Raja Yoga Sadhana for Sports people

Those who take part in sports more seriously and with a competitive focus are subject to long hours of training, a great deal of physical movement, high personal aims, intense mental and emotional pressure and a competitive environment. Sports people repeatedly push the limits of the mind and body to reach maximum performing ability.

It is recognized now that the winning edge in performance is not due solely to physical excellence but to mental alertness. As concentration of the mind is obtained, performance of the body improves. Sports psychologists are commissioned to help sports people reach their peak performance through psychological methods, many of which can be found in the teachings of raja yoga.

When a sports person performs well, it is often due to an ability to positively manage his or her mental and emotional states. Those who fall victim to anxiety during a competition can find it difficult to come out of it and regain balance. Relaxation techniques are therefore employed to help sportspeople develop mental relaxation and one-pointedness. Those who master their anxiety through relaxation excel in their area.

The most important area in which yoga can assist in modern sports is accessing what sports psychologists call ‘the zone’, ‘the second wind’ or ‘the flow’. This is an altered state of consciousness in which the individual taps into previously unavailable resources of the body and mind, and often reaches unexpectedly high, sometimes astounding, results. This mind-set enables the body to function automatically with little conscious effort. During the flow, a sports person loses self-consciousness and becomes completely immersed in the task at hand.

Those who have experienced flow describe it as the state of being in which action itself becomes the aim, and there is no consideration of rewards or achievements, but the pleasure is derived from the action itself. The concept of flow entails a state in which there is a perfect match between the perceived demands of an activity and the abilities of the performer. Complex tasks appear to be easily accomplished and subjectively time can either stand still or rush by as the performer is completely immersed in what he or she is doing. With systematic training in techniques derived from raja yoga practices, it is considered today that ‘the zone’ can be entered almost at will.

Needs of sports people

  • Deep relaxation: physical, mental, emotional
  • High level of mental and emotional balance
  • An optimum mental state allowing for maximum performance
  • Entering the flow or zone at will
  • Ability to manage competitive anxiety while competing
  • Inner discipline, willpower, focus and determination
  • One-pointedness of mind
  • Concentration

The most essential techniques for the sports person are those that develop mental relaxation, one-pointedness and an optimal psychological state for performing.

Morning, before breakfast

  • Trataka, daily for 5 to 10 minutes. Many sports people report that they become distracted and anxious by the presence of onlookers at competitions – spectators, officials and other competitors. To overcome this, they are encouraged to channel all their attention into performance. Trataka is an effective way to direct awareness to one point.
  • Manipura shuddhi, daily for 5 to 10 minutes to induce calmness, balance and centring.

After the day’s activities

  • Yoga nidra, daily for 30 minutes, sankalpa linked with personal goal. Visualization should include successful attempts at one’s goal. The practitioner should visualize all of the key aspects of an upcoming event and bring all the five senses into play. The visualization is a mental rehearsal of the anticipated scenario – the sounds, smells, sights, the venue, spectators, competitors, time of day, personal optimal performance and so on.

Evening, before bed

  • Trataka, daily for 5 minutes
  • Review of the Day, daily for 5 minutes with review of attempts at the personal goal. Then visualizing a perfect performance, and ways to improve performance.
  • Antar mouna up to stage 3 (discarding thoughts at will), daily for 10 to 15 minutes. Making a mistake or getting frustrated in competition may lead to loss of concentration and subsequent low performance. To regain flow, sports people are encouraged to forget it quickly and focus on the present using some type of ritualistic action like wiping the face, repeating the resolve or walking a few steps. Mastery of antar mouna stage 3 will enable the sports person to be able to discard negative thoughts and feelings at will after a mistake, and regain composure and focus.

On weekends

  • SWAN meditation – analysis of strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs, using the personal goal or sankalpa to guide the analysis.

Before an event

  • Recollection of previous successful performances. This can be practised in the visualization stage during yoga nidra while the mind is relaxed. Every detail should be recollected so that the winning feeling can be recreated at will.
  • Sports people should note all points regarding the pre-event routine: what they do, what they are thinking and how they should feel in the hours and minutes leading to an event or competition. Such routines involve what is eaten, what to pack, mode of transport, timetable, warm up, necessary positive mental state on commencement of the competition. This can then be visualized during yoga nidra bringing the five senses into play.
  • Mantra japa on Om, to induce one-pointedness, calm, and access to one’s full potential.

Complementary practices from hatha yoga

  • Shatkarmas: jala neti, weekly; kunjal kriya, fortnightly; laghoo shankaprakashalana, monthly (weather permitting); agnisara kriya, daily; nauli kriya, daily.
  • Asanas: integrated sadhana of standing, balancing, forward and backward bending, twisting, inversion, surya namaskara, relaxation. Focus on physical movement, breath coordination and visualization of perfect practice.
  • Pranayama and bandha: abdominal breathing; bhastrika (include inner and outer retention only under the guidance of a competent teacher); nadi shodhana with antar kumbhaka; bhramari.
  • Mudra: shambhavi mudra, yoni mudra, when sitting during free time.

Published in Raja Yoga for Everyone