Be Self Aware to Master Mental Fitness amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Mental fitness is an athlete’s ability to optimally regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior consistently during the various demands placed upon him/her throughout the athletic career.
Kabaddi requires a lot of mental focus, a responsive and aware brain along with physical fitness. Mental fitness is as important as physical fitness. The techniques we share are used by elite athletes to achieve great results; however, in this lockdown period when physical contact is to be avoided, practicing the game mentally and working on your weaknesses is a great way to utilize this time. While our Indian athletes are doing great in terms of physical strength, a loophole that I commonly find is a lack of focus on mental training. As physical training along with proper nutrition and recovery makes up a great physically fit athlete, but all of this when combined with mental training can make an athlete reach heights of their sporting career.
In a study done by Kumar S G (2001) on Indian Kabaddi players, they report that our kabaddi players need to develop control over their negative energy, manage their attention and learn techniques like mental imagery. Also in an interview, emphasizing the importance of mental toughness, Indian raiding star Rahul Chaudhari said, "It is not just about physical toughness. You also need immense mental toughness. You need your mind to work in every direction as both the eyes should be aware of every player in the opposition. If your eyes fail to catch the movement of any of the seven players, any one of them can tackle you. Yes, you need strength in this game but at the same time you also need your brain to work and be cautious of every movement of the opposition, it is simply a combination, not just one thing.”
The ability to rule our own mind is a skill when acquired is the best sword one can own. Emphasizing the importance of this, the famous story of Arjuna hitting the bird’s eye while others couldn’t. What made him different from other warriors was his mental focus, which was so strong that he could just see the bird’s eye, while others could see everything else around it. The story shows how others couldn’t separate their goal from the distractions from their path. Arjuna ignored everything else and maintained a sharp focus only on his target. Just like Arjuna, when a raider enters the opponent team’s side, his main target has to be well focused and often decided in advance, while other distractions shouldn’t affect his concentration. Keeping the chaos of fear and competition aside, the raider needs to focus on the things that matter the most.
So, how can an athlete develop a mental edge? Just like physical training, mental fitness also requires lots of deliberate practice. Just the way you mastered the skill of a good thigh hold or a Dubki starting from basics and then improving the skill gradually. Similarly mastering your brain needs to start with the basics of self-awareness and then progress to advanced techniques.
“One can train the brain’s emotional circuitry as one can train the biceps muscles”
Below I have discussed few mental cues and techniques to help train your mind:
1. SELF-AWARENESS: Firstly, an athlete needs to increase his self-awareness. As amid lockdown, an athlete has a lot of time which can be utilized to work upon self-awareness. To be aware of self, one needs to start living in the present. Although you may think you are self-aware and brag about living in the present, it is often not true. Close your eyes right now, and start trying to be in this moment exactly where you are and see how you feel in your body, you will realize you did not notice many things about present self because your brain was always occupied with memories of past or worries of future. When you fire and wire the same circuit in the brain over and over again, you are constantly living in the past. Based on the emotional state we send and receive information from the environment around us.
To come out of this we need to create positive energy by changing how we feel and think to prepare our body and mind for our future. When we start living in the present, our brain is neither thinking of past nor preparing for the future. Our brain is thoughtless and in a zone of nothingness, that is when we open ourselves to the magic of manifestations.
- BREATH AWARENESS: It is a basic technique to teach our brain to live in the present. To practice this sit in a comfortable position in a secluded place, close your eyes and take three deep breathes, and then feel your body relaxing with every breath then start focusing on the natural breath coming in and out from your nose. The whole attention of your brain has to be on your nasal area guarding every breath as it goes in and out, sense the air touching your nostril and observe whether air is coming from the left or right nostril. Continue focusing on your breath constantly for 15 minutes or more. You will notice that your brain keeps on wandering here and there instead of focusing on the breath. Become aware of these distracting thoughts and calmly bring your attention back to the breath. Practice this daily and teach your brain how to live in the present.
- ELEVATED POSITIVE EMOTIONS: When you are in a zone of nothingness, feel elevated emotions like love, joy, passion, motivation, thankfulness, etc. from your heart and maintain that elevated state throughout your meditation.
- IMAGERY: It is a tool which when used regularly can yield marvelous results. After becoming aware of the present moment, being in a state of elevated emotions; one can imagine the skill which he/she wants to practice. There are various methods by which you can practice imagery depending upon the aim of meditation. The methods are illustrated below in the figure:
- To enhance physical performance
- To reduce pre-competition anxiety
- To help recover from injuries
- Prevents from skill deterioration caused by injury or immobility.
- To improve general well being and state of mind.
So, start the desired method of visualization with a positive emotional state in an aware state of mind. You will be shocked to see them manifest in the future when you least expect them from unknown sources. Using these methods regularly not just during COVID 19 Pandemic but throughout the year will definitely yield good mental status and prepare you for the future. In the next few articles, I will be discussing various topics like how to handle in-competition stress, boost confidence, Imagery during an injury, etc. in my next article.