Mindfulness, what’s it all about?

In my efforts to be the best athlete I can be, I have explored different things that can help in legally enhancing your mental and physical capacities during a wod, and especially for the competitive athletes, during a competition, one of these things or techniques, is mindfulness. Due to a back injury, 2017 was a year that I had to rule out competing. When I started my rehab,  in the back of my head, I had the memory of what had happened when I last competed in 2016. It was at Last Man Standing, a 2 day CrossFit competition, and that year the wods favoured what I excelled in, or at least what I thought I excelled in : short quick wods with heavier weights. My training was consistent, however (isn’t it horrible that there is always a ‘however,’)  coupled with an erratic work schedule…hmmm that’s probably why I resigned (that’s a post for another day!) I fell sick with the worst flu virus that took me until the day of the competition to shake off. I suffered with feelings of nausea throughout the day but I chalked some of it up to nerves. The highlight of that weekend was throwing up on someones car, I’m sorry whoever you are. During that weekend, one of the wods we had involved pulling a sled with a rope, and an odd object overhead carry.  I was ahead with the sled pull until my rope got tangled on the sled and the very temperamental CrossFit diva that I was at that time, threw the towel in. I remember crying after that wod, hating CrossFit for about a minute and then having that mood trickle into all the other wods that weekend.

A couple of months later while taking inventory of the things that I could have changed prior, during and after the competition, I came across a post on social media where Ben Bergeron, owner of CrossFit New England, and coach of 2X Fittest Woman on Earth, Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir,  wrote about the technique of mindfulness that he uses with his athletes to keep them focussed during wods/competions on giving their very best effort, focusing on the things that they have control over and not variables that are subject to change. On that fateful day in September, I had no control on my rope getting tangled on the sled, but I could have controlled the trajectory of my thoughts, instead using that experience to fuel me to push harder and pace myself in a smarter way in the following wods, as opposed to having thrown a hissy fit, shedding a few tears, thereby  sabotaging myself for that weekend.

Mindfulness can best be described as the art of being present in the moment, it’s a training and disciplining of your thoughts so as to not allow them to wander off into thoughts of past efforts or future efforts. Mindfulness is focussing on the here and now. Being present, mind, body and soul, in the activity that you are partaking in. Mindfulness is an awareness of everything that is going on in your body. It’s a shift from doing things in response to what others are doing, and instead doing things in response to what will work out best for you. I’ve found that as I practice mindfulness, I care less about measuring myself up to other people victories and instead, I’m focussed on my path, my victories and my effort/s.

‘Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.’  Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is not only learning how to perform anything and everything with purpose and joy, but the idea behind it is to cultivate attention on the body and mind as it is, moment to moment, and so help with pain or moments of discomfort, both physical and emotional.  In those moments you are, (as you can probably guess,) mindful and acutely aware of everything that is going on around you, but most importantly in you. Mindfulness can be helpful in positively changing the perception you have of the world and yourself. In these moments of self-evaluation, you are able to pay attention to your why and (hopefully,) find the good, no matter how small it is, in whatever you’re doing.

Genetically, I consider myself exceptionally lucky to be able to build strength as easily as I do. Squats, deadlifts and donuts, that’s all that makes me happy. However (ooh there’s that word again,) ask me to do a wod that has running AND strength, and my mind immediately runs to the worst case scenario, where I’m left completely destroyed by Helen…that’s the wod that fills me with fear haha! In an effort to have and sustain the joy and gratitude that exists whenever I have a bar, kettlebell or dumbbells in my hands, I began to explore mindfulness as a means of learning how to transfer these happy emotions to any wod that has running.

Mindfulness & CrossFit, match made in heaven?

CrossFit is great for developing attributes such as endurance, strength and metabolic fitness, but in order to become a great athlete, when you’re taking stock of your progress (which we should all be doing,) you’ll discover that it is important to pay some attention to the external factors that can impact your training and therefore your performance on the comp floor. We’ve often heard it before that your mind is the most powerful weapon you have. Mindfulness is a way to make this muscle stronger. I’m a firm believer that an empty mind, very easily becomes the devils playground. An empty mind is easier to fill with junk. These junky thoughts start off with negative thoughts that you believe about yourself, and then eventually they become thoughts that you believe about other people. This highlights how important it is to be aware of what you’re choosing to focus on and giving your energy to. Mindfulness can form part of ones meditation practice in that for an extended period of time, using techniques such as journaling or deep breathing, you are aware of what’s going on with yourself. This technique of mindfulness is one that sports psychologists have studied and confirmed as a contributing factor to excelling in your training and competitive performances. In honing in your thoughts you become someone who will constantly show up at the box to be first. The definition of what it means to be first is that you’re an athlete who shows up to give their all. An athlete who as frustrated as they are at their rope getting tangled on the sled, is able to push those feelings of frustration aside because she realises that right now giving into that particular feeling will sabotage and not fuel her efforts when not harness correctly.

Ready to get mindful about what’s in your head?

Next time you’re headed to the box, aim to get there five minutes earlier. Pick a spot, put the timer on for five minutes, alternatively you can use a meditation app, I’ve listed my favourites at the end of this article. As you lay on the floor, allow your eyes to gently close, taking a few deep inhalations and exhalations, hands on your stomach, focussing on the movement of your stomach up and down with each breath. Your ribcage taking in that precious oxygen that is going to fuel you during that wod that you’re going to crush, think of a positive event that happened during the course of the day. It doesn’t have to anything grand, although if it is, that’s great! It can even be the fact that you woke up this morning. Focus on the emotions that you experienced when that event happened, reliving that moment in your mind, allowing it to vividly remember every aspect of that moment. At the end of your five minutes,  focus on holding on to those positive emotion through every movement that your wod will consist of.

A different way of practicing mindfulness is through something that I’ve learnt from Katrin Davidsdottir, she wears a white rubber band on her right wrist that she has to move to her left wrist anytime she has a negative thought or complains about a movement or wod. The goal is to keep it on the same wrist; it’s a lot harder than anyone would think!  This practice will create in you an increased awareness of the words that come out of your mouth and forces you to focus on the conversation going on in your head. The interesting thing is that even though I sought out mindfulness to improve my sports performance, eventually it trickled into my everyday life where I have been able to remove myself from people and surroundings that were adding to the strain that I was under mentally.

Favourite meditation apps:

Simple Habit

Zensong

Rain Rain

A few good reads to hone in your thoughts:

 The Champions Mind by Jim Afremo

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Soul Detox by Craig Groeschel

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