Aloha! This week, I’d like to introduce Yoga Sutra 1.14: “Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” On a large scale, the sutras equate practice to life, and on a smaller but just as important scale, to the ongoing refinement of any technique: yoga practice, academic scholarship, sports, character development…anything at all! It reminds us that practice requires patience, consistency, discipline, and clarity. It encourages us to keep going when we encounter an obstacle, with greater understanding, direction or refinement of technique then before that encounter. However, it also teaches us the importance of practicing even after a “successful” outcome, or forward progress, because there are very few things in life that are ever “complete”. Your coaches have probably shared their own version of this principle with you this weekend!
In yoga there is a metaphor that is often used: “Monkey mind.” This is an analogy for the way our mind “chatters” and wanders from one point to the next, quickly and often without direction…it is the opponent of focus! We tame monkey mind by training ourselves to focus. The body is the aspect of ourselves that is easiest to manipulate and control; we often start with the body because it is easier to train our bodies to focus by moving in a certain way, establishing coordination, engaging in calming practices, etc. This is one function of yoga poses.
Our mind is less tangible and because of that, harder to direct. Luckily, the two are intimately connected…so what we do physically has an effect mentally (and vice versa). This is why yoga has an aspect of meditation, but let’s use the word “focus” instead…
Athletes tend to have great awareness and great control of their bodies (“focus”). When “in the zone”, athletes tend to have great awareness and great control of their minds. But “being in the zone” is typically a very fleeting state. Practice and refinement of technique can help you return to the zone much more quickly than if you haven’t had that experience or didn’t have a practice. Whatever that may be. Unfortunately, it’s very rare that someone can establish an “in the zone” state and maintain it indefinitely. It takes practice. Every day. In all things. Not just on the field, but in the classroom and in daily life. For example, we need to pay attention when executing a play, taking a test, and walking across the street. Then you must pay attention to a string of similar events such as a series of plays, tests across multiple classes in a single day and the need to cross several different streets in order to get from destination A to destination B. Without focused attention, the consequences may be less than desirable!
In our yoga sessions this week, we are going to focus on breath control, which is often the first step towards focus/meditation and calming of monkey mind. Yoga equates breath control to increased awareness, energy conservation, rejuvenation (for example, re-oxygenation of your blood supply which can help your muscles recover more quickly, slow down your heart rate, et cetera), and mental control. For instance, how many breaths can you take without talking? How many breaths can you hold tree pose? How many breaths can you take while focusing on a single word, such as “touchdown” without another word invading? Your ability to focus during any type of practice will effect your ability to focus in any other area of life…our neurological system has a function similar to muscle memory, meaning your ability to focus grows stronger when you practice focusing just like your muscles remember how to throw a football the more you practice throwing. This type of practice is often just as challenging -if not MORE challenging!- as the physical kind.
See you on the field!