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Meet Dr. Daya Grant

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Daya Grant.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up down the coast in San Diego, where I spent much of my childhood boogie boarding, playing the piano, and dancing. Ballet was my first athletic love and I branched out into modern/contemporary dance in high school. After spending the summer before my senior year dancing at Juilliard, I had one of those epiphanies that we never forget: I realized that my long-time goal of becoming a professional ballet dancer no longer felt right. I decided that I wanted a traditional college experience where I could dance just for fun – a revolutionary concept for me at the time.

I attended Pomona College where I majored in Neuroscience, continued to dance and choreograph, and met my now husband. It was an amazing four years. During that time, I developed a tremendous curiosity for how the brain is involved in human performance. But, I had no idea how to make a career out of that, so after graduation, I took a job as a manager at Abercrombie and Fitch (totally random, but I learned a heck of a lot about leadership). I eventually found the field of sport psychology and got my Master’s in Kinesiology/Sport Psychology, while also becoming certified as a yoga teacher. Towards the end of my Master’s program, the concussion epidemic was starting to gain media attention and I felt compelled to study a piece of it. So, I applied to doctoral programs while doing another retail stint at lululemon (every zig and zag of our journey holds lessons and meaning – don’t underestimate them). I got my Ph.D. in Neuroscience from UCLA, where I studied the long-term effects of repeat concussions during adolescence. While conducting research was fulfilling in its own way, I realized that what really lit me up was teaching and connecting with humans more directly.

Any time I was unsure about the next step in my journey, my Dad always reminded me that I’d somehow find a way to combine my passion for the brain, movement, and mindfulness. The first time I felt that career alignment was towards the end of my Ph.D. program when I started working for LoveYourBrain, a non-profit committed to improving the quality of life for people affected by traumatic brain injury. After a couple of years developing their educational curriculum and contributing to their yoga program, I became a mom – and life paused in the most beautiful way.

When my son turned two, I took the advice of my Sport Psychology mentor and set off to create something on my own. As my Dad predicted I’d do, I blended my passions and launched my private practice, which serves athletes committed to elevating their mindset, using a combination of neuroscience, mental skills, and yogic principles/philosophy. It’s been quite a journey, but along the way I kept following what made me feel most alive. And here I am.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Every journey has obstacles and mine has been no different. However, my challenges are tiny compared to what so many in our country and this world are facing. I think it’s important to recognize hardships in your life and to give yourself grace when you’re in the middle of it, but to also take a bird’s eye view and zoom out every once in a while because it’s all relative. Having said that, here are three obstacles from my journey so far: First, my Ph.D. program was not a walk in the park. I was the oldest in my class and had been away from Neuroscience for five years when I started, so all of those acronyms and pathways had my mind spinning in year 1. By year 2, I settled into the rhythm of classes, but lab research was entirely new to me, so the learning curve was steep. I shed a lot of tears those five years, and I doubted myself quite a bit, but I had an amazing support system that kept reminding me of my ‘why’ and often believed in me more than I believed in myself.

Second, a couple of months after finishing my Ph.D., I sustained a concussion. Oh, the irony (reminder: my dissertation was on concussions). I was rear-ended on the 405 by a distracted driver and for a couple of months, my cognition was slow, I was extremely sensitive to light and sound and it took immense brainpower to complete the simplest tasks. It was unnerving, but it increased my awareness of what others go through. I finally understood concussions on a much deeper level. My third greatest challenge was, and still is, balancing motherhood with my career. It’s a constant dance and it’s broken me down many times, but it’s also given me the opportunity to practice what I preach: presence, patience, and self-compassion.

We’d love to hear more about your practice.
I have a private practice working with athletes on the mental aspect of their sport. Every athlete’s challenges are unique and I meet them exactly where they are, but some common areas of focus include pre-performance anxiety, returning from an injury, managing stress, dealing with coaches/teammates, and cultivating resilience, focus, and confidence. There are a lot of excellent mental performance consultants who I’m lucky enough to call my colleagues, but what makes my approach different is the emphasis on mindfulness and meditation and a rooting in neuroscience. Most of the athletes that work with me are very cerebral. They tend to overthink and get in their own way, but they’re also curious about the science underlying a lot of the mental skills and mindfulness techniques we implement. So, we’re able to bring the science into it just enough to motivate them to keep at it. Ultimately, my mission is to help athletes tap into their inner strength and to enjoy the process of relentlessly pursuing their goals.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I certainly haven’t walked this journey alone and I’m abundantly grateful for the support of a lot of incredible humans. My parents and brother were my first cheerleaders and their unconditional love continues to play a critical role in my life (on the daily). My husband, Andrew, is my rock. Since we met in college, he’s believed in me wholeheartedly and celebrates even the tiniest steps I take on my path. My early teachers in dance (Alonzo King and Carol Mead) and piano (Barbara Schneiderman) saw my light and encouraged my incredibly shy younger self to take up space and shine. I was also blessed with four supportive graduate school mentors while I got my Master’s (Dr. Traci Statler and Dr. Ken Ravizza) and my Ph.D. (Dr. Mayumi Prins and Dr. Chris Giza). They all challenged me to work hard, ask questions, and be courageous enough to pursue my own path.

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Image Credit:

Christopher Flanegan, Kristina Adams

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