PERFORMANCE YOGA – 12.1.14 (MASTER THE MENTAL SKILLS – MENTAL IMAGERY PART 3)

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!)

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PERFORMANCE YOGA – 11.24.14 (MASTER THE MENTAL SKILLS – MENTAL IMAGERY Part 2)

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!)

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 – http://www.key-hypnosis.com/Self-Help/Visualization-Techniques/LV7-Sports-Visualisation-Script.php

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 – http://www.key-hypnosis.com/Self-Help/Visualization-Techniques/LV7-Sports-Visualisation-Script.php

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.

http://www.vanderbilt.edu/AnS/psychology/health_psychology/mentalimagery.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201211/sport-imagery-athletes-most-powerful-mental-tool

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/23/sports/olympics/olympians-use-imagery-as-mental-training.html?_r=0

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 – http://www.key-hypnosis.com/Self-Help/Visualization-Techniques/LV7-Sports-Visualisation-Script.php

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 – 9.15.14 (Controllability and Forest Meditation)

In yoga, there is a freedom to allow the brain to be what it is.  It is a place that stores EVERYTHING.  The positive, the negative and the flat out creepy.  To have control is to relinquish control.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed by our thoughts.  I know this.  It takes practice to allow the mind to flow and not make judgments on ourselves because of what cascades across the present.  If retained, a number of psychological issues begin to form.  There is no judgment on your mat … simply the acknowledgment of the thought.  Allow the present moment to be a wonderful place where you can release stress.

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.
from “Teaching Athletes Visualization and Mental Imagery Skills” by David Yukelson, Ph.D. Penn State University

FOREST MEDITATION
Modified from http://www.innerhealthstudio.com/forest-visualization.html

Imagine yourself walking on a path through a forest. The path is soft beneath your shoes, a mixture of soil, fallen leaves, pine needles, and moss. As you walk, your body relaxes and your mind clears, more and more with each step you take.

Breathe in the fresh mountain air, filling your lungs completely. Now exhale. Breathe out all the air. Feeling refreshed.

Take another deep breath in…revitalizing…. and breathe out completely, letting your body relax further.

Continue to breathe slowly and deeply as you walk through the forest and continue the forest visualization.

The air is cool, but comfortable. Sun filters through the trees, making a moving dappled pattern on the ground before you.

Listen to the sounds of the forest…. Birds singing. A gentle breeze blowing. The leaves on the trees shift and sway in the soft wind.

Your body relaxes more and more as you walk. Count your steps and breathe in unison with your strides. Breathe in 2, 3, 4… hold 2, 3…exhale 2, 3, 4, 5.

Breathe in 2, 3, 4… hold 2, 3…exhale 2, 3, 4, 5.

Breathe in 2, 3, 4… hold 2, 3…exhale 2, 3, 4, 5.

Continue to breathe like this, slowly and deeply, as you become more and more relaxed.

As you walk through the forest visualization, feel your muscles relaxing and lengthening. As your arms swing in rhythm with your walking, they become loose, relaxed, and limp.

Feel your back relaxing as your spine lengthens and the muscles relax. Feel the tension leaving your body as you admire the scenery around you.

Your legs and lower body relax as well, feeling free and relaxed.

You begin to climb up a slight incline. You easily tread along smooth rocks on the path. Feeling at one with nature.

The breeze continues to blow through the treetops, but you are sheltered on the path, and the air around you is calm.

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

BEACH VISUALIZATION
Modified from … http://www.innerhealthstudio.com/visualization-relaxation.html

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….