Mindfulness in sports

Mindfulness is the practice of applying awareness to the present moment through sense-based experience rather than thought. In other words, the ability to bring attention to what is happening right now, without imposing judgments on the quality or meaning of the experience. In practicing mindfulness, sportspeople are able to notice thoughts as passing mental events that don’t require action. The ability to observe in this way can lessen the reflex response to a situation and increase the ability to respond in a calmer more objective way.

We often remember the sporting outbursts (John McEnroe, Zinedine Zidane to name but a few) where players are overcome with rage, feelings of injustice or unfair treatment, or respond negatively to crowd interference. With athletes not only needing to consistently turn in their best performance, but also being role models for fans and aspiring young people, changing the way individuals react to thoughts is a growing area of focus in sports.

A Chosen Response

It is not just the one-off outbursts that sportspeople have to contend with; performance anxiety is a large factor whether you are a team player or individual athlete. So how can mindfulness help? Mindfulness can help individuals become aware of their thoughts, bodily sensations and environment. Through noticing as an observer what is happening in the present moment, we can choose to respond in a certain way instead of relying on the reflex, learned response that often isn’t the most helpful.

Novak Djokovic uses mindfulness every day to help him let go of negative experiences during play and re-adjust his mental and physical responses

We can choose to notice the environmental conditions and make adjustments to our play. We can notice how certain scenarios cause tension in the body and we can choose to relax those parts of the body. Or, we can just notice as an observer and watch the feelings or thoughts arise and pass away – they are mental events that don’t necessarily need a reaction; especially where the thoughts are unhelpful or negative or likely to elicit a negative response. Sport can be a very stressful environment. Mindfulness can help individuals to let go of emotional responses and instead help them to act with more balance and wisdom; this could be the difference between winning and losing.

Improving Focus

Often in competitive sports (professional and amateur) it’s easy to ruminate on past mistakes or predict an outcome before the performance has even started. Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment – what is happening right now? By focusing only on what is happening in the moment, thoughts of predicted failure or learned reactions to past events start to lose their power. Our minds and bodies find a freedom to perform in the moment.

As an amateur competitive cyclist, I have felt and witnessed performance anxiety and the effects it can have on the enjoyment and outcome for individuals. It’s easy to slip into the mental cycle of berating yourself for not doing well, or having moments of self-doubt. Mindfulness might not stop these moments, but it will teach you how to observe them purely as mental events and not based on the reality of the moment. Bringing yourself back to the present and anchoring attention on your breath is a powerful practice to overcome attachment to negative thought patterns. Trying a simple breathing practice before an event can reset the mind and body to be able to focus productively on the current situation.

Positive Imagery

Mindfulness is a powerful method for creating space in the mind which can then be used to meditate on positive visualisations. Utilising the senses can affirm visualisations bringing them to life with vividness that can overcome anxiety and negative thought patterns. Creating a positive mental image of a shot, play, race or outcome can help increase confidence and focus making mindfulness an essential practice not only for success, but also for enjoyment.

David Njoku of the Cleveland Browns uses mindfulness and visualisation to improve performance

Practicing mindfulness is mental training that helps refocus awareness so that attention can be redirected purposefully to help you perform to the best of your ability. As with all training, it is a process that requires commitment and repetition. Mindfulness begins with a sitting practice and deliberate times set aside for mindful enquiry. This then moves on to mindful movement and can become a whole of life practice that can be utilised on the court/pitch/field/track before, during and after performances.

The Well Nest could help your sports team to improve performance through the practice of Mindfulness. To learn more about mindfulness, tailor a mindfulness package for your club or team or to register for mindfulness courses in Staffordshire (suitable for everyone, not only athletes) take a look at the Mindfulness pages or contact [email protected]

Try something old; to find something new

Yoga classes are running all through the summer with the Well Nest – why not come along and give it a go!

Yoga is an ancient practice of mind and body that can help improve fitness and stamina as well as reducing anxiety and stress through calming the mind. A regular practice can change your life.

Classes available every week on Wednesdays and Thursdays at Colwich & Little Haywood Village Hall – no booking required, just turn up and practice. We have two friendly, mixed groups practicing regularly. Men and women are welcome and classes are suitable for all levels. Just £5 per class.

Spacious Back Bends with Ann-Marie Mainprize – Review

My visit to the Om Yoga Show this year provided the chance to try something completely different from the selection of classes available. I usually go for something demanding and full-on so I get a good workout as well as learn from new teachers. As I had managed to book onto two classes this year, I mixed it up with a class on backbends with Ann-Marie Mainprize of Amiyoga in Hull.

The class promised to ‘deepen backbends the Forrest yoga way’ through ‘connecting the core and releasing deep rooted postural tension’ – sounded excellent to me! As I’ve never tried Forrest yoga, that was an added bonus.

I know many people struggle with spinal flexibility and I often advocate core strength as a way of back-bending with confidence, so this sounded like a great way to improve my own knowledge and experience how other teachers focus a class on back-bending safely.

The class focused straight away on opening the front of the body as a way to improve flexibility and stability through the back of the body. We did a lot of strong abdominal work which although simple, was incredibly hard work on the deep core muscles. Lying flat on the back with legs straight in the air we were instructed to press the lower back into the mat and curl up the tail bone – the simple action of lifting in this way (with breath work and holds) was a huge workout for the core.

Ann-Marie shows us how to punish our core muscles

We went on to work dynamically through sun salutation B, some low lunges and lizard pose with a arrow foot stretch (pressing the top of the back foot down into the mat to apply a deeper stretch to the hip flexor) which was bliss but also agony for my tight hip flexors. We visited the ‘engaged glutes or relaxed glutes’ argument when in wheel and bridge – Ann-Marie was on the side of engaged glutes as it provides greater support for the lower back; something I agree with.

An interesting counterpose to all the back bending was to twist out rather than forward bend to reset the spine. Again there is a lot of discussion around this at the moment, but it was the first class I have been to where twist rather than forward bend was taught. I always found that bending the opposite way was counter-productive when deepening spinal flexion…but that forward fold always seems to really loosen the spine as well. The class with Ann-Marie was a real anatomy class – her knowledge was obvious but she made it accessible to all.

The one issue (which I found last year as well) was the poor quality mats provided for the workshops – almost on the edge of dangerous when in wheel as they were so slippery – this is a show issue not a workshop issue however.

I loved the class with Ann-Marie as it was obvious she was used to teaching all levels of students. Her approach was very instructive but helpful (she had three assistants providing hands-on assists throughout). This was a real workshop rather than a yoga class as poses were broken down with anatomy at the forefront. I would definitely recommend this class for yoga teachers.

The next day (and the day after) the muscles either side of my spine were definitely feeling the work that had been done in this class. The simple but effective core strengthening exercises feature regularly in my practice as well now. Definitely worth taking a class with Ann-Marie.

The Benefits of Yoga

We’ve all heard that yoga is good for body and mind but isn’t it all just a bit of gentle bending and stretching? What’s all the fuss about…?

The combination of breathing, relaxation, meditation, strength, balance and dynamic movement often found in yoga classes can bring a complete overhaul to our often chaotic lives and busy minds.

Some of the benefits of yoga are more obvious; it builds muscle strength, improves flexibility and stamina, it improves posture, strengthens bones and protects cartilage, it increases heart rate and blood flow and helps drain the lymphatic system. These benefits come from the physical practice, Asana.

It can also help focus and concentration by being mindful of the body and the present moment. The deep and complete relaxation that can come from a yoga practice can fully relax the nervous system. We often spend most of our time in ‘fight or flight’ mode where the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated. This can trigger long-term stress responses and ill health. Yoga is calming and restorative and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering breathing and heart rate and bringing the body back to balance.

Yoga is also very useful in providing relief from chronic conditions. A regular practice utilising the full range of body movement improves mobility, flexibility and self esteem. It also improves mood and motivation; you will be more inclined to be active as progress physically, brings progress mentally.

Join a class with The WellNest to see how yoga can improve your body and mind.

Yoga Masterclass with Yogi Ashokananda

One of the great joys of yoga is that no two teachers are the same. It’s so exciting to experience new flows, styles of teaching and types of yoga to keep the love of yoga alive.

This was the first time I’d managed to book my first choice workshop at the Om Yoga Show (show review can be found here). The session was 90 minutes long for the bargain price of £10. I expected the room to be an uncomfortable, overcrowded affair, but I was pleasantly surprised. Mats were well-spaced and there was enough room to spread out without getting too close to your neighbour (it’s just not very British to touch a stranger – especially a sweaty one).

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The room set-up was better than expected – should have brought my own mat though

The workshop was billed as a Himalayan Hatha Yoga series with energy to create freedom and lightness in the body. There were intense sun salutations with upward dog kept on the toes rather than the tops of the feet. Looking around, I could tell that everyone found this a change from their ‘norm’. There were people of all abilities in the class which is always great to see and be part of.

We were put through our paces using fast flows, arm balances, strength postures and some of the most intensive Kriya and pranayama I have ever experienced. The breath holds and transitions worked to cleanse the body, generate heat and still the mind. It was very tough! We worked through standing postures testing balance and strength. We added in fast arm movements to challenge concentration and work alongside pranayama. There were opportunities to try transitions from headstand to side crow and back and chair to flying pigeon to name a few. There were also challenging bound postures which I enjoy but really test the limits of patience and surrender. This was a full body and mind workout. We sweated…a lot.

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Yogi Ashokananda on stage

Yogi Ashokananda was encouraging and warm. Although he moved through transitions quickly he was clear in his instruction – although firm when he spotted we were flagging. He added in asanas and movements I haven’t tried or heard of before (wagtail or cheetah pose anyone?) but they were intense. I really enjoy this physical form of yoga because pushing the limits of the body helps to control the mind. I really found this a transformational session and have since used some of Yogi Ashokananda’s practices in my classes, particularly how to move within postures rather than just the traditional holds. I also really enjoyed using pranayama and kriyas as an integrated practice while doing asanas rather than sitting down and doing them separately.

The only let down for me was the poor quality of yoga mats that were provided. They were slippy to the point of being dangerous in a class such as this where sweat was an inevitability. Holding downward dog was a feat of concentration and resolve. I recommend taking your own mat to the Om Yoga Show if you intend to do a workshop.

We finished with some chanting aloud (again not very British) which everyone engaged with (surprisingly). I’m not familiar with the verse we chanted but many were so it was great to be a part of it. I always enjoy some Om chanting at the end of a class though, it just really fills me with happiness.

Yogi Ashokananda prepared us well for the class by saying “corpse pose is called corpse pose for a reason. You shouldn’t do it unless you feel like you’re going to die. Five straight hours of yoga will make you feel like you’re going to die…you only get to do savasana then”. He stuck to his word…there was no savasana after the most intense 90 minutes of yoga I’ve ever done. But, he was right. I didn’t need it and I didn’t miss it.

Namaste

OM Yoga Show 2017 – Manchester show review 19-21 May

This was my sixth visit to the Om Yoga show and the second time I’d been to it in Manchester. At £7.50 entrance fee this is a true bargain. After a succession of London venues that seem to be impossibly difficult (and time consuming) to get to, I thought the chance to drive ‘up north’ would be welcome.

The new venue at Event City was an excellent choice! Loads of free parking right outside the door. It was easy to get to and refreshingly didn’t involve multiple bus/train journeys and lots of waiting around – something that can’t be avoided in getting to the London venues of Alexandra Palace and Olympia.

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Early entry meant we had a great opportunity to browse

Goody bags were freely available – no scrum necessary – just inside the door. We were able to help ourselves to show guides and freebies (powdered, vegan supplements for smoothies). The venue was large with lots going on this year. I always feel like the Manchester show might be the poor relation of the London event, but not true this year.

The bonus is that as it’s not as busy as the London show, you can actually get the chance to get into the open classes without a 30 minute queue and this year was the first time I’d managed to book onto my first choice workshop.

The best thing about the Om Yoga show is that it’s a hive of thriving young British businesses – loads of innovation and creativity in clothing, food, drink, styles of yoga and equipment that are freely available to us British yogis.

There was a strong display of exhibitors from therapists, food producers, tea importers, meditation aids, equipment, books, clothing, accessories and interiors. Really everything you’d want to see at this kind of show and far more. The Manchester show is definitely not a runner-up to London any more.

There were 3 open class studios, a children’s yoga studio and a meditation area this year. Classes ranging from gentle introductions, innovative new styles, traditional asanas, challenging backbends and arm balances and focus on all 8 limbs of yoga with some Ayurveda and holistic therapy thrown in. There were 93 free classes to choose from this year so it’s not just a day of shopping and browsing – there are multiple good quality activities to fill the day as well. With about 15 workshops per day ranging from £5 to £10 there were also some world class teachers to choose from for a more in-depth experience. I booked onto a masterclass with Yogi Ashokananda for £10 – the best yoga class I have ever been to! My workshop review can be found here.

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The free open classes are great fun if you’re looking for something new

The hot yoga pod was absent this year, but had been replaced by an aerial yoga workshop space. I like that the Om Yoga show encourages attendees to get stuck into new incarnations of yoga as well as sticking to the traditional. Whatever your viewpoint on yoga, there will be something for you to enjoy here.

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Aerial yoga…always fun to watch

No review would be complete without a mention of the vegan food court – AMAZING! This year was the best selection of food I’ve ever seen at the show. So many local home kitchens and creative vegan cooks. It was hard to choose, but a special mention needs to go to Home Kitchen Vegan who produced the most fantastic vegan curry.

Special mention to my favourite exhibitors this year:

Yoga clothing to die for The Power of Greyskull

Yoga bliss from a world class teacher Yogi Ashokananda

I dare you to leave without trying one of these drinks by Big Juice

The Om Yoga Show will be back in London 20 – 22nd October 2017

Essential oils for stress relief

Scents can be very powerful…triggering memories of people, places and events. They can be very emotive, causing changes in our state of mind as well as impacting on our bodies through the nervous system.

The olfactory nerve that gives us our sense of smell is connected directly to the brain. From here, signals stimulate many different responses throughout the body including being able to trigger physical reactions through working on the autonomic nervous system. Scents can send our body into fight or flight, or they can bring us back to calm.

Essential oils work on the principal of balance; bringing the body mind and spirit back into balance after the stresses and strains of modern life have left us neglecting areas of our wellbeing. Some essential oils have a similar effect on neuroreceptors as many synthetic anti-anxiety medications. On the whole, essential oils work holistically rather than treating a symptom, for a better long-term outlook.

Lavender is one of the most studied essential oils. It calms the nervous system, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, reduces anxiety and promotes sleep. Try adding a few drops of lavender oil to a tissue to inhale throughout the day or add to bath water to gain the full effects.

Bergamot is a symbol of the change from winter to spring as the fruits ripen, making it the ideal scent to try in April. Studies have shown that bergamot is excellent for reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and reducing the heart rate sending the body into relaxation. It can also reduce chronic pain through its relaxing properties. Try mixing a few drops with water and adding to a burner to fill a room with scent.