Kylee Toth - Mindfulness
This is an uncertain and anxiety-filled time for many people, with routines being interrupted, forced changes to schedules, finances, and lifestyles...
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Uncertainty often leads to anxiety and anxiety leads to tension, grumpiness, control and sometimes panic. Whether you're a high-performance athlete or recreationalist cultivating mindfulness and learning techniques to deal with stress and uncertainty is an invaluable life skill.
As an athlete and human you have a quiver of tools that you have been harnessing and practicing for years most likely unconsciously to deal with uncertainty you just have to be clever and tap into these techniques when needed. I have been a high-performance athlete for over twenty years and competed at a world level but in reality, the times I have used mindfulness training the most have been during high-stress moments in my personal life from having kids, getting out of an abusive relationship, dealing with the death of a friend or loved one.
Mindfulness training helps you connect with who you are and refocus and reframe your outlook on life. With the world embroiled in fear and a lot of uncertainty swirling around, checking in with yourself has never been more important or valuable. I have answered some questions below. I hope it helps you cultivate your own mindfulness practice.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness by definition is a psychological process of purposely bringing one’s attention to the experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment this can often occur through practicing meditation or other training.
What are some ways that you experience calm or self-awareness?
For me being an athlete most of my life I have been able to find and practice mindfulness in two ways, physical mindfulness and still mindfulness. For me, physical mindfulness comes more easily and occurs when I am engaging in an activity or sport; running, climbing, skiing, biking, etc. I am so engaged in what I am doing that my attention can only be in the moment. A challenge for many athletes myself included is when we are injured or less able to engage in physical mindfulness we often struggle. Still, mindfulness has been something I have worked on and continue to cultivate. For me, this is through two avenues, art and meditation often accompanied by journaling. I believe in God so my personal form of meditation is prayer but self-reflection, stillness, and breathing are all intentional ways to cultivate still mindfulness.
How do you employ those techniques during sports?
I am able to use physical mindfulness when I race very easily through positive self-talk (repeating mantras such as, “the harder you run the sooner you're done,” or “strong and steady,” “quitting is not an option” etc.) also the demanding nature of training and racing just puts most people naturally into a state of physical mindfulness. Still, mindfulness is something I use if I can’t sleep the night before or for pre-race jitters. I will often go to the bathroom or find a quiet spot before my race and take 1-5 minutes to just be still close my eyes and calm myself by repeating a mantra or praying.
How is mindfulness different in each sport and how is it the same?
I think every sport is a bit different depending on the specific demands of the discipline. It is also important to note that paramount to the sporting discipline is actually the individual and how they best function. For some being pumped up using music and physical movement helps them get into an optimal state of mindfulness for performance for others stillness and calming is preferred.
It is interesting to watch the Olympics or other sporting events to see techniques athletes employ. Climbers often use visualization of moves, Sliding athletes such as bobsledders use visualization to practice cornering and aggression such as pounding their thighs or helmet to pump them up. Basketball players, hockey and soccer often go through a methodical set of warmup drills and skills practice.
In ski racing I use a combination of techniques; first calming, I rarely warm up early I prefer to stay warm and sit quietly and conserve my energy. About 10 minutes or so before the race starts I put on a mix I made called, “Kylee’s get Aggressive playlist,” the music helps to put me in a mental state to push hard and have fun. I make a playlist like this at the start of every season and listen to the same one during all my hard workouts. It conditions my mind mentally to know when I hear those songs it's time to give.
How does that practice enhance your life?
Practicing physical and still mindfulness daily draws my awareness away from problems, worry, and anxiety and helps me to focus on the present and in the moment. The practice itself of being able to harness a certain mental state at any time is an amazing tool to have when faced with less than optimal situations like delayed flights, a noisy hotel, feeling a bit sick, relationship uncertainty and just general life stress. Just like physical training, mindfulness is something that takes practice.
The most efficient way to get better at something is to work with a coach or mentor who can guide you through the experience. Contact me at [email protected]
Recommended apps, books or website to help a beginner
• Buy yourself a nice journal I like to use a simple guided journaling format:
• How am I feeling? What’s on my mind? Responses can be both how you are feeling and doing mentally and physically
• Is there anything I can do to change or mitigate these feelings or stressors? If so, this is a good time to jot a “to do” list.
• Close your eyes and take 5-10 deep breaths and let go of the stressors above, if you have time to do more breaths. I often pray during this time but repeating a mantra such as “still and slow,” or focusing on a pleasant image can also work. If you are having a lot of trouble letting go of stress sometimes counting backward from 100 or another mental exercise such as consciously tensing and releasing your muscles starting from your toes to your head can help to bring your awareness to the present.
• Write down some positive truths or affirmations about yourself or the day ahead. An example might be, “I am strong and healthy and I can tackle whatever is coming.” or something simple like, “I can’t wait to drink my coffee and look out the window at the blue sky day.”
• Other resources:
• Mindfulness Apps: such as Calm
• Art Supplies- Small travel sets of acrylics or watercolors or even simpler a sharpie and a nice art pad of paper
Photo by ®Kent Toth
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kylee Toth Ohler is a member of the La Sportiva Ski Team.
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