Moments of Mindfulness

mindfulness

Movement is powerful.
In mind. Body. Spirit.

I just wrapped up a yoga/meditation session that was delightful.
In my self-care practice, I have been putting a priority on slowing things down. At the helm of my latest depression, I realized what kind of life I wanted, what kind of life I needed- it is a simple one.

Where stress is minimal, the worry is relinquished, bills are paid, bellies are happy, and hearts are full.

Achieving this life is a work in progress. Some days I feel close other days I couldn’t feel further away. What I realize is even though time seems fleeting I still own the power of my day. I have the power of my space, my mind and what I declare as a priority.

Where do your priorities lie?
Do you allow yourself the space to prioritize self?
When was the last time you allowed yourself slow down and turned in?
Do you feel like you have time in your day to do so?
Is it something that you could benefit from in your life or your athletic endeavors?

Read on as I unpack some of the revelations I landed on in my 35-minute mindfulness session as it relates to life, athletics, and purpose.

The Power of Your Environment

I set the mood.
Space was illuminated by light and fire.
Soft music rang out, and then there was me.

The things that you surround yourself with become you. If you want peace, invite it in. Need calm, then create it. If you wish to be lulled away to a place where you are not currently open your Pandora or Spotify and go. Transform your space.

I Got Grounded

There is no better feeling than feeling my feet on the floor.
Whether indoors or out making contact with what is underneath me is key. I feel like it is only then when I can wake up my mind and body with ease. Gently linking the two.
Seriously, there is no better feeling.

When I first started experiencing panic attacks I had zero coping strategies. I had no idea what was going on let alone how to combat it. Suffering my first panic attack at the Outdoor National Championships. I had no idea what was going on. My coach later called it a case of the yips.

What are the Yips?

In an article posted on the MLB website titled, “The Yips: Difficult to understand, difficult to cure” Author, Zack Meisel shared this about ‘The Yips,’
Inside Major League clubhouses, it a taboo subject, confined to the office of a team psychologist or the walls encompassing a player’s brain.

Experts take extra precaution with how they define it, fearful of classifying a player as having some deficiency or being a liability.

To those observing, it seems like a predicament with a simple solution. To those enduring, there are no answers, only a proliferating number of questions.

Much has been written about “the Yips,” but much about the condition remains clouded.

“We don’t talk about it as baseball players,” said 19-year veteran Jason Giambi. “It’s just this unwritten rule. You feel terrible for [those experiencing it].”

The Yips is no mythological plague. For reasons unknown, players can encounter a mental hurdle that flat-out won’t permit them to complete one of the game’s mundane on-field tasks. Infielders suddenly can’t find the first baseman’s glove on routine throws. Catchers can’t execute the simple task of returning the ball to the pitcher.

“It’s the real deal,” said Jason Tyner, who played in the big leagues from 2000-08. “These guys are throwing the ball 50 feet off their mark. Or they spike one halfway. I don’t even know how to describe it.”

Dr. Charlie Maher, the Indians sports psychologist, avoids using the term “yips,” and instead refers to the circumstance as “misplaced focus.” That removes the notion that the player is suffering from some sort of daunting ailment.

“If their focus is misplaced, it’s on results,” Maher said. “It’s on what people are thinking. It gets them away from the fluidity of the process of the game. As a result, it snowballs. They start to judge themselves. They start to tense themselves up. The result is that the ball is not going where it’s supposed to go.”

Was it “The Yips”? I would say not. My answer, performance anxiety.

Performance Anxiety

When anxiety attacks started to become a regular occurrence, I found myself on the floor. A lot of floors. Public bathrooms, locker room, my kitchen. Looking back I guess my body was trying to get grounded.

Again, in these moments I didn’t know it. What I did recognize what that every time I anxiety and panic would set in I would retreat to a floor. The floor was usually cold, and it helped bring me back to the moment. Yesterday I found myself back on the bathroom floor. It was the first time in 8 months. It was not a proud moment.

“I guess the best way to put it is that meditation allowed me to sit on a park bench, so to speak, and just watch things go by in my mind. It allowed me to take control of pretty much anything I was feeling by grounding myself.

No matter where I was, I would close my eyes and all my breath to anchor me, like that park bench. Everything else-the anxious feeling, for instance- I would give a label to and allow myself to observe it, rather than experiencing it.” – Paul, 46, Trader

I allowed myself to feel defeated about this for say 30 minutes, almost as long as my mindfulness session today, and then I got up. Pushing through and got on with it. I just move to the next strategy. Luckily for me, it was a 1:1 therapy session.

Post-therapy session I realize that my initial response to retreat to the floor isn’t a failure. It is purely my way of grounding. I suppose it is ok to utilize unconventional methods as long as it serves a purpose in your life.

My anxiety began to manifest as my athletic expectation began to grow. I failed to give a label to my emotions and found solutions to get the job done- still compete. Amid overwhelming anxiety, I still had a pretty successful career. Did anxiety play a role in my ability to achieve more?

Almost certainly. This is why I think it is so important to write posts like this. Moving forward in sports is not always about the x’s and o’s. Sometimes it is about you- how well you know yourself, how well you are taking care of yourself, how well you contribute to replenishing yourself.

In that vein, how do you get grounded? Are you like me and need a cold floor? Maybe you are like Paul and can find your senses of roundedness by envisioning a park bench.

I Listened To What My Body Wanted To Do

Yoga is powerful. Not just for the mind but also for the body. If you listen, your body will tell you exactly what it needs.

When I was in college, I often got sick when I returned home at semester’s end. For some time this was troubling as I often had to take a break from training. I’m not sure when it happened, but the lightbulb went off one summer. I realized, throughout the semester I trashed my body.

So when I finally offered myself some time just to be my body let go. In letting go of survival mode, it (my body) accepted defeat. My body needed to stop. Take a break. Recover. Heal. Slow down. So it forced my hand.

In yoga, you quiet the mind enough so you can hear your body speaking and respond appropriately. Today my body needed me to be gentle. I could feel that I needed the movement, but I also needed to tread carefully. To treat my body gently.

In sports sometimes it is difficult to slow down. I would encourage you to find the space to rest. Rest and listen. While your sport is asking you to do more, your body may be crying out for less. Recognizing the opportunities to push and pull back are essential to sustained progress in your career. Do yourself a favor and pay attention sooner rather than later.

I Rested When Something Didn’t Feel Good

I carry a lot of tension in my upper body. Finding ways to own that then let it go. Letting go is different from pushing things away. I have accepted that allowing myself to process what I am feeling is a healthy practice.

For much of my life, I adopted the converse. I became very good at pushing things away. Well, more like pushing things down. If I had a traumatic experience, it got pushed down; A boyfriend cheated on me, it got pushed down. An arsonist tried to kill my family, and it got pushed down- My father abandoned our family, pushed down; My brother went to jail for a murder he didn’t commit, pushed down;

My brother was gunned down in cold blood, pushed down. Sexual abuse, yup I’ll just push that down too. All true events. Part of my story. All part of my fall into depression and now motivation for a healthier future.

“Pushing away (or down in my case) your thoughts and emotions don’t ever really work, anyway, because they always come back. What we’re doing is “letting be.” We allow the thoughts to come up and become aware of them so we can then notice and let me go and not get trapped in our reaction to them.

Any and all thought that comes up should be welcomed because that means they’re no longer secretly controlling you.” I love this quote because: (1) it is true as evidenced in my personal story and (2) it gives you the power back.

So many times in athletics you are asked to ignore your feelings. Whether it is an offense experience by a competitor, a referee or something you are feeling in your body. Injury perhaps. But that practice is not healthy. Not in sport and certainly not in your personal life. Ignorance is a failure on the part of the person. Not reacting is negligence. Self- harm even.

Bringing attention to your thoughts and feelings allows you to respond responsibly.

Accepting Distractions Will Come

Mindfulness is not the absence of distraction. It is the ability to acknowledge when thoughts come in then allow them to go out.

I am reading this book called Unplug. The author is the founder of Unplug Meditation Studio in Los Angeles. In the book, she breaks down common stigmas or misconceptions surrounding meditation. On the topic of distractions, she shared an analogy of one of her employees, Natalie. This is what Natalie said,

“Science shows us that when we label the thought behind a feeling, the amygdala begins to calm down. This is the way in which you become the observer of the thought, and not overly tangled up in it.

If you see the thought, then it’s separate from you; you’re over here, and the thought is over there. It lets you step outside of it, observe it, and then let it go so you can come back to the here and now, center, the zone… whatever you want to call it. “

During my time this morning, I showed myself some compassion in this area. It is easy to be dissatisfied with your inability to focus on a given task, particularly in training or game situations. The truth is, there will always be distractions.

Regardless of how intentional, mindful or anal we are, we can not control everything. Our best bet is to get comfortable with the uncomfortable is to find ways to operate healthily within it. During my session, my mind was in a million different places.

What time is it?

When will my daughter wake up?

Will I have enough time to write?

What will I write?

Is this a work-out?

How can I push myself more?

Then I remembered the quote I shared above from Natalie. I identified the thoughts as seeds of anxiety, I found a bench (figuratively), and I sat on it. I watched each of the questions walk on by unanswered.

You see, you don’t need all of the answers. You just need to be.

I Became More Aware of My Senses

When your mind starts to wonder sometimes, it is hard to get it back. That is kind of how it feels when you have an anxiety attack. Your mind attaches to a thing that causes you anxiety, and it doesn’t let go.

For me that is time. When I feel like I am out of time, won’t have enough time, or in need of more time, it sends me into a tizzy of anxiety. One of my best strategies is breathing. Concentrating on taking a breath in through my nose and slowly releasing it through my mouth.

If you have ever experienced a panic or anxiety attack you understand at the height of it, there is no concentrated breathing happening. It feels like your amygdala was just set ablaze with the strongest accelerant and you need out. This morning when discomfort, distractions, and doubt crept in I didn’t just breathe I challenged myself to engage all of my senses.

I could:

Hear and feel my breath.

Feel the sun.

Hear the birds.

Taste my coffee.

See darkness and specs of light

Touch the cool floor

Be present.

Regardless of the chaos that is going on outside (or inside) of you, you have the power to chose to be present. Although I had set the environment, got grounded, was listening to my body, resting when I felt discomfort, heightening the senses I still had to concentrate on being present. The same is true for you. Every time you step foot on the court, track or field you have a choice to make. Make excuses or show up.

Attune yourself to your senses and own the present moment.

Bringing It All Home

This morning I prioritized me. The result, a mindfully awakened experience. It funny because my number one priority for the day was writing this post. I had no idea what I would write about only that I needed to write today. I have been working towards being more consistent even when I am not feeling at best. Today I had every intention of prioritizing my writing, but I chose differently.

I chose to respect what I was feeling, internally. Feeling like I needed to slow down. I felt like I needed to stretch my body before I stretched my mind. In doing so, this post was born. This has been one of the easiest and most rewarding posts to write thus far. I hope it is falling on the good ground.

As a coach and an athlete, I had trouble recognizing when to press stop. The NCAA is dog eat dog, and usually, only the biggest, strongest, fastest and hardest workers survive. In a system that rewards the overachiever, how could one think about slowing down, treading carefully, acting responsibly instead of aggressively? Not the popular choice.

But what I realized I as sat Indian style on my dining room floor facing the window and feeling the sun on my face made all the sense to me. The revelation was clear. Sometimes what you need most is right in front of you. The manifestation of it is a result of looking introspectively and allowing that overflow to influence everything. Today that process took 35 minutes. I am thankful for that.

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