To become an elite athlete, you have to devote your time and energy to the skills related to your sport. It takes dedication and consistency to master your craft so that you can perform at your very best. Not only is dialing in your diet and long hours on the field or court necessary to achieve your goals. You also have to devote your time to your personal well being. A steady mind is another key component in improving your sports performance skills.
The time and effort it takes to practice in addition to actively engaging in your sport can be taxing on the body and the mind. It is crucial that you take care of your emotional state of mind, too, to be a great athlete. Meditation and breathwork are essential to this level of expertise. The two go hand in hand when it comes to achieving a steady mind, greater focus, improved concentration, and most of all, decreased stress.
The art and practice of focused breath work are called Pranayama in yoga. It is an exercise of manipulating your breath with different techniques to bring you to a greater awareness of yourself. Along with that intention, you also train your mind and body to be calmer, to react less to outside distractions, and to improve your attention toward specific daily tasks.
This breathing practice doesn’t necessarily have to be done sitting still to master it. This style of practice is also performed in moving yoga practice. The effort is designed to give you energy, strength, support, and endurance as you move from pose to pose. But it also keeps you very focused and fully aware of the yoga practice itself. Here’s a short yoga sequence you can do to practice this focused breathwork while in motion. Each movement, you will notice, is preceded with a breath cue so that you can be mindful of both the breath and the yoga posture.
The Sun Salutation
Inhale and extend your arms overhead. Exhale and fold forward, hinging at your hips with a bend in your knees until you’re able to touch your toes. Inhale to slide your hands up to your shins to extend your spine. As you exhale, step or hop both feet back to Plank Pose (or a high push-up position). Take a breath in to feel an energy and a lengthening in your entire body. Exhale, bend your elbows, and lower your body to a Low Plank Pose. It will feel like you’re moving to the low push-up position. Inhale to lift just your upper body by pressing your hands into your mat – lifting your chest and hips from the floor. Your legs will remain straight behind you. This will create a backbend posture called Upward Facing Dog.
Exhale to lift your hips into the air moving into Downward Facing Dog. Hold this inverted position for 5 slow breaths. When you’re ready to come out of the position, take a full breath in. Exhale and jump, step, or walk both feet back up to the top of your yoga mat. Once you land, inhale to extend your spine. Exhale to deepen the fold. With a bend in your knees, inhale and rise to a standing position with your arms overhead – Extended Mountain Pose. Exhale to return your hands to heart center.
For a full body and breath workout, you can repeat this short sequence three to five times.
Applying a practice like this to your everyday regimen in sports conditioning can be a great way to improve overall performance as an athlete.