This blog was originally posted on FitPro 9/4/11 see it here: http://bit.ly/1Fc49qj
As a competitive athlete for more than 35 years, I train everyday with a balanced body/mind philosophy. With heart disease levels at an all time high, taking unneeded stress levels off the heart is a good place to start for any athlete or fitness enthusiast. I believe in training the respiratory system first, which allows the heart to operate at lower rates during body movement. In addition, it lowers brainwave frequencies allowing more cognitive flow states rather than enabling the part of the mind that tries to thwart our exercise goals. No headphones, cell phones or TVs. The mind must be part of the transformation process. If it's distracted, it can't hear the body's intelligence. Our minds are already crowded with information. Exercise was designed to free the mind.
Key components of sports training and racing include proper warm-ups and cool-downs, and to add greater benefit, incorporating cross-patterning yoga movement to improve flexibility, balance and posture alignment. In my performance training programs I don't include any sun salutation movement. Only cross pattering movements to enhance the mind's ability to see the body clearly and balance male and female energy.
- A warm-up routine should be focused on connecting and calming the fragmenting mind to enter the body. Using yoga breathing, we activate the respiratory system to raise heat in the core of the body (liquid fire) and flood the cardiovascular system with oxygen. It doesn't matter whether the warm up is cardio, light weights, stretching, meditation or a combination of all four. What's important is how you use the breath to contract the muscles controlling the inhale (the diaphragm, intercostals and pectoral muscles) and controlling the exhale muscles of the abdomen. Athletes should use long, deep, rich nasal breaths contracting the epiglottis muscle in the throat slightly. This warm-up brings you present, introverting your mind and the five senses. It removes external distractions as this is no time to escape. It's a time to introvert, listen and be present with your body using our emotions as fuel.
- Mindful conscious movement is essential to optimal performance. Yogis were always concerned with placement and balancing the angles of the body parts that are in motion. It reduces the risk of injury from overused muscles and allows the body to move effortlessly. Flexibility doesn't just make the body stronger; it makes the mind stronger by removing artificial fears. Be mindful of hand/foot placement and the angle of the pelvic bowl. Pause and connect the mind with the body through a nasal inhale and notice the placement of your feet with your movement. The closer the foot placement, the more stress on the quadriceps and hamstrings. The further the feet move away from each other, the more you engage adductors and rotators. Always lift the bottom of the arch of the foot up away from the ground to engage skeletal muscles first and superficial muscular layers second. Adjust the alignment of your pelvic bowl to support your buttock muscles and low back so you're supported throughout the movement with appropriate angles. Your joints and knees will appreciate the added attention to detail.
- The cool down is the most important part of the workout. It's really the warm-up for the next time you train or exercise. No matter what you're doing, begin to slow the movement and slow your breath with nasal breathing. This may feel hard to do with an elevated heart rate, but you will be amazed how quickly the heart rate comes down through the slowed nasal breathing process. Notice where your body feels stressed from the movement. Begin using your mind to relax these areas of your body. Relax your low jaw and feel how your breath lengthens and stress levels lessen. Relax around your eyes and feel cerebral fluids and inflammation around the brain dissolve. Take your time. Relax and enjoy what your body/mind just achieved outside of the paradigm of a "good or bad" workout. Don't ever judge your self-esteem from one workout. This is self-sabotaging and creates a habitual pattern of discontent.
The "no pain, no gain" theory is outdated. It's impossible to create a body/mind connection when pushing your body where it's not prepared to go. However, when we create a union of trust between the two, you will be amazed at what the body will do for you. In the union, are flow states that allow the body to move effortlessly ... meditation in motion.