The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
A natural athlete, Candace Parker could dunk a basketball in high school and made headlines in 2004 when she won the slam dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-American basketball game at age 17. That was followed by a milestone-making college basketball career — which led to being the first pick in the 2008 WNBA draft, going on to rack up multiple awards and two Olympic gold medals to boot.
These days, the two-time MVP, NBA analyst and future Hall of Famer plays for Chicago Sky and is married to Russian basketball player Anna Petrakova, with whom she welcomed a baby boy named Airr in February. Also mom to soon-to-be-13-year-old daughter Lailaa, Parker juggles the responsibilities of motherhood while contemplating retirement from the WNBA.
Yahoo Life caught up with the sports star, 36, who is currently working with Muscle Milk's Lifting Project. The initiative is launching with a contest to become a Muscle Milk-certified strength trainer with the resources to provide free strength training classes to their community of choice. Parker says she's seen the benefit of sharing the fitness knowledge she’s learned from her trainers, and the Lifting Project aims to help make fitness more accessible to individuals in underserved communities.
“In terms of access, I see the value and power in community,” Parker says. “We’re able to uplift people in the community through knowledge — through a trainer. When I first heard about [this campaign], I thought it was powerful because I’ve benefited greatly from lifting and working out and taking care of my body — and from having someone show me how to take care of my body. By doing this, we’re able to provide that access to a community that may not otherwise have had it. I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact fitness can have on a person and I’m proud to be part of an initiative that helps close the gap around access.”
When it comes to fitness and wellness, however, she does not subscribe to a one-size-fits-all approach. While she rides a Peloton bike most days, she knows her workout routine is based on her personal preferences.
“Everything that works for me may not work for someone else; it's about habits and commitments," she says. "What’s benefited me may not benefit someone else. It's about finding your path and what you will commit to."
Parker has also used the pandemic as an opportunity to focus on her mental health — something she’s fully committed to, but is still new at.
“Mental health has been a process and a growing topic in terms of my personal knowledge,” Parker admits. “I think my generation... you just do it. People talk about the value of being clear mentally, but it took me understanding the power of your mind and the power of having a healthy mind. I’ve been on a two-year journey of mediation, yoga, reading books and checking in mentally — understanding the value of having a clear mind and how I can work towards that. I found that because I’m able to do that for myself, I'm able to have these conversations with my daughter. It’s been a learning process for me — and it’s been a learning process for others to see how they can benefit from it.”
Parker notes that she isn’t always easy on herself but tries to remember that every success or failure is an opportunity to learn.
“The advice I try to live by every day — because I’m a person who beats themselves up over mistakes — is to handle success as you would failure," she says. "A lot of people need to be humbled in success and learn from failure and do better. I want to be an even-keeled person and understand that emotions are temporary.”
Just as she learned footwork techniques from the late legend Kobe Bryant, Parker turns to spiritual thinkers and thought leaders like Jay Shetty, Paulo Coelho and Malcolm Gladwell to challenge herself mentally and open her mind. In fact, she rereads the same books to prepare for each new WNBA season.
“Usually before the season, I read the same two books: The Alchemist and Blink,” Parker says. “I’m a huge fan of podcasts and a huge book reader; that’s where I find my solace and my peace of mind. I love listening to [Jay] Shetty’s podcast."
Outside of playing and covering basketball, Parker is happiest when she’s with her family, and admits that being overworked and overscheduled can leave her feeling stressed out.
“I would rather have an off-day and a day that’s crazy scheduled than two moderately scheduled days,” Parker says decidedly. “For me, when I’m enjoying the day off, I’m able to reflect and [appreciate] the reward of a crazy day. I also like knowing what’s going on. A couple of years ago, I started relying heavily on my calendar — so I can now prepare for the crazy day. I know it’s coming!
“What stresses me out is a lack of control,” she adds. “Spending time with my family is something that brings me joy. I take mental notes of things (the smells, the energy) and mental photos. I heard about this [technique] a long time ago and I literally do it. I have so much joy and mental memories in my mind of spending time with my family. The [stress and joy] go hand in hand; I have joy when I’m able to relinquish control and I relinquish control in the moments when I’m with my family and living in the moment.”
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