Posted on January 26, 2017
“Yoga isn’t just about the body, it’s also about the mind and it’s a technique that has really helped me. You do have to focus because there’s some positions that can really hurt you at times if you aren’t focused and breathing right.” –Lebron James
Concept: How you can use Yoga and Mindfulness in order to maximize your performance.
First we need to understand how and why these practices work?
Yoga serves a number of extremely important purposes for a competitive athlete. First, yoga increases flexibility and core strength. Increased flexibility and core strength are associated with increased speed, wider range of movement, balance, explosiveness, overall strength, and injury prevention.
Secondly, yoga serves to detoxify the body and add in deeper and faster recovery. Intense training and competition take a toll on the body. While we often think of intensity of competitive training and movement as the “important” part of performance development it is actually in recovery where muscle growth occurs. If the athlete doesn’t engage in high-quality recovery they will never maximize the benefits of their training.
Yoga also connects deeply with the mind. Yoga has moments of deep discomfort. During these moments it is easy to have the mind suggest to “escape” the discomfort. Instead what yoga teaches is how to use deep breathing techniques, which allow us to relax and work with the discomfort instead of against it, as Lebron James mentioned in the quote above. Too often when something is uncomfortable or even painful (as in losing a big game, or having a poor performance when it matters most) we look to want to avoid or escape those feelings.
However, the mentally strongest athletes understand that discomfort and painful moments are an inherent part of competition. When we look to avoid them at all costs we actually end up playing it “safe”, which doesn’t allow us to play to our maximum. Yoga trains our mind to be highly aware of those moments and how to overcome them when we need to most.
Now, lets look at the mind and the use of mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation teaches our minds to be completely aware of “The Moment”. Many coaches preach for their players to “just stay in the moment”, but never do any training at all to help teach their players the skill of blocking out the last mistake, or how to prevent “predicting” the next mistake if the player is already struggling that game. Mindfulness is literally the practice of training the mind to be present and aware of what is happening right NOW, in THIS moment. The natural outcome from this practice is a more calm and composed athlete.
Additionally, mindfulness teaches us to become highly aware of what the mind does. No one – the novice athlete all the up to the Olympian – can avoid moments of doubt, fear, anger, lack of motivation, or frustration. These are all real emotions and what make us human. So, instead of denying that these things even enter our minds, it’s more important that we learn to recognize them, and then learn to implement skills to move beyond them if they are holding us back. Mindfulness is literally the most powerful skill that any athlete can learn in terms of the mental-game!
Yoga and mindfulness can be designed in way that enhances ultimate athletic performance. The mind and body are one system that are in constant connection (sometimes battle) with one another. If we are looking for maximum performance we must train the entire system as the interconnected unit that they are.