marathon runner. Each of them shared with me candid and unique perspectives on their bodies and how they keep them running. Each of them also shared their experiences (past and present) with bodywork.
And, my hope is that whether you are a professional athlete or you’re just trying to be more athletic (whatever that may look like for you) that you’ll explore therapeutic bodywork as impactful, powerful, and healing.
I will say this: the person who came to mind immediately to the team at Ohana Wellness when I threw the idea out of a blog series on professional athletes was Marcus. After spending some time with him on the phone and getting to know him better, I totally get why!
- What’s Marcus’ background as an athlete?
Marcus is a former division 1 football player (as someone who doesn’t understand sports, my husband informed me this is a big deal) and had a brief stint trying out for professional football in the NFL. He’s a local kid, Montgomery County born and bred and played with his brothers and cousins growing up. To him, football was a family sport, he wanted to participate, he wanted to be part of the team. He quickly got hooked (and played for 23 years!) and loved the positive reinforcement that a team sport can provide – it’s instant gratification and there is a lot of camaraderie in the competitiveness of the sport.
Today, Marcus is a very different athlete. He’s a yogi who does cross-fit, high-intensity functional interval training, still hits the weight room to relive those glory days of being a hardcore athlete, and owns his own yoga studio (PureFire Yoga Studio in Bethesda, MD).
But more importantly, Marcus embodies what it looks like to be an athlete that practices mindful mind-body connection.
2. What was the most traumatizing injury Marcus ever endured? How long did it take him to recover?
Marcus never endured a season-ending injury (thankfully). He’s had his fair share of broken fingers and broken toes and has been knocked out once – as he says, you play through that. The most painful injury he endured was a hip-pointer bruise, which is exactly as it sounds – a bruise on the hip bone. Any clenching, laughing, squeezing, or movement of any kind would radiate pain throughout his body.
We talked about this, the significance of being injured truly in the middle of your body. Think about that – your hips are the crux for any movement, no matter how small (going to the bathroom) or large (running to that touchdown finish line). As Marcus (and Shakira) said, hips don’t lie.
When was the last time you gave your hips some TLC?
3. What was Marcus’ first experience with massage? What type?
I loved Marcus’ candor here. His first experience was at a Massage Envy and it was so long ago and imemorable (that says something) that he could barely tell me what it was like. He went because he knew it was supposed to be good for him, to recover, but he went because someone told him to go. He lacked the self-awareness to know that this needed to be a key part of keeping his body at its peak condition.
4. How has Ohana Wellness and/or therapeutic bodywork helped to maintain Marcus’ athleticism?
Marcus shared a great perspective about his experience at Ohana. Yes, Ohana Wellness is unique because they cater to the individual and they know how to address those specific needs through open communication with the client and knowing intuitively what is needed through touch. But, Marcus said what made the big difference for him was that his body was treated like an athlete’s body. To him, that meant his body was manipulated and moved a certain way during his session, so that it was a truly athletic approach to his recovery.
What a unique way of looking at therapeutic bodywork! We all know it can bring us stress relief and release, management of tension, etc. but the idea that a massage can also make you feel athletic – brilliant! Marcus made it a point to tell me that his moment of stillness of being on the table is critical in allowing him to truly keep movement in his body.
5. What works for Marcus? What has he learned through getting massage / body work about his body?
Marcus believes that his body tells him a story. It’s telling him how it came to be in its current state, the past, and the present. Sitting still, laying down in stillness, holding a posture or a pose in his yoga practice allows his body to tell him that story in fullness. He’s receiving feedback in all those moments, learning to listen to it, and become in tune to what it needs. Through this practice, this bodywork, the time and effort, he finds that he’s able to navigate himself through life in a much more aware state.
In hindsight, Marcus’ would have loved to learn more on how a mindful, mind-body approach could have helped him become a more impactful athlete. The physical gains are easy to measure. However, where he sees greater opportunity, is the mental benefits in taking time to pause from your day, and that simple act can positively impact the quality of everyday life.
He was taught to “go to practice” and run the drills and get better and stronger physically. Today, the word “practice” is both similar and very different for Marcus. It’s now focused on a powerful athletic style of yoga coupled with mindful listening and stillness.
When was the last time we took a moment of stillness to practice listening to our bodies?
6. What does Marcus want pro athletes or non-pros to know about bodywork?
Any type of athlete, whatever level you’re at, if you want to continue playing, getting better, stronger, improving, etc., body work has to be a priority. Marcus didn’t falter when he said this to me, he swears by a mindful, yogic recovery practice and knows that this was a key thing missing when he was growing up.
He said our bodies are akin to owning a car. How you take care of this car, the regular maintenance, oil changes, car washes, etc. are similar to having this one body. Yet, we are much more inclined to ignore our body’s need for maintenance but not our cars. And, our bodies require even more maintenance – after all, you can trade in a car, but you can’t trade in this body.
He gets asked regularly what is the best work out or mindful regimen that his clients should do – his answer never changes: the one you can do consistently.
Marcus left me with this to think about: we must change the assumption around the value of “being still.” He is still an athlete but it’s changed for him. He’s got a strong foundation of being still and that allows him to push and challenge his physical body in ways he didn’t expect to, but that are ultimately more rewarding. He reminds me that our bodies are incredibly intelligent, if we take the time to listen to it, it’ll tell you what it needs, without fail.
So, thank you to the former football player who has had an incredible physical journey but an even more incredible mindfulness journey. He’s leading the way in creating synergy between being a hardcore athlete and being a hardcore advocate for mindful living.