Earlier this season, Danica Patrick changed the color of her car and firesuit to all black everything. But in her everyday life -- especially when it comes to what kinds of food she puts in her body -- the 33-year-old NASCAR driver and Instagram yoga star is still very much as green and healthy as they get.
Patrick recently took some time away from her new stock car to chat with espnW about her love of trail mix, how yoga is helping to tame her self-proclaimed scary side, and the home sanctuary she calls her "wo-man cave."
Nicole Blades: Looking at your Instagram feed, seems like you're deep into yoga. How long have you been practicing, and what kicked things into high gear for you with yoga?
Danica Patrick: It was probably spawned by Madonna, back in the day! It started when I lived in England. I was about 19 years old and I'd get yoga DVDs and do them in my living room. That was 14 years ago, and I did it for a very long time. Then I spent a few years not doing it. Earlier this year, in March, I started again with a friend out in Arizona. But she had to really talk me into it because I'm all for the really high-intensity workouts, and I didn't feel like yoga was really doing that. It started to feel like a waste of time, from an exercise perspective -- but definitely not from a mind perspective.
I think I do it a lot differently now. Yoga is not a replacement for other workouts; it's more added on top of anything else I do. It's been great. And with social media, you get a view of how incredibly good some people are, how good you can get, and how far you can really take it. So being the competitive person that I am, I also have those goals now.
NB: What other things are you doing for workouts, since yoga seems to be more of a supplement to your regular routines?
DP: I do CrossFit, for the most part. Very different from yoga! From a workout perspective as well as a sweat and strength perspective, it is a different discipline and has a different purpose than yoga.
Since I started doing yoga, though, I've been pretty consistent, week to week. I even built a "wo-man cave" -- as I call it -- back in North Carolina, where I do my yoga. It's not heated, but it's pretty warm in there. I have my sewing machine in there, too. It's where I do my arts and crafts.
NB: What does your typical yoga workout look like? How long do your sessions last?
DP: I do it on my own. I use a website called YogaGlo that has over 3,000 different classes, and you can filter it through the style that you want, the length of time that you want to do it. I've done everything from 20 minutes to 90 minutes. It's helpful because I don't have to worry about going to a class. The site is nice because I can fall, I can try things, and I can pause it to work on something.
NB: Do you have a specific yoga pose or asana that you like to do, one that is your go-to to feel strong and centered?
DP: Anything balancing -- going from two legs to one, or staying on one leg -- those are my strengths. I work really hard on inversions, but in the last couple of weeks, I've been a lot more consistent about being able to hold a handstand for a long time. I want to be able to do the splits, just 'cause. (laughs.) Of course, the splits really help with everything else. I also want to work on back bends and back flexibility, because my job is so static. There's so much vertical on my spine, I just need anything I can do to get it to move and open up.
NB: Since you've recommitted to yoga, have you noticed a difference in how yoga has benefited you when you are in the race car or doing other things?
DP: From a physical perspective, it's helped most in reminding you to breathe and how to stay relaxed and focused. That's definitely in the front of my mind when I'm in the car. The broader spectrum is it's given me a more positive attitude. There's definitely a culture of positivity and letting everything flow the way it's going and not trying to force anything.
NB: Would you say that yoga -- and the philosophy within in it -- helps guide you through any setbacks and challenges you've faced in your career?
DP: Yeah, I've always gone with the idea that everything happens for a reason. But now I get past things a bit quicker and cope a bit quicker than I had before. Also, I can be a really aggressive person and maybe a little scary. (laughs) Yoga has reminded me to be a little more friendly and kind and patient.
NB: I would have never pinned that on you. You don't seem like a scary person.
DP: That's nice! But you've never seen me walking around the track giving if-looks-could-kill kind of looks. (laughs)
NB: What do you do to relax and keep that work/life balance?
DP: I just like to get outside. I love to take my dog, Dallas, out for a walk. Anything outdoors is really relaxing to me. I also love cooking. I'm more of an arts and crafts kind of girl. I'm making a dream catcher for my sister. She's pregnant with her second and she wanted a dream catcher -- so making things like that relaxes me.
NB: You mentioned cooking. Is there a favorite recipe or dish you like to make? Or, as you've gotten deeper into yoga, have you found yourself changing how you eat, too?
DP: I've always eaten healthy. Actually, learning how to eat healthy -- back when I was in England -- is how I learned how to cook. If you want to eat healthy, you want to know what's going into your food and how it's made. I used to go into coffee shops with tons of fitness books and cookbooks and -- I mean, let's face it. I don't really read a lot, but I like pictures! So I would flip through and read captions. That's where it all started.
In the last year, I've tried to do more organic foods. And I've been getting into more juicing and making green drinks. It's amazing how little food you really need if you eat the right stuff. I don't crave pizza or fried anything.
NB: What would your treat be, then?
DP: I love trail mix. I really do. I love sweet and salty. I can overdo it on trail mix! Also, wine.
NB: If you had to boil it down to three key points or tips for maintaining your health and athletic edge, what would they be?
DP: Eating healthy is really important. Make good decisions. And train your body to love and appreciate healthy foods. I think it could be more delicious than fried chicken and French fries. Second, eat breakfast. That's an important one. And lastly, get your heart rate up. If you really want to get fit or lose weight and burn calories, you have to sweat your butt off. Also, cardio is great, but nothing will change the shape of your body better than weights will. So many people are afraid of weights.
You know, people are always astonished by how much I eat, but when your body is a machine and it's working hard and burning a lot of calories because you have a lot of lean muscle mass, you need a lot of food.
NB: Now I'm curious. What does your typical day's diet look like? What's for breakfast?
DP: I've finally diversified my breakfast after eating the same thing for a long time. I love oatmeal or I'll have a couple of scrambled eggs with spinach and maybe a little turkey and a rice cake. If I'm short on time, I'll have a green drink with lemon, apple, spinach and banana. Plus, a lot of fruit, berries.
Lunch would be salmon and salad, maybe some fruit, and trail mix in between to keep me going. Maybe I'll have a rice cake with peanut butter and banana on top. Dinner is usually any kind of meat -- steak, chicken, fish, pork chop - with sautéed veggies and some beans. And some brown rice, wild rice, quinoa or a sweet potato.
NB: Is dessert ever included?
DP: Sure. Oh, yeah! I love chocolate. I made some banana bread the other day. A square of chocolate is good enough for me. I also like to slice up bananas and put in a couple of chocolate chips and just a little bit of butter, then put that in the microwave for 45 seconds, and it's so good. Not a very big dessert, but it's so satisfying. You could put a little granola on that or a bit of peanut butter on the side.
NB: Or some trail mix.
DP: (laughs.) Exactly. I mean, what's better than peanut butter, chocolate and banana? Nothing!