\\\ MINDFULNESS IN SPORT ///
by Coach Emily Cavell
With the open only weeks away, many of us are putting in the hard work at training. Preparing ourselves physically for the challenge that lies ahead. However, fewer of us will be actively preparing ourselves mentally, which can quite often be more important than spending hours in the gym.
It is assumed ignoring or fighting maladaptive thoughts regarding performance, using imagery, self-talk and goal setting are all effective techniques when improving performance, however, these interventions can paradoxically cause you to focus on drawing out negative thoughts as you attempt to change them, leading to unwanted or maladaptive emotions and cognition’s.
Alternatively, the relatively new approach called mindfulness could prove valuable when it comes to operating at peak performance, or “in the zone” as it is so often called. Firstly, mindfulness is defined as the ability to focus all of your attention on the experience at the present moment without any biases. This means being able to focus on the current experience in its sensorial, mental, cognitive and emotional aspects, without analysing it in a way that is positive or negative. Mindfulness is an incredibly useful technique for those who can, at times become overwhelmed with pressure, preoccupied with negative self-talk, anxious in regards to their performance, or those who simply want to maximise their training.
Mindfulness takes training, just like anything, but a few quick tips include the following:
1. Body scanning: this means paying attention to specific muscle groups, and focusing your attention on this area. This may be in the form of progressive muscle relaxation, where you tense a particular muscle group, then concentrate on relaxing it (e.g. Head, neck, jaw, tongue – something many people forget). This can alleviate overall stress and tension, increase body awareness and allow you to understand the difference between a tense and relaxed state
2. Breathing: practice deep rhythmic breathing, where your only thought is on your breath in and breath out. This can be done during stretches, where you can place your attention on how your muscles feel when you take a breath in and a breath out – and whether there are any differences
3. Mindfulness during training: from here you can practice mindfulness during light sessions. How does the barbell feel in your hands? How is your breath before each movement? Where do you focus your eyes when you complete a skill? What are the thoughts running through your head? Just assess them as a neutral thought – nothing good or bad. Thoughts such as “This is heavy” or “I’m tired” can be a simple assessment. It is only when you label it as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thought does it start to affect your emotion and physical ability.
Additionally, by becoming mindful you will more likely bring your attention to your technique and movement patterns when executing lifts, skills or WODs. Like everything, mindfulness takes training, discipline and commitment. It is very easy to fall into old habits – especially when new ones seem too hard. However, eventually you will be able to assess which muscles are tensing up when they shouldn’t, and how to relax them when needed. You’ll be able to focus your attention on the task at hand, rather than being preoccupied with fatigue, or the words “I can’t do it”, which can somehow very easily slip into your thoughts.