Of All Phenomena, The Mind The Forerunner
Our mind interprets our world. Consciousness comes first. What does this mean for athletes?
Is it all in your head? I think that a huge amount of running performance is a mental game, or rather, it is about the interface between mind and body.
Everything we experience comes first through our mind. It sounds simple but its easy to forget. Thoughts limit us. In the short term they tell us we can't do that extra repeat. In the long term our mind struggles to complete a strategy of general improvements, focusing on short term satisfaction.
One of the limits of performance is pacing. Pacing is in the head. It is a mental strategy for making sure you don't blow up and cant finish a race in the style that you want.
Try going harder that you think possible. It might surprise you. The big leaps come from changes in mental and physical fitness. Believe in your bodies' ability. Surrender to it.
Separating Mind And Body
We've separated our mind and body in a legacy that goes back to Descartes in the 17th century. Cartesian dualism holds that mind and body are of different nature and are separate, but interact with each other.
You cannot separate the mind and the body. They are intimately linked. As Gabor Mate says in The Body Says No, our mind can create illness that manifests in the body. Our mind can create muscle weakness and fatigue, especially when under stressful conditions.
What if we could feel stronger every day purely through training our mind (meditation) and bringing our bodies and minds closer to each other (yoga). What effect would if have on our athletic performance?
Are we really in control?
It has been shown that our brains respond to stimulus before we even register a thought. This means our mind is constantly interpreting its environment before our conscious brain is able to process what is happening.
Does this mean we're on auto pilot? It feels that way sometimes when you sit on public transport and see people's faces reacting to stimuli from their phones whilst they anxiously pick their nails 😄 .
We can create more control in our minds by training them through mindfulness practices such as meditation.
By doing just 10 minutes a day we can train our brain to better deal with the vast array of emotions and thoughts that flow from our subconscious.
We can choose when to react, and when not to. We can decide what is important and what is not.
This can help us to be more in control of our training. Feeling tired or lacking in energy on an interval session. Try thinking of the long term benefits and remind yourself why you are doing this hard workout.
Feeling overwhelmed by stress hormones at the end of a long run? Remember that you are able to control the release of adrenaline and cortisol by purely thinking differently.
Get caught up in competition in races and go off too fast. Train your mind to be more in tune with your own performance, rather than those around you.
Uniting Mind and Body
We have separated our mind and body and can often feel like we are not in tune with how our body feels. Yoga and mindfulness support the unification, allowing us to feel exactly how our body feels at any one time.
If you are more in tune with your body in training, and can objectively understand the pressure on each neuromuscular system, you will avoid injury. You will know when to push and when to hold back. That is what sets successful athletes apart from those that get stuck at the same level for decades.
In races, being in tune with your body will allow you to reach your own peak performance. Know when you can begin to ramp up and when to flow in a controlled state. Attack your opponents based on your own strengths that you are fully aware and in control of.
Meditation, Mindfulness and Me
I've been practicing meditation and mindfulness for 2 years now.
I also read widely about toxic stress, neuroscience and the immune system.
I really feel that mindfulness practice creates better all round athletes that are resilient to the challenges of daily life and training stress.
Those that are more in control of their emotions and better in touch with their body have less stress and perform better.
I can really recommend the app Waking Up With Sam Harris. It was a life changer for me and has improved my ability to handle high training volumes over time.