Is mindfulness and mental training keys to peak performance? Should the mind be trained just like the body? Indeed.
Yin yoga brings access to mental skills, while at the same time doing wonder for the body’s joints. It´s fair to say yin yoga is a combination of stretch, recovery, mindfulness, breath and body awareness, as well as brain training.
Personally, yin yoga has helped me getting mentally tough. I would say I had some mental toughness already before I took up my yin yoga practice, with my background as a wrestler and police officer. But still, yin yoga has given me mental toughness beyond what I thought I had in me. Yin yoga has helped me realize my full potential as an athlete, and it´s equal body training as it is mind training. Yin yoga is a tactic that represents a major shift, and is one of the reasons I can run ultra-marathons today.
So how can we use yin yoga not only as exercise for the joints? How can we use yin yoga as mental training, while we linger in the poses?
A meta-analysis of sports psychological studies by Hatzigeorgiadis and colleagues published in Perspectives on Psychological Science found that motivational self-talk helped them to succeed in strength and endurance-based tasks.
The main goals behind self-talk—like other techniques such as visualization to “rehearse” a performance or meditation to improve focus and relaxation—are twofold, says Hatzigeorgiadis: “to enhance your potential; and to perform during competition in terms of your ability and not less.”
Resting in yin yoga poses for about 3, 4 or 5 minutes at a time can be done different ways. We can use the poses as relaxation only. We can use the poses to increase our range of motion. We can use the poses as a way of rehydrating our tissues, and we can also add some serious mind training to it. As we rest in our poses, the mind will become an issue for some people. The more silent on the outside, the more we will hear the noise on our inside. And this is where our attention, awareness and mindfulness training takes place. In each pose, we can add some mental strategy work, such as learning how to be comfortable in the uncomfortable. We can also add visualization techniques, and self-talk.
Thing is, the mind guides action. And if we succeed in regulating our thoughts, that will make a huge impact on our behavior.
Getting in the Zone
Who doesn´t want to get in a state of flow? A sense of ease and peace in all things we do. Getting in the Zone is not just for athletes in training or competition. This goes for everything outside the sport as well, such as spending time with family and friends, reading a book, and so on. Learning how to get in the Zone, a state of flow, is something we can learn to do whenever and wherever. Every time I teach yoga, I work on getting in the Zone. If I don´t, I don´t feel that connection with the students and the space (yoga Shala) as I wish to do every time I teach. Just as when I run in the woods and mountains, or surf in the ocean.
According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Finding Flow, it´s about being deeply involved in what you´re doing, which he also argues is the secret to a joyful life.
I believe all yogis from way behind our time would agree. Finding flow is yoga. About being anchored in the moment. We can call it flow, zone, presence, mindfulness or whatever. In yin yoga, we anchor ourselves one pose at a time. And then we stay. We relax. And we wait. Training your mind during this… is all about getting in the Zone. Something we can bring with us when we leave the yoga mat. Something we can bring with us to all aspects in our lives, to tap into wherever and whenever.