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!)

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 – 9.15.14 (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

Modified from

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

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….

Performance Yoga – 8.25.14 (5 Important Visualization Tips)

When I first came with the realization that I wanted to provide a class for folks that utilize athletics, hobbies and sports, I didn’t have a clear direction on where I wanted to go.  I’m excited that I now feel that I have a direction.  I am excited to learn more about visualization techniques and start to bring them to my Monday evening classes.  I fell in love with how Yoga connects the body to the mind over the course of a practice.  The bond created there provides a person much needed ownership.  I feel that that bond allows for a lot of freedom throughout the thought process.  It lets you experience the moment more clearly and with yourself.  There is no equipment or other materials needed … just you :).  

Check out the Visualization Tips below and thanks for reading :).

5 Important Visualization Tips

(from the personal growth library)

Relax:  Visualization works best when you are completely relaxed. Before any visualization session, lie down or sit in a straight-backed chair with your feet on the ground.  Keep your spine straight.  Do a few minutes of meditation in order to quiet your mind and relax fully.

Set Your Intention:   Identify what you truly desire.  What do you truly want?  Do you believe it can exist for you?  Take time with this step.

Focus On What You Want, Not What You Don’t Want:  We see what we look for.  In visualizing, and in life in general, the more you focus on what you don’t want, the more you seem to get it.  Keep your focus solidly on what you want.  For example, instead of thinking “eliminate stress,” focus on “being perfectly healthy and relaxed.”

Don’t Struggle:  Visualizing may be difficult at first, but don’t struggle or try too hard.  People say visualizing is like holding a bird:  hold it too loose and you lose it; hold it too tightly and you   crush it.  Keep your concentration as if you’re holding the bird.  Also, if you’re having a hard time, return to your intention. Do you truly want what you’re visualizing?  Or, is it something you think you “should” be, do, or have?

Express Your Highest Self:  Visualizations work best when they express your highest self and your highest aspirations.