Over the course of the summer I have had the pleasure of working with a local gymnastics company. I've been doing conditioning and yoga with their competitive girls. A few had taken a yoga class or two and that's about all the exposure they've had.
I remember telling a few people that I was going to be teaching gymnasts yoga and the response was like, "but why, they are so flexible and strong already?". True enough but they are strong and flexible in just the things they work at. Like any person, you become skilled at what you put effort into. I was, and still am sometime baffled at the fact there are some poses they cant do or cringe at as I show them it.
But aside from their strength and flexibility, two big parts of any athletes training is mental focus and learning the ability to relax. Especially for competitive athletes. Here is where I think simple Savasana is important. This seems sort of simple doesn't it? Relaxing I mean. I sometimes think I'm the master of it with my Netflix binges. I don't think it's quiet so simple for athletes to do this.
Bringing me back to the gymnasts, at the beginning of the summer, our first Savasana was a bit "rough". Most, if not all of the girls were fidgeting, some kept opening their eyes and looking around, and some were even still talking. Now I can completely understand the awkwardness of their first Savasana. Not to mention they are 7-12 years old. I'm pretty sure at 7 I personally had the attention span of a goldfish.
Some of my wording with these girls is "Lying down in Savasana, working out any last stretches, itches and scratches and finding that comfortable spot." Little more talking and as they settle down say "coming to lying completely still". Over the summer they would tell me that every time I said that they would all of a sudden have an itch again. I know. That's the point. Stay still. Let that itch be all you think of or let that stuff go. Sounds weird that you wouldn't scratch an itch right? But the itch only comes because they basically mentally created it from me saying that. Makes sense that mentally they itch it I think. Let it go. Relax.
Mental focus, or unfocus for that matter. As a competitive athlete there is a million things that can go wrong or we do wrong. This is why we practice. While learning not to point our foot that way or grab this way on the bar, we also need to learn to let go afterwards. Constantly focusing on the way we are bouncing off the board incorrectly or the "itch" is the same thing. Honor it for what it is, learn from it and let it go.
Finally, last week was our last summer session. And before sending them off to their final weekend of summer, school starting and coming to focus on training for competition season over the fall I had them in a 10 minute Savasana. And wow. Almost from the time they put their heads on the mat they were still and peaceful. For the full 10 minutes. To the very moment I started with "starting to slowly move the body". That's progress if I ever saw some. I mean I can't tell you what's going on in their heads, but as young, high energy athletes (that talk A LOT) seeing them still, speachless and relaxed for a full 10 minutes was amazing. My hope for them is that they be able to take that ability to relax the mind and body during high stress times, say the evenings after a day of competing.
I'm excited to work with them through the fall and can't wait to see them grow even more.
As an athlete, what do you do to unwind and relax from the stresses of training?