How do you maintain focus, and perform the skills you have practiced countless times before? Regardless of your opponent or the playing field, how do you bring your A-Game every time you step into your ‘field-of-play’?
Understanding sport-psychology is similar to understanding behavioral-psychology. How do we control our thoughts of fear, self-doubt and failure to allow us to achieve our goals? First we must understand where these thoughts are coming from, and why we choose to pay attention to them.
Yoga, in its essence, is a system of understanding the mind-body-spirit connection and learning to create balance between them. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were written 3,000 years ago as a systematic approach to Self-understanding. Patanjali recommended an ‘Eight-Limb-Path’ as a way to focus the mind and connect to your body and breath. The sutras provide a way of distilling our thoughts to focus only on that which brings us balance and allows us to let go of that which manifests imbalance. If we can learn to control self-doubt, calm our mind, and perform to the best of our ability, what would stop us from performing at our best every time we step into our personal ‘field-of-play’?
You take a deep breath, focus your thoughts, calm your mind, wind up and finally you hit your target…strike!
Now it’s a 2-1 count, and you feel your shoulder starting to ache…
How do you alleviate physical strain in the moment, and on a daily basis? One of the 8-limbs of the yoga-sutras discusses Asana, the body’s connection to mind and breath. Through movement and breath we are able to first understand restriction and work toward creating physical balance. Understanding and working with our physical restrictions can be just as challenging as learning to control our thoughts. Repetitive strain, either through sport or daily routines such as working at a desk, can create strain patterns. The body will compensate for repetitive strain by creating muscle contractions, and redistributing our weight to protect itself. Most professional athletes have a team of therapists working with them, but a well-balanced yoga routine can be a useful tool to assist in alleviating physical restriction and creating a more balanced physical structure.
Your aching shoulder suddenly becomes forefront of mind. You hear the crowd chanting, words of failure echo through your mind. The pressure of standing between the team’s win or loss suddenly consumes you. In all of this chaos you are questioning whether you will be able to pull it together to execute another strike.
During times of intense physical and emotional stress we need to collect tools to assist us in creating that ‘calm in chaos’. As athletes train to get stronger and faster, muscle contractions and joint restrictions begin to occur. These patterns are reinforced through continued training and eventually restrict joint mobility which affects the athlete’s ability to maximize muscle strength, and potentially impinge nerve and blood supply to the tissue. Yoga practice allows you to take an inventory of your body and create tools that allow you to self-diagnose and self-treat areas of strain. When you are in control of your body, and your thoughts, it will be easier for you to create that ‘calm in chaos’.
You control your breath and throw a 95 mph fastball right past the swinging batter. You’re feeling confident now. A 2-2 count and you’re one strike away from winning the game.
Just as much as we have to learn to control self-doubt, we must to learn to mediate overconfidence, understanding there is a balance between celebrating a perfectly executed skill and losing focus through over-excitement. Like in life, really big ‘highs’ are often followed by really big ‘lows’. To remain balanced, we learn to mediate the lows with the highs. Through our connection to asana, we learn to celebrate our increasing strength/flexibility as much as we learn to understand and appreciate restriction and limited movement. Yoga utilizes both static and dynamic stretching allowing muscles to lengthen, restrictions to soften, and tissue to become more elastic and pliable.
Of course, utilization of specific therapy such as Osteopathy, Chiropractic or Physiotherapy would be ideal for athletes and those with existing injury. A yoga practice is a means of working with our own body to understand restrictions and work to create balance both in mind and body.
You take a deep breath; focus your thoughts, suddenly past failures disappear and you are left with a feeling of calm and balance. You can no longer hear the roar of the cheering fans; you cannot feel the anticipation of those around you. The opinions and judgments of others no longer matter. You have one task to perform. You wind up once again and throw your perfect pitch right to your target. A perfectly executed skill elicits a positive result….Time to pop the champagne!