PERFORMANCE YOGA – 01.26.15 (Mental Toughness: Build Your Inner-Strength Bank Account)

Our minds are mean.  People are rude.  Our minds are self-destructive.  People can cut to our core.  

It is so easy to fall into a depressive, self-loathing state through our own thoughts of the past and potential future.  It is even easier to do it when it is compounded by others.  Mental toughness is the skill that truly defines a successful athlete and a powerful human.  

I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ – Muhammad Ali

Our struggles develop us through each new moment.  We are not defined by our past, but by our choices in the present moment.  So I ask … how tough are we?  Not physically … but mentally.  Can we lose and get back up?  Can we fall and get back up?  Can we get bruised and try again?  Can we let go of each failure and look at this next attempt as the moment a struggle becomes a strength?  

Mental toughness takes into account each answer to these questions.  Will we deposit more than we withdraw?

Mental Toughness: Build Your Inner-Strength Bank Account

“Mental toughness does not entail clenching your teeth, trying harder, thinking more, straining your eyes to focus, or having someone scream ‘Be Tough!’ at you.  Mental toughness is the ability to remain positive and proactive in the most adverse of circumstances.

Mental toughness is built on doing the thing that is hard over and over again, especially when you don’t feel like doing it.  Push through on your down days when you are not feeling your best.  Distraction, discomfort, and difficulties are no match for the champion.

This dogged determination requires keeping your feet moving forward through inconveniences, substantial discomfort, and insecurities to reach your top goal.  When you want something really badly, don’t give up until you’ve got it.

Mental toughness can be demonstrated at a particular moment in time or over the long term, as in your overall career success.  Doing the thing that is hard over and over again is like depositing money in your inner-strength bank account.”

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


Sports, for me, came down to feel and enjoyment.  I became infatuated with how competition felt.  It could have been a one-on-one basketball game with my brother in the driveway, the individual battle of tennis, triathlons and rock climbing or the dynamic of a team in football, ice hockey, and softball.  Competition drove me to work hard to improve my body, improve my abilities as a good teammate and improve my social standing.  I wanted those superficial sensations.

“Before every shot, I go to the movies”
Jack Nicklaus – Golf

I took enjoyment from competition.  The intensity was unmatched throughout my life.  There was a winner and a loser.  No middle ground there.  What was left was the thrill of a hard-earned win or the frustration of a unfortunate loss.  The enjoyment that was taken was at a price though.  Win and be happy or lose and miss the joy.  I wanted to win.  I wanted those superficial sensations.

“When I go to the press conference before the game, in my mind the game has already started.”
Jose Mourinho – Soccer

Our drive and desire to be the best in life is natural.  It is a survival instinct.  The missing component for me, and maybe even you, was the ability to see.  We can see the trail, see the play develop in the moment, and see the next hold in a climbing route.  Where the difference happens is when we see these before we’re in the moment.  The ability to visualize the moment of competition before it happens radically changes how our bodies perform.  The two quotes above illustrate this.  Whether going to the movies before a shot or starting the game before it physically does, you are using the mind to begin to manifest the movements and experience that you desire.  In the past year to year and a half, I’ve done my best to put this into practice.  I now “see” the perceived outcome that I want to manifest.  I now “feel” the sensations and emotions that I want to manifest.  I now “enjoy” the moment that I want to manifest.  All three of these happen in my mind before I step out onto the field of play.  What once happened on the external and in the moment now happens well before.  It has changed the way I compete.  Yoga has changed the way I compete.

Mental Imagery – Visualize to Actualize

Athletes re-experiencing a successful performance showed a greater increase in neural activity in the right premotor cortex, an area of the brain that plans actions, than those re-experiencing a failure.

Visualize positive performances and picture the ideal steps for achieving the successful result.  Create a crystal clear mental image and powerful physical feeling of what you want to accomplish.  Include the sights, sounds, smells, tactile impressions, and powerful emotions that accompany the total performance experience while in your virtual arena.  The clarity and controllability of your images will improve with practice.

When visualizing, strive to experience the action in 3-D from the first-person point of view (through your own eyes), as opposed to a third-person point of view (through the eyes of spectator).  “See it, feel it, and enjoy it” (SFE).

Briton Steve Backley.  “I’d have to single out the ability to visualize.  To be able to preempt the future by building high-definition videos in your mind’s eye of exactly what it is you are trying to achieve.”

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


The human brain is so cool!  

1.  Check out these facts if you have the time (
2.  Stumbled upon this TED Talk that I found pretty interesting as well.  Let me know how your brain does :).

Our minds are so intriguing.  The interesting part to me was when I looked at dreams from a different perspective.  The human body reacts to the mind’s creation.  We become agitated, startled, and even driven to the point of panic due to a traumatic event replayed or a scenario created.  In the same instance, we may become filled with joy, love, and gratitude due to a pleasant memory replayed or a scenario created.  The mind does all of this.

If the mind is capable of affecting our bodies in such a range of ways, then what is possible if we practice?  Through positive affirmations and mental imagery, is it possible to affect the physical?  Absolutely.  We often overlook the connection between the two.  Growing up, I spent a lot of time practicing the physical movements for football, basketball, tennis, cross country and other hobbies.  In my adult life I have turned to rock climbing, mountain biking, road cycling, ice hockey and yoga.  My goal was to perfect the physical movements of each.  I forgot one major variable though.  My mind.  Yoga, as well as athletics, ask much more of us than just the physical body.  Are you as intrigued as I am about what our minds’ can manifest?

Mental Imagery – Visualize to Actualize

“See first with your mind, then with your eyes, and finally with your body.” – Master Swordsman Yagyu Munenori

Mental imagery, popularly referred to as visualization, is the process of using all your senses to help with learning and developing new sports skills and strategies as well as visualizing success.  The more you deliberately practice, the better you will become at the actual task.

Specifically, imagery works to enhance one’s performance by sharpening the mental blueprint and strengthening the muscle memory for the physical purpose at hand.

The brain does not always differentiate between real and vividly imaged experiences because the same systems in the brain are deployed for both types of experience.  For example, a common nightmare is that of being pursued.  The dreamer is safely at home in bed yet awakens frightened – breathing fast, heart pounding.  It’s all in the mind, yet the dreamer experiences the physical sensations that would accompany a real, waking pursuit.

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


In a second look at goal setting in our Performance Yoga class Monday evening, we took some time to use a strategy I learned from Alison Presley.  During my Level 5 YogaFit training, we wrote down a positive affirmation three different times on three sticky notes.  The goal was specific, positive, inspiring and to be displayed.  I had originally written a short statement to myself on the mirror of my bedroom.  It read “Love Yourself.”  The problem with that statement for quite a long time was that it wasn’t in the first person.  It wasn’t until this past weekend that I finally changed that statement to “I Love Myself.”  

I asked my Yogis to quiet their minds.  The start of class found each with a stack of three sticky notes.  At the conclusion of our warm-up, we wrote down our goal for the first time.  The second and third times came throughout the remainder of the practice.  How often is it that we stop to actively goal set?  How often personally or professionally?  And even more important, how often do we post our goals in a place that is visible?  If you haven’t taken the time lately to do so, then take a moment.  Search your mind.  Write it down.  Write it down a lot.  

Mastering the Mental Skills – Goal Setting


If you’re bored with life – you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things – you don’t have enough goals.Lou Holtz

  • Is my goal specific?
  • Is my goal positive?
  • Is my goal inspiring?
  • Is my goal displayed?

The two most important parts of setting goals are that you write them down and that you put them someplace where you can see them every day.  I usually recommend the bathroom mirror or refrigerator door, two places I know you will always look.

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!)

Flow w/Fred – 6.26.14 (YFD – Svadhyaya)

Pouring the Foundation – Tapas, Svadhyaya, Ishvara-Pranidhana

In the world of Yoga today, in addition to chanting, there are self-help books, workshops, and a wide variety of Yoga therapies – literally hundreds of ways to know the self.  The way I know best is right on my Yoga mat – through self-observation.  As your practice begins to burn away the impurities, the obstacles to your freedom, you begin to cultivate a listening – to your body, to your mind, to your emotions.  You can cultivate this listening by observing your breath and the sensations in your body as you practice.  This takes intention and attention.  It is easy to practice Yoga as though it were exercise, moving from posture to posture, with little awareness of the sensations in your body or your feeling state.  This is unconscious Yoga, and though you will feel good afterward and will receive many physiological and psychological benefits from your practice, you run the risk of energetically reinforcing old patterns and habits of mind.

When you practice Yoga with awareness of the sensations in your body, your thoughts, and your feelings, you will grow in self-awareness.  And as you grow in self-awareness, you begin to have glimpses of what it means to feel utterly and wholly connected, how your small self is not separate from the Absolute, the Self of the universe.  When you become awake, there will still be pain in your life.  Pain is inevitable, but you will no longer suffer more as a result of your pain.  You will remember that beneath the temporary separation you may be feeling, you are whole.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

Flow w/Fred – 6.12.14 (YFD – Long Term Effects)

Long-Term Effects of Yoga

“I feel like I woke up to the true possibilities of my life when I turned fifty-five and began a daily practice.”  My practice keeps me centered and aware of my feelings, so that when bad things happen – and you can pretty much count on that after fifty- I no longer react by falling into a depression.”

Studies in the West that adequately discuss the long-term benefits of Yoga are still being completed.  It is understood that Yoga encourages participants to “intentionally face and move into difficulties and discomfort, and to develop a decentered perspective on thoughts and feelings, in which these are viewed as events in the mind.”  Instead of feeling the compulsion to react, the practice of Yoga enables us to slow down the impulsive reaction and more calmly respond.

According to one study, Yoga does make a significant difference in the emotional well-being by “relaxing chronic muscle tension and reducing unnecessary muscle activity, restoring natural diaphragmatic breathing, and improving oxygen absorption and carbon dioxide elimination (which facilitates concentration and respiratory control).  All these factors directly impact the autonomic and the central nervous systems, giving a logical explanation for the improvement of symptoms.”  In addition to the relaxation effect documented in studies throughout the world, the studies show improvement in memory, cognitive functioning, perceptual-motor skills, muscle power, and visual perception, indicating that Yoga practitioners are more alert and able to focus than are control groups who either exercised or did not alter their physical routine.

It is theorized that sunlight stimulates the pineal gland in the brain, which activates certain body chemistry.  In the winter, when there is little sunlight directed toward the pineal gland, a seasonal depression can set in.  Yogic practices that focus the energy on the crown of the head, inverted postures, special breathing exercises, visualizations, or by sounding certain tones, can directly stimulate the pineal gland.  This stimulation, much like the success of phototherapy can activate the body chemistry to aid the body.

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab

Flow/Fred – 6.4.14 (YFD – Short Term Effects)

Short-Term Effects of Yoga

Exercise alone creates beneficial physiological and psychological changes; however, study after study in India has shown that regular practice of Yoga accounts for more beneficial changes than does exercise.

In regards to medical assistance, you don’t taken an antidepressant medication just once and expect to feel better.  You take it regularly.  So with Yoga, to restore the body and mind to a steady state of well-being, you must also practice regularly.  By adding the element of what psychologists call “self-control” – the ability to be actively involved in the healing process, the daily Yoga practice becomes therapeutic.  Self-control, not to be confused with willpower or restraint, means, in this context, that you can determine your own course of action.  Self-control, as in self-determination, has been shown in numerous studies to have a positive outcome in recovery from illnesses, including depression.

“Yoga offers me the opportunity to practice something that I can do for myself and moves me from the paralyzing effects of depression.”

BOOK – “Yoga for Depression” by Amy Weintrab