Football is hardly known for being Zen, and that’s exactly why former wide receiver Derrick “DJ” Townsel needed yoga in his life.
“You’re always in go-mode in football, but yoga gives you a moment to slow down and make your movements more methodical and intentional,” he says. “My profession was about plays, contracts and other stressful things, but yoga allowed me to stop and just be.”
Over ten years ago, when Townsel took his first yoga class on YouTube, this kind of cross-training was unheard of among his teammates. “I only knew two people who were practicing yoga,” he says. “At first, the journey was mine and mine alone, but once I started to connect with other yogis, I found myself shifting to a more holistic mindset.”
This holistic mindset extends to his yoga and personal training business, and in part, accounts for his growth on and off the mat. For a recent Wix Fit event, Townsel, a Wix Fit ambassador, shared the business philosophy that was crucial to his pivot from football player to yoga teacher. (Join the Wix Fit Community on Facebook for more conversations like this one.)
Why did you feel like you needed yoga as a professional athlete?
DJ Townsel: Professional sports are very unpredictable, especially football. It’s a constant battle of schedules and practices and contracts and not knowing where you’re going to be one day to the next. We have a joke that the NFL stands for “not for long.” It’s always a mental struggle, trying to stay calm, secure and grounded, so yoga was something I truly needed. (Related reading: How personal trainers can help with the mental health crisis)
Were other people in the NFL feeling the same way?
DJ Townsel: I’m sure others felt the same, but yoga wasn’t something that a lot of people did. There were probably a couple guys in the league who did yoga at the time. This was 10 or 11 years ago. It’s amazing now that yoga is more widespread and more accessible. Now, guys know that they can go to a yoga studio or go on YouTube and do yoga in their living room, which is how I started. There are ways to access yoga, and that part of your mind, so you can recover from the hustle and bustle of being a professional athlete, or from life in general. (More: Why be a yoga teacher now? 6 reasons to invest in your practice.)
Did you know that you'd teach yoga once you left the NFL?
DJ Townsel: No. I knew after a while that my love for football was fading. I knew it was something I was good at, but not something I was passionate about. When I started yoga, I was personal training very sporadically, helping my family exercise and lose weight. After seeing how I was able to help them, I realized that I had something else to offer the world besides entertainment on a professional level. I come from a large family of teachers, so this is my way of taking up the family business in my own special way.
Professional athletes step out of their sport and try to find themselves. It’s pretty hard to find yourself in your mid-30s and sometimes early 40s. My football career was pretty short, and yoga helped me find myself a little earlier than I would have if I had been playing for 10 or 15 years. It allowed me to be more adaptable and approach things with a calmer mindset and clear vision.
What’s your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur right now?
DJ Townsel: Businesses all over the world had to find ways to grow and maintain their businesses when they can’t see people face to face. They’ve had to learn new ways to get themselves out into the world. I’m challenged with that.
Another challenge is to make sure you're taking care of yourself, because you can’t give to the world unless you give to yourself. You can’t give from an empty cup. Trainers, yoga instructors and meditation experts are healers. We give so much. But you need to take care of yourself so you can give more to your clients; you need to take care of yourself, so you can receive in abundance. Our time and our energy are gifts we give to the world. I’m ready to give and receive in abundance.
What’s your best advice for business owners today?
DJ Townsel: Be adaptive. We are creatures of habit. You may be used to training clients in person or online, one thing or the other, but in this age of technology, there’s a new trend or algorithm every five seconds. We need to be adaptive. People who have been training for 20 years need to learn how to use Instagram or TikTok in order to reach new clients or to get their message out there. You need to learn to be a videographer, a photographer, a media designer. There are all these things you need to keep learning. (See: How to shoot a workout video like a professional producer.)
Like myself, I train clients and I teach yoga, but now I want to learn a martial art. I don’t know what it is yet. It might be jiu-jitsu. It might be capoeira. It’s something I want to do for me, then maybe it’s something I can offer to the world one day, whenever that may be.
Just be yourself in the process. There’s a new fitness trend every day, and there's a difference between being inspired and imitative. Be inspired, but do it in your own way. I’m going to learn a new martial art, but I’m not going to do it in a way that mimics the person who inspired me to do it. I want to find my own way to offer it to the world.
This interview was edited for length and clarity. Join the Wix Fit Community on Facebook for more inspiration from fitness professionals.