10 ways that Yoga is like poker

This morning, I spent a sweaty 60 minutes with my head mostly down by my knees in downward dog, standing head to knee and mastering bow pose. I splashed my neighbour on the mat next to me (hot yoga), dripped hair dye onto my white towel (see hot yoga), cursed (in Sanskrit), wobbled (my balance is not so good since I changed to decaf soy), and generally ached. My fellow yoginis were more flexible, skinnier, younger, sexier, cooler versions of an imaginary me. Our instructor looked like an Asian Miley Cyrus (I'm in Singapore) and had the wrecking-ball butt of a nimble 20-something just to prove it. For this privilege that I put myself through EVERY DAY, I pay about $400 per month!

Yoga - downward dog.JPG

Why do I pay and go? Because I freaking love yoga. Every wince, every stretch, every ache, and every negative thought is a step nearer to nirvana on the mat. For some people, its alcohol, smokes for others, some like dancing, others dig crafts and scrapbooking - every woman has something that totally lights them up. For me, it's yoga. For you, it's poker. But I pondered, as my mind drifted in class this morning, are they so very different?

I've been in the poker industry since 2000. I am not a player; I'm a marketer. A back-office worker whose job it was to make it easier for ladies to find our products. Then I retrained and got into health and fitness, and now I coach and train and speak and write, generally educating beautiful women like you on how to eat and live better. One of the tools in my arsenal is yoga, and this year, I decided to start teacher training. Once you fall in love with something, you want everyone to fall in love with it.

How is yoga just like poker then? Here are 10 ways:

1. Anyone can do it

There was a time in a galaxy far, far away that you could not play poker. But you started to learn. Everyone starts from somewhere. Just like poker players, no yogini I know was ever blessed with the "I know how to headstand in the womb" gene. You are not born with either innate skill; you have to earn it.

2. It's available everywhere

Both poker and yoga are sports with entry levels for all - both genders, any age, all income brackets and accessible in every city, offline and online. Just as you can hop on down to your local card room on jump on to your Stars account, so, too, can you choose from many yoga studios and take cool online classes from the comfort of your own pajamas.

3. It makes you look cool

In yoga, you get to wear cute pants, tops, headbands and sip from a pink water bottle (activated water, of course), but poker is cutting out its own fashions these days. More importantly, both sports are uber-sexy hot right now. You are a hip mama leading a generation of trendsetters, whether you rock out the beat of your life to the tables or the mats. Oh, and plenty of celebs practice yoga, like Jennifer Anniston, Lady Gaga, Giselle, Michelle Williams, Adam Levine of Maroon 5, Lebron James, Hillary Clinton, Robert Downey Jr., Jessica Biel and Russell Brand, to name just a few.

4. It takes lots of patience

Just as you wait and wait for that hand in your game to make all-in move when the time is right, so in yoga, it's all about the waiting game. One style I practice called Bikram only has 26 poses that we repeat every day; the sequence never changes, but every pose is different as our bodies show up different daily. Some days, bodies are tired, others hung over, sometimes hungry or too full. Just like how we show up for our tourneys or SNGs, the rules are the same; only the players' presence changes. Yoga can teach the patience (and body posture) you need to sit grinding at a table for hours on end.

Yoga - Bikram.jpeg

5. It can be painful

Had a big loss? Gutted when the cards didn't favour you on the river? Try balancing on your right foot, bending down, stretched forward with your left leg up in the air, and then take your hands off the floor. And fall over. Pride before a fall, literally. Zero pride afterwards.

6. You meet some great women

Lovely people, those poker women and yoginis, warm loving communities of shared interests and independent referral networks. Women totally rock at everything. From CEOs to single moms to single mom CEOs (I've met many in both sports), eighty percent of success in life is just showing up.

7. You can win big

So, you can have your PCA, your Monte Carlo, your EPT London. A win for me these days is being able to stretch out my leg in standing-head-to-knee or get my foot to stay on my thigh whilst crouching in new stand. Then after your win, yoga teaches you humility and detachment from any outcome, two skills that are very useful in poker.

8. It's good for body and mind

You love poker because of the "kick ass, wipe your opponent off the floor" killer strategy. It keeps you mentally alert and activates your critical thinking. So does yoga, which is based on the body/mind connection. As Eckhart Tolle would say, it keeps you in the NOW, a skill vital for poker. It is my active meditation.

9. It helps you know your limits

In your first poker lesson, you did not start playing like Vanessa Selbst (unless you are Vanessa Selbst, of course). As in poker, so in yoga; if you are just starting out and think crow sounds like an interesting pose because it's a nice birdie, you just try squatting and bunny-hopping forward into a bizarre handstand. Crows are graceful. I look more like a dodo.

Yoga - crow pose.jpg

10. All the men are totally hot

In hot yoga rooms, loving, caring, sometimes gay, mostly metrosexual, six-packed, vegan guys remove their shirts and flex their well-defined tight bods and bend down before you, honouring the light and inner goddess inside of you. In poker, oh, no, wait...


Sara Varela
@PokerStars in PS Women