PERFORMANCE YOGA – 02.23.15 (Body Language – Part 1)

A key topic in the business world is a term called “power pose.”  It’s all about body language.  It’s all about the persona you project.

The TED Talk above does a great job of explaining the detail to which body language has been studied.  And it has been researched to quite a deep level.  The speaker explains how these postures can truly change our body chemistry.  It is incredible to see (literally) how our physical posture can either aid or damage our body.

1.  Increase in Testosterone – (Benefits of Testosterone)
2.  Decrease in Cortisol – (Dangers of Sustained High Levels of Cortisol)
3.  Study Proving Data –,%20carney,%20cuddy,%20&%20yap,%20psych%20science.pdf

Tonight in class we took the time to hold postures a little longer than we typically do.  We were very powerful.  Airplane, Warrior 2, Side Angle and Reverse Warrior asked us to be strong, open and powerful.  Why did we do this?  Because we knew the benefits, internally and externally, that our bodies would absolutely thrive on.

Western culture asks us to hunch over our computers, curl in to look at our phones, and slouch down in our couches.  I’m guilty of all of these (even as I sit here typing this).  Am I saying that we should refrain from all?  No.  “Everything in moderation, including moderation” is the popular phrase from Oscar Wilde.  So let’s hunch over our computers in moderation, curl in to look at our phones in moderation, and slouch down in our couches in moderation.  With amazing benefits of increased testosterone and decreased cortisol, how will we let the world see us?  

Pregame is always an interesting time in a sporting event.  Players and coaches usually do the “eye test.”  They watch one another closely for information.  Incredible to think that posturing prior to games isn’t “show-boating” … there’s science here that proves that it has profound positive effects.  So it’s fourth and goal … game is tied and you have one free throw left … penalty shot is called and the goalie looks on … what will we show the world?  Show power!  Nothing can beat us … no matter what!

Body Language – Make a Golden Impression (Part 1)

Body language is a two-way process:  Your own body language reveals your thoughts and feelings to others; and other people’s body language reveals their thoughts and feelings to you.

On game day, what is your body language saying?  What image do you want to project?

Positive/Upbeat Body Language – Smiling, Chin up, Shoulders back/Chest out, Standing tall, Walking strong.

Negative/Glum Body Language – Frowning, Shaking your head, Eyes downcast, Shoulders hunched, Dragging your feet.

When you are gassed at practice, stand tall and walk strong.

Your body language will send the right message to the opposition:  You can’t be mentally beaten or fazed – no matter what happens.

BOOK – “The Champion’s Mind:  How Great Athletes think, train and thrive.” by Jim Afremow  (BUY IT!)


I’m an analytical person.  I know for some folks this is hard to believe.  I like checklists, to-do lists, procedures, the volume to be at an even number, my clothes organized by the color spectrum and to have my cleaning supplies organized by brand name.  Yep.

There are discussions among Yoga instructors that want classes to be organic and create themselves from the moment.  There are other schools of thought that look to research and preparation along with reviewing notes while teaching.  Athletes do the same.  Some will state how practice is a waste of time and that you grow in the heat of competition.  There are others that work religiously to perfect their skills in practice to bring them to fruition in game time.  I believe there is a place for both … and I have taught and competed from both.  For me, I type all of my class flows so that I can carve them up with feedback from participants and self-reflective words.  I like being prepared.

The reason I do this is because I deal with anxiety after I do things.  Most people enter into an event being anxious and nervous.  I end a lot of classes and tennis matches, hockey games, and races with “what if”s and “should have”s.  Anxiety management is important to me so that I do not end such a great experience (win or lose) with negative self-talk.  My love of checklists loves the content below.  Eight different strategies to help deal with anxiety.  Read, use and have fun!

Anxiety Management:  Go from Panicky to Pumped! (Part 2)

1.  Be well prepared.  Nothing helps build confidence more than knowing that you are ready for the challenge at hand.

2.  Nerves are natural.  No matter how calm your opponents may appear, they are likely experiencing the same level of anxiety – or more so – than you are.

3.  Ally with the anxiety.  Tell yourself, “My body is preparing itself to perform,” and “I’ve done well before, and I can do it again now.”

4.  Breathe evenly and deeply.  Good breathing reduces anxiety by clearing your mind of fog and by reducing physical tension.

5.  Get creative and use your imagination.  Understand that you are bigger and more powerful than this anxious feeling.

6.  Stay in the here and now.  Monitor negative “futurizing” and worrisome thoughts about winning or losing.

7.  Stay on a positive thought channel.  Flip the switch from negative to positive self-talk when you are emotionally spiraling down.

8.  Take yourself lightly.  Always remember that sport is what you do and not who you are.  Smile.  Laugh.  Have a good time.  Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can really happen?”  If the worst does happen, ask, “What can I do to cope?”

Remember that FEAR means to “Face Everything and Respond.”  To perform at a champion’s level, let the butterflies fly in formation!

BOOK – “The Champion’s Mind:  How Great Athletes think, train and thrive.” by Jim Afremow  (BUY IT!)

PERFORMANCE YOGA – 01.19.15 (Breath Control – Breathe Life into Your Performance)

As an athlete, there are numerous variables being thrown into situations.  It is incredibly hard to stay focused on the present moment because of these variables.  So many athletes are prized for their ability to see a play before it happens.  I’ll ask though … how many plays have been not executed properly due to this?  I almost missed a wide open net in my hockey game this past Sunday evening because I was so focused on a celebration that hadn’t even begun.

An elite athlete does a phenomenal job of balancing the past failures and successes with the future failures and successes by being stable in the Now.  A great way to bring ourselves back to this is through the breath.  In life, and in sports, we can become overwhelmed by our failures.  They can drive us to stop moving forward.  They can cause self-doubt and may even keep us from trying.  Come back to the breath.  Full and deep in … and full and relaxed out.  It is simple and brings us back from the depths of our own mind.

Breath Control – Breathe Life into Your Performance

To perform at a champion’s level, breathe deeply and rhythmically to maintain peak energy levels.  Proper breathing works in tandem with being a Now-ist (i.e., living fully in the moment).  Expand the belly during inhalation and relax the belly during exhalation.  Let your shoulders drop and jaw relax as you exhale.  Give it a try right now.  Draw in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Proper breathing helps expel the stress and tension from your system and brings you back into the present.

1.  Breathe in through the nose for a count of one, two, three, four and five.
2.  Hold for one and two.
3.  Breathe out through the mouth for a count of one, two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight.

Extraneous thoughts fog up your focus.  Your mind becomes more powerful as it becomes quieter and clearer.  So breathe deeply and mindfully throughout your day.  Also, when you are not thinking about the future, it’s difficult to fear it.  Fear is the enemy of effective action!

BOOK – “The Champion’s Mind:  How Great Athletes think, train and thrive.” by Jim Afremow  (BUY IT!)

PERFORMANCE YOGA – 12.8.14 (MASTER THE MENTAL SKILLS – Self-Talk: Feed the Good Wolf)

I’m was never a professional athlete.  I was never a collegiate athlete.  I’m the kid that worked his tail off and didn’t amount to much in the eyes of ESPN or FOX Sports or even the local paper.  I worked hard to support my teammates, to make my family and friends proud and for the simple love of competition.  At age 33, I still participate as much as I can.  This year saw me get back into USTA tennis and continue playing beer league hockey.  Sports will always be a part of my life and I love it :).

The mascots I’ve had over the years have been a Yellow Jacket, Red Raider, Camel (shout out to Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC), Panther, Bullpup, Old Hole, Ice Hole and an All-Star (my current school of Allen Jay Preparatory Academy).  I have yet to be a wolf.  Until I read the passage I included below, I never thought of such an analogy.  I never thought about the lasting effects of negative thought.

Scientific Proof That Negative Thoughts Harm Health

I’m here to remind or tell you for the first time … feed the good wolf.  Yoga has allowed me to focus on the Now.  And in the Now, there are so many opportunities to accentuate the positive aspects of life.  Within athletics and life, there are so many NEXT opportunities.  The next practice, the next game, the next failure, and the next success are always available in the Now.  Feed the good wolf.  Feed the positive thoughts in the moment and see what happens.  Let the other wolf starve and die.

MASTER THE MENTAL SKILLS – Self Talk: Feed the Good Wolf

There is an old Cherokee legend known as the tale of the two wolves.  A grandfather explains to his warrior grandson that there are two wolves within each of us:  One wolf is positive and beneficial, while the other wolf is negative and destructive.  These two wolves fight for control over us.  The grandson is curious and asks, “Which wolf will win?”  The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”

If thoughts determine feelings, then feelings influence performance.  That being the solid-gold truth, learn to think more positively about yourself and your game.

FIRST.  Learning to identify your own negative and self-defeating thoughts.  Typical negative thoughts an athlete can have include “I suck at this,” “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t belong on the team.”  We all have these thoughts at times, so take a moment right now and identify some common negative thoughts about your athletic capabilities that run through your mind while you are at practice or in a game.

SECOND.  Challenge these self-critical thoughts with encouraging statements.  Mentally beating on yourself does you no good.  Instead, gain clear control  of your thinking process.

Repeat these two winning steps to build mental muscle, improve your mood, and advance your athletic performance.

BOOK – “The Champion’s Mind:  How Great Athletes think, train and thrive.” by Jim Afremow  (BUY IT!)


Hmmm … practice?

Years ago I can remember laughing like the majorly of the public did listening to Allen Iverson discuss practice.  In my youth, I found it hilarious.  In my youth, I became conditioned to a game performance being the symbol of attention and acknowledgement.  Mainstream media conditioned me to this.  

We go to our mats with different intentions.  For me, I initially went for vain reasons.  I wanted to be stronger, fitter, more flexible and free from injuries.  I went to full yoga classes because I could feel eyes on me.  I could work hard and have my hard work seen by others.  We’re all human and we want the attention.  However, it is what we do in solitude that defines us.  Michael Jordan had this great quote.

I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.

Michael Jordan

Where a major difference lies between professional athletes and amateur athletes isn’t in the physical makeup.  It rests between the ears.  Our ability to sit down in a quiet place for 10 to 15 minutes at a time is so crucial.  I’m here to tell you how significant it is because I had no grasp of it years ago.  I went through my teens and twenties without any idea of the mental side of life.  We attract what we want (whether we’re conscious of it or not).  If our goals and thoughts are positive, then you’ll see a positive change.  If we stay submerged in loathing and self-doubt, then there is only a negative change to manifest.

Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we’re thinking like amateurs. Amateurs don’t show up. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin’, no matter what.

Steven Pressfield

So will you take 10 to 15 minutes today to recharge and focus on what is positive that is and could be happening soon in your life?  Or will you focus on the negative and draw loathing and self-doubt closer to you?  I vote keep life symbol and throw up a huge smile :).

Mental Imagery – Visualize to Actualize

Mentally practice two or three times each week for about 10 to 15 minutes per rehearsal.  Select a specific sports skill to further develop, or work your way through different scenarios, incorporating various situations.

Mental practice sessions that are shorter in length are also beneficial.  Good times include during any downtime in your schedule, the night before a competition, as an element of your pregame routine, and especially as part of a preshot routine.

Let’s conclude our discussion with a mental practice exercise.

Sit up in a chair with your back straight (rather than lying down on a bed or the floor, as this can make you sleepy).  Let your eyes close and become aware of your breathing.  Take a few slow, deep breaths (in through the nose and out through the mouth) to clear your mind and relax your body.

Begin by creating a mental picture of your environment, progressively including all of the sights and sounds.  Pay particular attention to the physical sensations in your body, such as the spring in your ankles and knees, whether your breathing is heavy or relaxed, the weight of the racquet or ball in your hand, and the texture of the ball as you spin or bounce it.

Now fully see, feel and enjoy executing this skill throughout each moment of the movement.

Challenge yourself to do this exercise successfully three times in a row with full focus and a positive result.  If you visualize missing the basket or hitting the ball  into the net or if you lose focus, keep repeating the process until you can visualize yourself doing it right straight through.  This will further anchor your physical self to a gold medal performance.

BOOK – “The Champion’s Mind:  How Great Athletes think, train and thrive.” by Jim Afremow  (BUY IT!)

Performance Yoga – 11.3.14 (Master the Mental Skills – Goal Setting)

In last night’s Performance Yoga class, we took a leap into Jim Afrenow’s book “A Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive.”  I decided to bring this book because I think the author understands the mind-body connection in the personal, professional and active sides of our lives.  There are lots of amazing things found inside and I cannot wait to share them with my yogis and you.  So here we go!

Chapter two starts with “Master the Mental Skills.”  Mental skill number one is goal setting.  In our approach last night, we began class by focusing on our goal for Yoga.  What brings us each and every class?  I’ve stated here before that my initial reason was purely physical.  I wanted to strengthen, tone and keep my body from injuries.  So my goal was easily met.  Your initial goal might also be for the physical presently in your practice and that is fantastic.  However, there is a mental side to that two-sided coin.

As we completed our modified Sun A, you could feel the energy in the room and I posed a question for us.  What is our goal for the internal?  The author asks us to focus on the positive so statements like “I’m gaining mental muscle” or “There is focus in me” are encouraged.  At the end of the day, you are your best advocate.  You know what is going on in the internal and have the ability to set goals to have the life you wish to lead.  I’m excited for you!  Today is a new day and right now is a new moment.  Dig deeper than the physical and search the mental today.  What will be your goal?

Master the Mental Skills – Goal Setting

A mind-over-matter approach doesn’t develop overnight.  Follow the same learning process used to develop your physical skills: repetition (deliberate and daily mental practice) and reinforcement (feeling good about your efforts by saying things like “I’m gaining mental muscle.”).

Goal Setting – Think It, Then Ink It

The important thing is that you define your objectives and clarify what it will take to get there.  There are several potential benefits of this goal setting.
1.  Specifically, goals can increase your drive, your effort, and your will to strive and succeed.
2.  Goals can also increase your awareness of performance strengths and areas in need of improvement.
3.  They can light the path that will get you to where you want to end up.

They key is to identify which goals are most important to you and then write them down and display them in a location where you can look to them for motivation, such as on your bedroom wall.  Then set your sights on strategically taking your goals one at a time.
–  Is my goal specific?
–  Is my goal measurable?
–  Is my goal positive?
–  Is my goal inspiring?
–  Is my goal displayed?

BOOK – “The Champion’s Mind:  How Great Athletes think, train and thrive.” by Jim Afremow  (BUY IT!)

PERFORMANCE YOGA – 10.13.14 (The Race – Part 1)

I spent a number of basketball practices in my youth frustrated.  Why am I making the same mistake over and over?  I see it on film, my coach points it out, and I feel it happening, but the mistake occurs again.  Why doesn’t my body connect to my brain and vice versa?  You may have experienced this in athletics, social life, professional life and/or other hobbies.  It can be extremely defeating.  We work so hard to become better at our craft just to see negativity destroy us from the inside out.

Our internal and external perspectives need to be connected.  Visualizations are extremely powerful because you and I created the image we want internally.  The mind gets to do the work.  We want to take that image with us to the external.  We want to be done with the same mistakes that plague us and our performance.  As a coach (10U AAU, middle school basketball, football, tennis and high school basketball and tennis), I spent many seasons in frustration at players.  Never once did I understand the concept of internal and external perspectives.  I allowed ignorance and my experiences with past coaches to frame my perception of excellence.  There is a lot more depth to an athlete and you than you might know.  How you exercise and workout internally is just as significant as the body you see externally.

Key Component
Internal/External Perspective – Internal perspective refers to visualizing the sport or event through the performer’s eye. External perspective refers to watching your performance on a video screen or from a spectator’s position in the stands. Although influenced by individual preferences, some experts say internal imagery is preferred for competition focusing while external imagery is better for correcting errors. Key is to see and feel yourself performing the way you want.

Getting Ready for the Race Visualization –

And you start … getting prepared… into your track outfit…. and you are picking up your spikes and putting them on… and you are sauntering across to the blocks… making sure you are in the right lane…
and everything around you goes quiet….. and you focus on your breathing… and you settle into the blocks… and your eyes are looking straight ahead… that track is curving round like railway lines…..
and in your mind you can see yourself exploding out of the blocks…. Relaxing along the straight…. sling shot off the bend…. and hurtling towards the line….
and as you are thinking about that you are getting ready… and something inside you settles…. falls into place…. and your focus is on those lines….
and you are breathing gently and easily…. your muscles are like coils of steel….
And shot goes … and you are off….
And you explode out of those blocks… and it’s like someone else is doing the running…. you feel that power in you… feel that surge growing in you…. you are exploding down there…. cleanly out of the blocks… straight on… roaring down that track….

Performance Yoga – 10.6.14 (Getting Ready for the Race)

The moments before the big race (Mile walk, 5K, 13.1 Half Marathon, 26.2 Marathon, 50-mile bike ride, etc.) are crucial.  The way we treat our bodies in the moments before the event definitely have an affect on our performance.  What about the mind though?

I never spent time prior to a race or bike ride separated and contemplating the upcoming event.  I would take a mental recording of the event and beat myself up over a mistake that would cost me time.  Where I would become even more annoyed at myself was that I would repeat the same mistake.  I’d attack a hill rather than find my cadence.  I started asking myself “why am I getting my butt handed to me on these hills?”  I never took a moment to reflect.  I had no control.

When we look at our performance in the frame of a mirror, we allow for the mind and body to connect.  There is strength in producing a mental image that is appropriate and open to viewing the mistake.  Control comes from letting go and viewing our performance without judgment.  I know you want to crush a PR in your next race or event, but have you taken a moment to visualize this?  Use the script below and see what happens :).

Key Component
Controllability – Make the image do what you want it to do. Many athletes have difficulty controlling their images, often repeating the same mistake over and over, or failing to conjure up the appropriate image. Learn how to program your own “internal computer” so you are confident and focused on those things you want to occur.

Getting Ready for the Race Visualization –

Allow your mind to wander off to the meeting…. See the track… the people… see the other runners… the officials… the time keepers…
None of that is important… none of that bothers you…
Because you are there to win….
And as you get onto that track… you start warming up….
and inside you are feeling loose… and relaxed…
And everything is prepared… and you are fit and strong…. and all that training …. all that preparation… is coming back to you … you feel totally composed…. completely at ease… completely relaxed… and ready for what is to come.

Performance Yoga – 9.22.14 (Pre-Competition Visualization)

In a quick Google search for “visualization and sports research,” the following links came to my attention.

Mental imagery has significant benefits to athletes.  I’ll continue to work my tail off to get local sports teams, clubs and AAU groups to understand that time needs to be spent teaching their athletes the power of visualization.  There is power in the positive and the connection of the body with the mind.  And this connection needs to be nourished in the positive, allowed to happen in an environment free from judgment and (and probably the hardest for athletes) also allowed to happen in an environment free from competition.  All thoughts and feelings need to be accounted for and allowed to be expressed.  You will be amazed at how your body and mind will react to competition when you’ve been given time to decompress the mind before the war.

Pre-Competition Visualization –

Now take a deep breath and just …. let it all go…
Take another deep breath …. and just allow your mind to clear…. that’s good.
I want you to imagine a day…. a perfect day…. a day when you waken up.. and every thing seems just right…. and you think about the day and you know that today is the day that has the most important race of your life….

Today is the day when you are going to show everyone…. but especially yourself… what you can do.
Today is the day when you have absolute certainty…. and you can feel it, you can feel it in your heart… you can feel it in every heartbeat… you can feel it in your mind…

And as you think about it you can feel a wave of relaxation spreading from the middle of your forehead… across your eyes… and down your cheeks…. down through your jaw… and your neck… and your shoulders relax… and your chest is relaxed and your tummy relaxes.. and you can feel a way going all the way down… down through your thighs… and your calves and your feet…. down your arms.. all the way down to your fingers…. Totally relaxed.

Performance Yoga – 9.8.14 (Vividness and Beach Visualization)

Our “Performance Yoga” class has introduced the idea of visualizations.  In our next series of classes, the five key components to visualizations will be shared culminating in a visual meditation.  Time to get past those negative thoughts on the mistakes that we make and enjoy the present :).

Vividness – a vivid image is one in which the imagined events are realistic, and multi-sensory, and as detailed as possible. The closer the image is to the real thing in terms of thoughts, emotions, senses, and actions, the better the transfer should be to actual performance. The key is to use as many senses as possible (e.g., see the action, feel yourself moving, hear the sounds, smell the smells), and to try and recreate the feel of the movement as if you are actually doing it (“feelization”). For instance, Sport Psychologist Dick Coop suggests golfers incorporate two levels of visualization on every shot; first create a mental movie of the way you want the ball to fly (ball flight to the target) and second, translation of that picture into an image of how the body should move in order to hit the shot (rhythm and feel of hitting a solid shot or putt). Key is to create a vivid, detailed, and confident image.
from “Teaching Athletes Visualization and Mental Imagery Skills” by David Yukelson, Ph.D. Penn State University

Modified from …

Imagine you are walking toward the ocean…. walking through a beautiful, tropical forest….
You can hear the waves up ahead…. you can smell the ocean spray…. the air is moist and warm…. feel a pleasant, cool breeze blowing through the trees….
You walk along a path….coming closer to the sea….as you come to the edge of the trees, you see the brilliant aqua color of the ocean ahead….
You walk out of the forest and onto a long stretch of white sand…. the sand is very soft powder…. imagine taking off your shoes, and walking through the hot, white sand toward the water….
The beach is wide and long….
Hear the waves crashing to the shore….
Smell the clean salt water and beach….
You gaze again toward the water…. it is a bright blue-green….
See the waves washing up onto the sand….. and receding back toward the ocean…. washing up…. and flowing back down….. enjoy the ever-repeating rhythm of the waves…
Imagine yourself walking toward the water…. over the fine, hot sand…. you are feeling very hot….
As you approach the water, you can feel the mist from the ocean on your skin. You walk closer to the waves, and feel the sand becoming wet and firm….
A wave washes over the sand toward you…. and touches your toes before receding…
As you step forward, more waves wash over your feet… feel the cool water provide relief from the heat….
Walk further into the clear, clean water…. you can see the white sand under the water…. the water is a pleasant, relaxing temperature…. providing relief from the hot sun… cool but not cold….
You walk further into the water if you wish…. swim if you want to…. enjoy the ocean for a few minutes….. allow the visualization relaxation to deepen…. more and more relaxed… enjoy the ocean….
Now you are feeling calm and refreshed…
You walk back out of the water and onto the beach…
Stroll along the beach at the water’s edge…. free of worries… no stress… calm….. enjoying this holiday….
Up ahead is a comfortable lounge chair and towel, just for you…
You feel peaceful and relaxed…. allow all your stresses to melt away….