Merging Mind, Body & Emotions to Find the Spirit in Sport
In this day and age, there are countless approaches to fitness, wellness, nutrition and sports performance enhancement.We have access to many effective training modalities (cardio, strength, power, endurance, etc.), sub-modalities (free weights, functional training, stability ball, plyometrics, pilates, etc.) and cross-pollinations (yoga-lates, Tae-Bo, weights on stability balls, etc.). Thousands of dollars are spent each year researching tiny muscle fibers of the abdominals to determine the relevance of the “core” in movement. Millions of dollars are spent each year researching and promoting miracle nutrition and dietary supplement approaches. As an active participant of PTontheNet.com, I have the good fortune of connecting with a lot of the leading-edge thinkers and doers in the industry and sort of sitting in the eye of the hurricane of the immense range of theory, thought and practice.
It is indeed exciting to have access to such a myriad of advanced approaches to training the body, but in our efforts to achieve the physique or athletic performance we desire, and in our efforts to empower our clients and athletes to do the same, it is quite easy to forget that we are in fact far more than just a physical body. In our mad dash to learn the latest training techniques and to discover the perfect diet and fitness program to fit our specific body type, it is very easy to overlook the overriding power of THOUGHT and FEELING in our sport, vitality and life. In his book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Dr. Deepak Chopra tells us that, “We are the only creatures on earth who can change our biology by what we think and feel.” 1Indeed science and philosophy together are steadily proving that our thoughts and feelings have a huge effect upon – and in many ways create – our reality.
Our physical body does play a vital role in our life and sport performance – and an equally vital role in our work with clients – but it truly is only one spoke in the wheel. Ultimately, whatever physical changes our clients desire come from a deeper desire to change the way they think and feel about themselves or their endeavor (“If I lose weight, I will feel more confident and believe more in myself”). And fitness professionals are in a very fortunate position because often when we simply make a shift in someone’s physical body, that shift causes a natural and overflowing shift in their entire being. But perhaps there is a way to work at the goal from all sides simultaneously and therefore deepen, expand and accelerate our results on all levels. In my experience, I have found that the real key to achieving extraordinary results in any endeavor comes in our ability to powerfully align the energies of our mind, body and emotions toward a common goal. This convergence creates a fourth entity, which in my experience is far greater than any of the individual or even two elements combined.
The following article will explore the three-way partnership between the body, mind and emotions and the importance of their alignment to creating the true “spirit” of sport, vitality and life.
The Fastest Doesn’t Always Win the Race
If the physically fastest person always won the race, there would be no reason to race at all.
There would in fact be no such thing as sport. In my experience with world-class athletes, I have found that at the elite level, where the majority of athletes are close to their physical peak and many are actually capable of achieving a winning performance on any given day, the biggest challenge isn’t raising their physical ability to win but raising their mental and emotional ability to guide their body to perform at its best when it matters most. Those who experience extraordinary performances are sometimes – but certainly not always – the strongest, fastest or best physically prepared. In truth, the best performances come from those who most powerfully combine adequate physical preparation with a clear and focused mind and positively empowered emotions. In my experience, the winner is almost always the one who FEELS best on the day, and this sense of feeling often shines out from the person like a light, long before the race even begins.
In the fitness world, we talk about the need for symmetry and balance in the body between agonist and antagonist muscle groups, between left and right sides of the body, between flexibility, mobility and strength. We have learned the need to train movements in all three planes of motion, and I would say the same is true for working with ‘three planes of inner being’ - mind, body and emotions - in efforts to enhance our overall state or expression of skills or self in whatever we do.Just as we can usually trace movement limitations and dysfunction back to an overriding muscular imbalance or structural blockage in the body, we can almost always trace performance limitations – or an inability to achieve a desired goal – back to some imbalance or incongruence between what the mind is thinking, what the heart is feeling and what we are asking the body to do. A simple example of this often surfaces with out-of-shape individuals as they first embark on a fitness program. Their mind may become clear about what they must to do in terms of diet, exercise and lifestyle change, but their emotional attachment to certain foods or their underlying fear or reluctance to endure early phases of conditioning competes with (and often overrides) the plan they’ve created in their mind. Their body then responds with a mixed bag of partial commitment, partial compliance to the plan… and at best, partial results.
The Fittest Don’t Always Live the Longest
The mental, physical and emotional congruence needed for achieving and sustaining peak performance in sport is equally true for creating health, fitness and vitality in life. Medical researchers at various prestigious institutions now agree that thought and emotions are the primary factors in creating illness (and therefore health) in our bodies.2 This has been demonstrated powerfully with the use of placebos (dummy treatments such as sugar pills) in laboratory tests to successfully treat and relieve such conditions as post-surgery pain, asthma, allergies, warts, sleep disorders, obesity and many other afflictions.The same placebo treatments – which in themselves have no specific effects – have been used to cause intoxication, back pain, euphoria, blurred vision, increased libido and heart palpitations among individuals who expected such reactions!3 In short, our thoughts and feelings literally create our physical reality.
You may run a five-minute mile, eat all organic foods, exhibit perfect weight lifting form and the flexibility of a yogi, but if your mind and emotions aren’t positively aligned with your body, you will have great difficulty attaining your potential in sport, fitness, wellness or life.
As John Randolph Price says inThe Wellness Book, “Five miles of jogging may not cancel out five minutes of hostility. And all the vitamins on the shelf simply will not overcome the physical damage caused by daily doses of resentment and unforgiveness.”4
Indeed, our bodies are the world’s most powerful pharmacy and have the ability to powerfully, naturally support or degenerate our health in amazing ways. In one clinical study, scientists took the saliva from a man who was in a rage of anger, and through lab analysis, revealed the composition of the saliva to be the same as a rattlesnake’s venom! This saliva was then injected into small animals and each one died.5 Imagine the effect of this sort of chemical discharge in our own bodies. This is very powerful, especially when we consider that the chemical reaction of our body to 30 seconds of stress can stay in our body for up to six hours.
What is needed to attain true health and lasting fulfillment in sport and life is congruence, a sense of unity where the elements of our physical, emotional and mental bodies work synergistically with each other and add to what each may do individually. Consider our physical, emotional and mental body as the body, engine and driver of a car. Our physical body is like the car body – beautiful to look at and full of dynamic potential but relatively useless without an engine to propel it and a driver to steer its course. The engine of the car is like our heart, the internal and emotional energy source for all productive motion.Without it, we go nowhere, and yet as powerful and passionate as it may be, it too remains useless without a vehicle within which to express itself or a driver to guide its energy. The driver is our mind – our source of wisdom and clarity to see and navigate our way along the path. The driver’s role is equally vital, but without the car body and engine, he too will be left standing on the side of the road with his thumb out, waiting for a ride. As such, our thoughts, feelings and actions are equal partners in an interdependent journey, which can flow with the power and efficiency of a Formula One race car or stop, stutter and ultimately break down like an old jalopy.
BODY + MIND + EMOTIONS = SPIRIT
When our hearts and minds are aligned with what we ask our bodies to do, incredible things begin to happen. This space of confluence – the positive coming together of mind, body and emotion – is what creates the true “spirit” behind any endeavor or pursuit. Whether rock climbing, running a marathon, rehabbing an injury or healing a disease, our moments of positive congruence and true alignment are marked with levels of flow and achievement that often exceed our expectations and explanation! This is true not only in our own lives and endeavors but also in how we empower and facilitate the same sense of flow in our clients and athletes.
We have all experienced this feeling of flow at one time or another in sport, work, creative expression or with a loved one. In these moments, we are not concerned with results, with achieving a certain end or with what will happen next. We are simply and purely in the moment. Connected. We go from surfing on the wave to being part of the wave itself. From running on the trail to feeling as though our feet are not even touching the ground. Dynamic and expressive, yet totally natural and unforced. These moments of flow are often perceived as extraordinary and unexplainable “departures from normality,” but in truth they are simply outward glimpses of an inner congruence that is available to all of us, all of the time.
So how do we facilitate this sense of congruence in our daily lives? The full answer to this question is perhaps beyond the scope of this article, but the following steps will get you on the road to creating an empowering sense of inner connection with your external world and help you to integrate your mind, body and emotions into the spirit of what you desire. Try these steps yourself, and then explore their implications in the work you do with clients and athletes of all levels.
Step 1: Become Aware
Just as you might assess your clients’ physiology (posture, stability, etc.) before creating a physical training program, the first step to integrating the forces of mind, body and emotions is to observe them in relation to each other and to what you really want to achieve. As Louis L. Hay says in her book Heal Your Body:
Stop for a moment and catch your thought. What are you thinking right now? If thoughts shape your life and experiences, would you want this to become true for you? If it is a thought of worry or anger or hurt or revenge, how do you think this thought will come back to you? If we want a joyous life, we must think joyous thoughts. If we want a prosperous life, we must think prosperous thoughts. If we want a loving life, we must think loving thoughts. Whatever we send out mentally or verbally will come back to us in life form… Be willing to change your words and thoughts, and watch your life change. It’s your power and your choice. No one thinks in your mind but you.6
Pick an area of your life that you would like to improve or achieve something special, and take a moment to honestly assess your “state” of mind, body and emotions with regard to this area.Watch to see how your thoughts translate into feelings and emotions, and how those emotions empower (or disempower) your actions toward your goal.Do you have a clear vision in your mind of what you truly desire? Can you feel in your body what it would feel like to have or achieve that goal? Are your thoughts, feelings and actions working together to support your journey towards this goal, or are there areas of incongruence? Which of the three elements are strongest? Which ones are holding you back? On a scale from 1-10, where would you be if 10 is absolute unity and power?
Take a few moments to consider and write your responses to the above questions.
Step 2: Start With Your Body
If your thoughts and emotions are not fully in line with where you want to go, one of the fastest and most effective ways to shift your internal energy is by changing what you do with your body. If you are feeling upset, stressed out or frustrated, often the best first step is to stop what you are doing, take some deep breaths or go for a walk/run outside. This positive change in physiology will almost always have an equally positive effect on our mental and emotional states. How often do we have clients arrive in negative, stressed out or dis-empowered states, only to depart 60 minutes later feeling energized, positive and more relaxed about their lives? And while many trainers out there certainly have a natural gift for verbally coaching their clients and athletes through negative emotional patches, powerful positive emotional shifts often happen simply through powerful, positive movement and breath. When we move physically, we shift energy, and this movement often allows us to see and experience our circumstances with fresh perspective. In the words of world-renowned motivational speaker and personal coach Tony Robbins, “Motion creates emotion.”
Write a list of physical movements or activities that make you feel good, whole and connected. As simple as a deep breath or as committed as a trail run, what things do you or can you do on a regular basis to dispel negative energy and make you come alive?
Step 3: See the Highest Vision
Once you have elevated your overall “state” into the positive, the first step toward achieving true fulfillment in any area is to get clear about what you really want. We often gauge our ambitions and make decisions about our potential based on other people’s opinions or what we have experienced or achieved in the past, but seldom do we stop to truly ask ourselves, “Who do I really want to be? What do I want to do? And why?” (see Part 1 of the "Functional Integrated Life" article series for a more detailed exploration of this). Ask your mind what its highest vision for your life is, and listen to what it says.
In my experience working with individuals of all walks of life, the biggest challenge I have found is not to achieve our goals but to keep elevating our vision, to continually expand our perception and to stay open to what is truly possible. In truth, the only limits that exist in our world are those we impose upon ourselves or allow others to impose upon us.
Take time to create and write down your ultimate vision for your body, sport or life, and take time to do this with your clients.See the end result in as many details and colors as you can conjure, and allow that vision to continually expand and evolve. Don’t lock it in and don’t lock into how you think it should come about. The path always unfolds in ways that we never could imagine, and if we get too focused on climbing one specific hill, we could miss the chance to summit the full mountain beyond it. If you are dealing with a physical ailment, don’t focus your mental energy on “healing” your body or fixing the problem but on seeing and envisioning your body whole and healed. Spend time each day envisioning your absolute ultimate vision (in fact, any vision that makes you feel good), and each day strive to make that vision bigger, brighter, higher.
Take a moment right now to create a compelling vision for one or more areas of your life. See it in full color and write what you see.
It is so easy to get caught existing day-to day unconsciously, to get stuck in a state of reaction, simply responding moment to moment to what is most urgent or demanding rather than designing our life around what we truly want. But this is not really living. When we take time to set a clear and high intent for ourselves or for our clients, and when we connect emotionally to the purpose behind our actions, we become a cause set in motion. As our internal sails rise and catch wind of our conscious desire, we naturally begin to draw thoughts, ideas and experiences into our reality that support our intended direction.
Step 4: Build the Feeling of that Vision
Once you have created an empowering and inspiring vision in your mind for what you truly desire, the next step is to let that mental image permeate your emotional body and feel what it would feel like to bring this vision to fruition.Take a few moments to stand, breathe and move how you would if you had already achieved your goal. Do this right now. Embody the feeling of your ultimate vision in completed form. As we mentioned earlier, ultimately no matter what we or our clients want in life, we want it because of how we think it will make us feel. Why do we want to lose weight? So we will FEEL more energetic. Why do we want to win the race? So we will FEEL a sense of achievement. One of the keysto creating congruent flow in the body is to identify the emotional feeling underneath our goals and then generate these feelings in our bodies -in advance.
What is the feeling you will have when you have achieved or attained your vision? How will it feel in your body? What mental and emotional charge will come with this achievement?
Now make a list of all the things in your life that give you similar feelings to those your goal will bring you. I call this the Fulfillment List – list everything small and large that gives you or could give you some feeling of flow and fulfillment in your life. This can be as simple as watching a sunrise or as interactive as riding a wave on a surfboard. Once you have this list, the next step is to schedule these activities into your life on a regular basis so that you literally build the rhythm of that feeling. This seems quite simple, but the simple truth is that success breeds success – like attracts like – and as you learn to create these positive feelings in your daily life (even in small ways), two things occur. First, you become less dependent on achieving the big end goal to experience fulfillment in your life, and second, you actually generate a vibration in your body that tunes you in to the experiences you truly desire. In his book Cleanse and Purify Thyself, Dr. Richard Anderson explains it this way:
…our thoughts and feelings emit specific waves (like radio waves) of energy and vibration that influence the patterns within our bodies. The patterns of negative thought and feeling automatically create physical patterns that result in disease. The patterns of love and joy automatically create physical patterns that result in health, strength and vitality.7
Just like the tuner on a radio, we can only hear the music that’s playing on the station we’re tuned into. If we tune our thoughts and feelings into what’s wrong or missing (the radio “static”) in our lives – then we will naturally draw in experiences to support that focus. Tasks become difficult, people uncooperative and the path forward becomes unclear. However, when we tune into the positive feeling of that which we truly desire, and we allow ourselves to feel that feeling on a regular basis, then we will naturally align with and call into our reality the people, experiences and opportunities that support that state of being.
Step 5: Carry the Feeling Into Action
Create a schedule of physical activity in your life that not only supports your goals in a physical sense but also serves to expand your mental vision and empower your emotions. In practical terms, often the best initial step to carrying positive energy into our lives is to take time to cultivate it within our selves on a daily basis. This time for SELF is often the first thing to go out the window when we start getting busy, but in truth, it should be the last thing we ever sacrifice. If we don’t take time for ourselves, we will eventually find that we have very little to give anyone else. Many of the world’s great leaders and masters have honored this rhythmic exchange between public expression and solo retreat as a way to keep perspective and stay energized in their missions – and so should we. I know that my own morning ritual of movement and connection (a combination of exercise, meditation and journal writing) makes the absolute difference in my day between stressed effort and inspired flow. By taking time each morning to connect with and charge up our body, mind and heart, we literally raise our level of consciousness and ultimately make it possible to give a lot more to our work and clients throughout the day.
What are a few things you could do every morning that would ensure you were in a peak, empowered and aligned state going into the day?
From there, let us make a commitment to be aware of our thoughts, feelings and actions throughout the day, and when in doubt, simply ask the question, “Does this activity support my (or my client’s) ultimate vision on all levels?” Bottom line: The more actions we take on the outside world that make us feel good about ourselves, the faster and more powerfully our minds and hearts will come into alignment with our goals. And interestingly, these actions don’t always need to be directly related to our goal. In fact, sometimes when we hit a sticking point or obstacle in the path, the best thing is not to force the issue but to focus our attention on what isworking and then let the rhythm of that activity flow into the area that is not. As fitness professionals, we often experience this on the gym floor with clients. Sometimes the best way to train a new movement pattern is to begin with one that works, and then use that positive movement as a reference point to carry over into the challenged pattern. So it is with life - when we take time first to connect with the feeling of all that is right and good and working in our lives, we can then carry that energy and perspective into the other more challenging areas.
Ripples of the Wave…
I believe we are born into a world of truly limitless possibility, and while much of our conditioning has served to scatter our energy and efforts over time, when we take the time to align our body, mind and emotions with our very highest vision, we open the gateway to truly empowered work, achievement and existence on all levels. As a coach, I have always put much more focus on the personal, inner journey of the individuals I coach than on what the scoreboard says. This approach is occasionally met with initial resistance, but I have found that when the spirit is aligned and the approach is "holistic," the results always speak amazingly for themselves.
As we launch further into the technology age, we may find that the most profound breakthroughs and scientific achievements will not be found in external inventions but rather in the breakthroughs of our own "inner technology," as we learn to powerfully harness all that we think, feel, say and do into the true spirit of what we desire.
- Deepak Chopra, M.D., Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, (New York, NY: Harmony Books, 1994),pg. 4.
- John Randolph Price, The Wellness Book (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc., 1998), p. 6.
- George Leonard & Michael Murphy, The Life We Are Given (New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam), p. 100.
- Price, pg. 13.
- Dr. Hal Huggins D.D.S., The Price of Root Canals. Available from Dr. Huggins office at +1-719-522-0566.
- Louise L. Hay, Heal Your Body (Carlsbad, CA.: Hay House, Inc., 1988), p. 3.
- Dr. Richard Anderson, N.D., N.M.D. (Mt. Shasta, Calfornia: Christobe Publishing), p. 20.
This article emerged from a similarly themed piece by Chip Richards titled “Spirit in Sport,” which appeared in the November 2004 issue of Fitness Life Magazine, New Zealand.