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How yoga stretched one journalist past burnout

Leslie Rangel is a co-anchor for Good Day Austin at FOX 7 Austin and founder of The News Yogi.

Leslie Rangel tried yoga for the first time as a student at the University of Texas in Austin. It was a challenging Bikram class and, even though a fall at the end resulted in “a split open chin and bruise,” she was hooked. 

During her second TV job in Oklahoma City, she started her journey as a yoga instructor, in addition to pursuing a full-time career in news. Since then, Rangel — who is a co-anchor for Good Day Austin at FOX 7 Austin — founded The News Yogi as an outlet for other journalists to prevent burnout.

We reached out to Rangel to learn more about why journalists need yoga and how its practice can alleviate stress. 

How is yoga for journalists different?

Rangel: Yoga for journalists is a practice that has been my life’s work. I was a burned out journalist who did not know how to unplug, destress, or continue in this career. I tried to quit many times and I applied to many jobs out of news, but I was turned down, so I have financially no other option than to continue in news. 

At the same time, I decided to take a yoga teacher training, to make some extra cash teaching. The training completely changed my life. I began using yoga to help me with meditation in between stressful news situations. I dealt with anxiety at the time because I was in a major breaking news and breaking weather market. I began learning how to use breathing techniques and yoga movement to help in situations where there were long car rides across the state during breaking news, and I noticed my anxiety was subsiding. I stopped turning to binging alcohol on the weekends to “relieve” stress. 

Now, I teach others simple tips and tricks to take out in the field when we undoubtedly face stress, anxiety and burnout. I’m still a working journalist, so these are lessons I’m applying to myself as I go as well. 

Why do journalists need yoga?

Rangel: Countless research has been done showing the stress journalists constantly face. In fact, research done by the New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences outright defines journalists as first responders. So why is something like yoga needed? In journalism, the nature of our business, chasing deadlines, breaking news and being available at a moment’s notice is made possible with help from the central nervous system (CNS). The system has two parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. 

When we’re in these high-situations like at a protest turned violent, an emotionally charged criminal trial, the scene of a house fire or violent crime, questioning local officials on corruption, the sympathetic nervous system is working because it’s the most basic thing that helps keep humans alive. It’s the fight, flight, freeze component. The second component of the central nervous system, the parasympathetic, is in charge of rest, reset and digestion.

Dr. Richard Miller, a psychologist and yogi, has done much work with people who experience PTSD and says they’re essentially stuck in the sympathetic function of the CNS. Through my own experience, I noticed, I was heading down the route of PTSD from traumatic coverage because I wasn’t taking time to slow down and address how I was feeling and more importantly WHY I was feeling it. It’s why it’s my mission now to share yoga specifically with journalists. Everyday I hear of more journalists leaving the business. [Fewer] journalists means more work on the ones who are left. More importantly, it’s important to stay mentally healthy to effectively write history as it’s unfolding in our country.

What advice do you have for journalists who have never practiced yoga before but are interested in trying it out?

Rangel: Have no expectations! Yoga can manifest itself in many different ways. There’s the misconception that you must be flexible to do yoga. I always say, you mean mentally flexible? Because it’s just that. Always be willing to try new things. 

On a more basic “how-to” I would say, know what you like. If you prefer slower things, start off with a restorative yoga or chair yoga or meditation. If you are someone who enjoys lots of movement, try a fast-paced flow. 

I have a library of videos on my YouTube Channel and also offer a monthly subscription-based online yoga studio where I have anywhere from five-minute yoga to 90 minutes.

In your opinion, what is the relationship between self-care and yoga?

Rangel: I always hear some people say, they work out as a self-care and don’t need yoga. I would challenge that they need both. Workouts keep the heart and body healthy. Yoga keeps your mind healthy. Yoga focuses on noticing patterns that could be leading to those destructive messages we tell ourselves. Yoga helps us remove those veils and reminds us what our purpose is as people, as humans and as storytellers. 

How did you develop the ‘Free Journalist Self-Care Guide’?

Rangel: These are things I’ve been using for a while in both my practice as a yogi and as a journalist. I also used notes from some of my teachers in yoga that I look up to, like psychologist and yogi Ashley Turner. I also know there are other journalists out there discussing mental health in journalism and incorporate some tips they recommend, including taking Poynter’s Journalism and Trauma course. 

What are some other ways you are taking care of yourself during the pandemic?

Rangel: I really pause and stop to get a different perspective of what’s happening around us. Naturally, we see the doom and gloom every day because we cover it, write about it and read it. It’s crucial to unplug. In yoga, we learn to live in and understand we live in a dual world. Two truths can exist at one time. The world can be in suffering, death and going through a pandemic, but it can also be a time of reflection and new birth. This is very much something I noticed in spending time with family and friends. Spending time — even if it’s virtually — with people of different ages, from children in my family to older adults. It’s the age old, find the silver lining amidst the destruction. 

I’m also a big believer in therapy. I visit with a therapist regularly. I work out (seperate from my yoga sessions). I enjoy cooking, it’s a very mindful practice for me, being in the moment and smelling the spices, listening to the sounds of searing, tasting the crunch of a food I’ve made. 

Lastly, I always remind my students, but it’s almost more of a reminder for myself, life and the nature of life always goes in seasons. What season are we in now? Some could argue Winter, a time of coldness, dark and filled with death, but it’s important to remember, despite that, Spring always follows Winter. …  Is this a time to just pause as we prepare for a season of blooming and warmth? I don’t hold the answer to that, I just know whatever is happening around us, it’s our duty to document it and now more than ever it’s important and our voices matter. It’s our duty to stay mentally healthy, because the mission of journalism and truths we’re fighting for depend on it. We can’t give up.


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