By David Cohen
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Fans who regularly attend TCU home volleyball games are familiar with the energy the sport requires, complete with constant dives, blocking hard attacks, and the boisterous atmosphere the sold-out crowds create.
Alexia Heist, a sophomore setter from El Paso, Texas, is one of TCU’s main leaders on the court. She, a sophomore no less, has found her leadership niche through the most unlikely source: yoga.
“I started last October, so it’s been a year now,” Heist said. “A friend introduced it to me, and I wanted to try it because it looked fun. I went to my first class and it was really hard, and that’s why I like it so much; it challenged me.
“It’s a good workout and you can see yourself getting better over time. It’s fun.”
Heist, who also leads TCU with 446 assists, is one of many collegiate athletes nationwide who admits academics and sports can be a lot to handle. She says her yoga devotion helps her to get away from it all and clear her mind, but it also gives her an outstanding physical advantage.
“I’ve gained a lot of flexibility, which I didn’t have before,” Heist said. “It has really helped in just performing in general with running and lifting. Mentally, you find yourself in a different way with your muscles and the way you move. If you feel connected with your body, it can help on the court and with your mind too.”
Yoga itself contains infinite types of stretches and contortions, but Heist has her favorite exercise picked out.
“During two-a-days, I picked a teammate and we did a different yoga position for each day of the two-a-days, so I have one picture each from those with a teammate, which may be 9 or 10 from that,” she said.
Earlier this season, the Horned Frogs swept the Spartan Spiketacular in Greensboro, N.C., outscoring their opponents 9-1 for the title. Whether or not the championship had anything to do with it, Heist did her favorite yoga move 30,000 feet above ground.
“I did a headstand on the plane back from North Carolina,” she said. “I do them all the time before practice, or matches in the room and in the locker room. It’s great to have teammates to take the picture because I am obviously not able to do that. It helps to have a helping hand.”
The helping hand Heist receives daily is not just something that happens. It is simply a reciprocal for all that she has done for the other 16 girls on the squad.
“She is one of those types of kids who is a great leader,” head coach Prentice Lewis said. “She has the right things to say, she knows what to talk about, she reads leadership books and she is very focused on what she needs to do.”
Yoga is certainly not for everyone, but that does not mean the rest of the team has not tried it yet. If anything, the Horned Frogs’ recent yoga experiences have reinforced the mentality they all would have had when they first began sports: having fun.
“All of them know that I do it,” Heist said. “Some of them seem to be a little more supportive and into it than others, but all of them think it’s cool and will try it out in the locker room. I know Natalie [Gower] can do a headstand now. We did a team yoga class a few weeks ago, and that was fun. We just have fun with it.”
Lewis, currently in her 12th season at the helm of the TCU volleyball program, not only called Heist a great leader, but said she has seen “tremendous” growth in Heist since her freshman campaign in 2012.
“It’s nice having someone so focused on something and enjoying it,” she said. “With yoga, I think it helps [Heist] on her state of mind.”
Heist’s go-to place in town is Karmany Yoga, just a few minutes away from the TCU campus. Her favorite specific exercise is the vinyasa form. As passionate as she is about yoga, she does make one exception.
“I tried hot yoga once, but it was a little too much with workouts and volleyball,” she said. “I try to go as much as possible, but it’s tough going a lot during the season.”
It is not just the lifelong yoga devotees that have been active with Heist. Freshman middle blocker Natalie Gower admits she had no prior experience with yoga, but has really come to appreciate it.
“It’s just something fun that can take all the stresses off our life,” she said. “Lex will come in with a new yoga move and we will all try to do it. We are all terrible at it, but we’ll laugh and it will bring us together in a fun way.”
Gower said how she feels about the spiritual exercise, but she also had some nice closing thoughts of wisdom with Heist as an example.“Lex is one of the most focused people I’ve ever met,” Gower said. “I feel a lot of that has to do with yoga and what it does for her.”