A discussion went around on the Train-This Triathlon Team google group the other day, involving thinking too much. Gretchen sent out a great article linked right here that detailed changing and creating habits. The reason we have our google group is for fun things and discussions between our athletes, just like the one that followed. Our athletes have become online family to one another in many ways.
The conversation turned to controlling the thoughts in our head, or rather stopping the thoughts in our head. I remember in fourth grade staring out the window. Sister Virginia called upon me and asked me what I was thinking about. I told her I was thinking about nothing. IMPOSSIBLE ! She cried out. But no….. really I was thinking about nothing. It hadn’t been the first time and it was not the last time.
Thinking about nothing perhaps is the greatest gift I had ever been given. I started thinking a lot after that for many years, particularly through the years of my eating disorder. But those times in the pool…. that’s when my mind quieted. I had thoughts of course, but I would acknowledge them and then let them go. They’d just pass through me.
The same thing happens for me now in training and in competition. I don’t go by thoughts in my mind I go by feelings in my heart. Admittedly I got a little away from that for a while, but last year I tapped back in. This week, turning off the data….. I was there again. Thinking nothing, just being present.
We talk a lot about being present in yoga. This is the most difficult thing for me to articulate also because of the view that many people, especially athletes….. especially triathletes have about yoga.
Many come into a class with a preset judgement. They think their was through poses, get irritated if the class is to mellow, judge and inspect the instructor, the music, the style, the entire thing. Personally I get something out of any class that I go to. If I leave a class disappointed then it’s my fault, never the teacher’s.
The style of yoga I teach is called Baptiste Power Vinyaysa. It’s flow yoga, athletic yoga, be prepared to do a million push ups. It’s 90 degrees. It’s fast. Because I have practiced power vinyasa for so long….. I have excellent functional strength. The TRX…. is very easy for me. I balance on my hands every single day. I end up using the TRX for a warm up.
Back to presence.
The foundation to any yoga practice is the breath. Ujjayi breath is what you will often hear….. (that’s Sanskrit for victorious breath)…. some refer to it as the Darth Vader breath. Either way is fine with me. It’s a reverse whisper oceanic like sounding breath that your draw in from the back of the throat. Try whispering the word HA. The whisper it with your mouth closed. Now as you whisper HA with your mouth closed bring the breath to the back of your throat. Draw it in to the diaphragm, which is below your ribcage. Now as you are breathing this way set your eyes on once spot in front of you. Breathe. Keep that same breath and close your eyes. Bring your attention to the space between your eyes. That’s the third eye or your inner drishti.
Notice this….. this simple act of breathing. The simple act of even focusing your thoughts on this victorious breath…… has already unplugged you from your brain, the space between your ears. It’s slowed down the constant turning of the mental hamster wheel. (Notice this: I have said nothing about balance or flexibility. Yoga happens on and off of a mat.)
You feel irritation and anxiety and thought start to bubble to your surface…… acknowledge it….. let it pass through…… but focus on your breath. That will pass.
Now you begin to combine this breath to some movement. All yoga in my opinion is absolutely awesome. So if gentle hatha is your style, good. If Bikram is your style…. good. Yoga Fit? Fine. Yoga elitists exist just like multisport elitist do as well. Do what you do in that arena…. ignore them. If you want to make your own yoga practice and style….. good. Whatever gets you moving and breathing and your mind slowing down.
Poses teach us lessons. They have for hundreds of years longer than swimming, cycling and running have. Take Utkatasana (chair pose) for example. By the way cyclists love this pose because it really taps their strengths. You come into this pose and hold it for 10 breaths. Things can happen along the way. Thought wants to creep in.
There are other things I could be doing.
This is stupid.
Why doesn’t the instructor do the pose with us.
This music is creepy.
Wait till I blog about this!
Acknowledge those thoughts. See them, wave hello and let them pass on by. They are the devil on your shoulder. Instead come into your breath. Treat those thoughts like the kids in the back seat of your car. See them, acknowledge them, and then get back to what you are doing. Breathing.
Poses, asanas, vinyasas teach us patience, how to be in the moment, how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations, how to just….. be present.
Now bring the same thing into your sport.
You are on your trainer with 3 sets of big gear tempo efforts. You are in the middle of number two, about to lose your cookies. Your thoughts become like the devil on your shoulder.
I hate winter.
How many miles have I ridden on this bastard trainer?
I am tired.
I am going nowhere.
My coach is an ass.
See your thoughts, feel them pass by. Focus on your breathing, no matter how hard it may be at the time. Because you are on the trainer you can close your eyes. find that inner drishti. Give it 2 minutes. are you wearing an iPod? Follow the beat of the drum. Try it. You will be in a different place.
That’s how you become present. You don’t have to only find it on a mat. In a studio. It’s available everywhere. On a bike. Ona run. In the pool. In the car with screaming kids in the background.
It’s actually a choice. I personally love the way that yoga helps me find it.
I am in recovery for Bulimia Nervosa. I have been in recovery for 16 years now. I don’t go to a therapist or a support group. I am done talking about it. I have a good life. I dont’ need to analyze anything. Instead…… I practice yoga.
I can’t express it without sounding like an elitist yoga person, but I have found presence in my life that’s been there for a long time. I work to cultivate it every single day. I practice yoga every single day. I practice at least 20 minutes. I love when I can practice for 75. I can’t do that often enough.
Presence truly is a choice. Just like pedaling. Just like working on running biomechanics. It’s all a choice.
So before you judge it, give it a shot. It’s a better way of being, I can promise that.
Stop trying so hard. Try easier. Be easier.