Practicing Mindfulness in Times of Uncertainty 

Practicing Mindfulness in Times of Uncertainty

Hi everyone.  It’s coach Suzanne here.  I hope you’re all doing well. I hope you’re staying healthy and have been able to adjust to all the craziness and everything that’s been going on in the last couple of weeks.

I’m here to talk to you today because I know things have been weird.  For a lot of you, practices have been canceled, maybe you’ve had meets, competitions, or games that have been canceled.  It’s possible your whole season has suddenly ended.  For those of you dealing with that, it can be really stressful and it can be disappointing, so one of the things that I want to talk about tonight is mindfulness.  How can we stay mindful with all of the chaos and all of the uncertainty?  It feels like everyone’s losing their minds.

What is mindfulness?

Maybe you’re familiar with this, maybe you’re not.  Either way, it’s okay. How I like to think about mindfulness is being in the present moment – not worrying about what’s happened in the past, not worrying about what’s to come in the future, but what am I experiencing right here, right now in this moment.

I feel like this is a pretty timely topic because we’re all so uncertain.  We don’t know what the future holds, we don’t know when we’re going to get to go back to practice, but if we’re able to practice mindfulness, we can worry about what’s happening right here, right now.

How does mindfulness apply to sport?

Maybe you just had a bad routine or a bad game or swim, or you’ve just had a bad event, but then you have another one coming up in a few minutes – you have to be able to stay in that present moment.  If you’re on the balance beam and you fall off, you get back on and you’re thinking about that fall.  If you’re thinking, “Oh, I just fell off.  What if I fall off again,” chances are you’re going to fall off again.

Instead, if you fall off, you say, “Okay, I fell off.  Get back on.  Now I’m on my next move.  What am I doing right here, right now?”  That’s mindfulness.  That’s how we’re going relate it to sport.  I have a few different exercises that we’re going to practice.

Mindful Breathing

With mindfulness, we like to have something that’s going to center us, that’s going to ground us – something to focus on.  Oftentimes, that’s breathing.  To practice mindful breathing, what I would like you to do (you don’t have to necessarily do this right now, but to practice it in the future) is close your eyes.  Sit down somewhere quiet and just breathe.  Focus on the breath.

Here’s the tricky part – don’t try to do anything with the breath.  I know a lot of you have probably learned diaphragmatic breathing, which is taking those deep breaths to relax.  Those are great, and they work really well for relaxation, but for mindfulness, we’re not necessarily trying to relax, we’re just trying to be present, so I don’t want you to do any of that.  As I said, it might be a little bit tricky because when you start to think about something, you want to try to change it, but just notice what it feels like to breathe.

What do you notice?

Things you may take note of – is my breath hot?  Is it cold?  Is it shallow? Is it deep?  What does it feel like as it enters my nose and it goes down through my lungs and my diaphragm?  Then that air comes back out, meaning breathing out for my mouth.  Can you just notice what that breath feels like?  That’s mindful breathing.

Just try doing that for five minutes to start with.  It might seem easy to just sit and breathe, but remember, the key part is you’re focusing on the breath.  That means you might have little thoughts that pop into your mind.  Five minutes of focusing on the breath can feel like an eternity, so little thoughts like, “Oh, I have to do that homework assignment,” or, “Oh, I need to do that conditioning that my coach has given me,” notice the thoughts and switch the thought to, “I’m supposed to be focusing on my breath.  I have a thought.  That’s okay.  I’m going to push that thought out and then I’m going to go back to focusing just on the breath.”

It might be a little bit difficult at first.  Try it for just a couple minutes, and then the next day, maybe a minute longer, and the next day, maybe you’re up to five minutes by then.

Mindful Body Scan

Now again, some of you guys may have done progressive muscle relaxation before.  That’s a perfect technique to use when you’re anxious and you really need to get completely relaxed.  Progressive muscle relaxation is great, but we’re going to do it a little bit differently.  Instead of like tensing and relaxing our muscles, we’re going to just notice them with a body scan.

Start at the Bottom

I’m going to start with my feet.  I’m going to close my eyes so I’m not distracted by anything, and just notice, “What do my feet feel like right now?  Are they hot?  Are they cold?  Do I have any pain, any discomfort?  Are they relaxed?”

Your turn (now or in the future when you’re ready).  You’re going to close your eyes and notice the physical sensations of your body, not trying to change anything.  You’re not trying to necessarily relax.  Now, you might feel more relaxed after doing it, and that’s common, but that’s not necessarily what we’re trying to do.

Moving Up

Once you start to notice things at the bottom, you’re going to start to move up the body.  You’re on your lower legs.  Do you notice anything about them?  Are they tight?  Do you feel any pain?  Do you feel any discomfort?  Do they feel good?  What do  you feel? And then you move up to your right upper legs, to your hips and pelvis, to your core, your chest.  Then move to your back, shoulders, neck, and arms, all the way up to you face.

That’s the body scan.  I cannot emphasize enough not trying to change anything.  You’re just going to notice.  Remember, mindfulness is all about being in the present moment – what am I experiencing right now, not, what did I do earlier or what am I going to right now?  What do I feel?

Those are just two mindfulness exercises.  You can do them for just a few minutes at a time.  If you are a member of PerformHappy, Coach Rebecca has several other mindfulness exercises available to you, so you can also listen to and try those by clicking here.

How can you apply this?

I know a lot of you are used to going to school and now all of a sudden you’re doing school at home.  Maybe you like it, or maybe you’re thinking, “Oh, this is weird.  My mom is telling me what to do.  She’s my teacher now,” or you’re trying to navigate doing it online.  That can be a little bit awkward at first because you’re not used to it.  So how can you be mindful doing school at home now?

Let’s take math, for example.  If you have math problems you have to do, I want you to set aside a certain amount of time – 30 minutes, and for the next 30 minutes, say to yourself, “I’m doing math.  I’m not going to be distracted by anything else.  I’m not going to be thinking about what I’m going to do later,” you’re just going to be present in doing your math problems.  Whether math is your favorite subject or your least favorite subject, it doesn’t matter.  That’s what you’re going to do right here, right now for the next 30 minutes.

Hide Your Phone

It’s so hard to be mindful if you have your phone next to you, buzzing with your friends texting you.  In order to be mindful, you have to put the phone away, get off of social media and really be present in what you’re doing right then and there.

Go for a Walk

Another thing that I want to suggest to you, and I want to preface this by saying to make sure you’re heeding the advice and the regulations of your local officials, but if you can, go for a mindful walk.  When I say a mindful walk, I don’t mean just going out daydreaming or talking to your mom or sibling who’s going for a walk with you, but be present in what you’re experiencing.

Use Your Senses

What do you see?  It’s springtime right now so maybe things around your neighborhood are blooming and you didn’t even notice them before.  What do you smell?  What do you hear?  What do you feel physically when you’re walking?  Again, something that we do almost naturally, we don’t have to think about walking, but try to notice what you feel while you’re walking.  Make sure it’s allowed.  For most of us, they are saying you can go out for a walk.  You are allowed to go out and get some exercise as long as we’re keeping away from people.

I’m not telling you to walk to your friend’s house, but get outside, be mindful, and be aware of what you’re experiencing.

Journaling

A lot of the athletes I work with know already that I am a big fan of journaling.  I have them do it quite a bit.  When you’re journaling over these next few weeks, I want you to be aware of what you’re feeling right now.  There are no right or wrong feelings.  Maybe you’re feeling disappointed that your season got cut short.  Maybe you’re feeling anxious that you don’t know when you’re going back to practice. You might be feeling sad.  I had one athlete this week tell me, “Don’t tell my mom, but I’m feeling kind of relieved.  I was really nervous for state and I’m kind of relieved that it got canceled.”  There’s not a right or wrong to how you’re feeling, but just being aware.

Timing

When it comes to journaling, the best time to do it is right after you’ve done one of those mindfulness exercises that I talked about.  If you do five minutes of mindful breathing, you’re really centered.  You’re really in tune with your body and yourself, and that’s a great time to then take five to ten minutes to just write how you’re feeling.

How to Journal

When it comes to journaling, you can do it in a classic journal notebook, you can just write it on paper, you can type it if you feel better and it’s easier for you to type.  It can be a narrative, it can be bullet points – again, there is no right or wrong.  This is not something that you’re turning in for a class assignment.  This is just for you.

Gratitude

I know coach Briley mentioned in her last blog post about being grateful and gratitude journaling.  I just want to reiterate what she said.  When we journal, we are taking the time to say, what we are grateful for today, Especially with everything that’s going on, it’s easy to get caught up in a negative mindset because everything is canceled and you have to stay home… but take time to think, “What am I grateful for?”

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is I’m really grateful for technology.  Right here, right now, I can connect with you.  I can still connect with my athletes, with my students.  I can pick up my phone and FaceTime my friends and my family and stay connected, so I’m feeling really, really grateful for the technology that I have right now.

I’m feeling grateful for my health, as well.  Maybe some of you feel grateful for your coaches, for that conditioning that they’re giving you.  It’s easy to get caught up in the, “Ugh, I have to do conditioning at home now.  I don’t like this,” but, you can think about as, “Oh, I get to still work on my strength and stay in shape even if I don’t get to practice at the gym,” or on the court or wherever it is.

Alright, everyone.  That’s all I’ve got for tonight.  To recap, practice being mindful, being in the present moment.  I shared with you those two different mindfulness exercises you can use – mindful breathing and the mindful body scan, both of which you’re just being aware of your physical sensations.  I also talked about going for a mindful walk if you can, when you can, and then journaling – how do you feel and what are you grateful for?

I hope you are all staying safe and staying healthy.  Take care and I will talk to you all soon.

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