Mental Health for Athletes: Yoga and Meditation Class Series

In December of 2017 Eliza Jane (www.livewhereyourfeetare.com) and I created a series of yoga and meditation classes focusing on athletes’ mental health.

During the challenging time we are facing with Covid-19 I felt that republishing these tools could be helpful to many who are struggling with their mental health. 

As athletes, coaches and mindfulness teachers both Eliza and I have faced challenges with our own mental health. When designing these classes we identified three areas important for athletes to explore:

  1. Self-compassion
  2. Self-judgement
  3. Self-acceptance

“I meditate every day and I usually do it for ten or fifteen minutes in the morning, as that prepares me to face whatever comes next.” – Kobe Bryant

When it comes to sport, it’s important to continue to improve your game. However, when we translate this mentality into everyday life, it can be extremely stress-inducing, creating the potential for great mental health challenges like anxiety and depression.

Developing a mindful practice such as yoga and meditation can help you develop greater self-compassion, self-acceptance and become less judgmental, all of which can have a positive impact on your mental health.

Self-Compassion

“Deciding to be a better person makes us a better person, not beating ourselves up. – Jodi Aman

Excellence is developed through discipline, focus, dedication, a strong work ethic and high expectations. All of these qualities are extremely positive and should be taught, promoted and embraced.

When developing these traits many athletes believe that if they are not consistently hard on themselves they won’t get anything done. This is where self-compassion comes in.

Self-compassion is accepting ourselves fully; showing ourselves kindness exactly how we are in the present moment without judgment. Research now shows that self-compassion is a vital tool for life-long motivation and healthy behavior, and can actually improve athletic performance among high-level competitors. With more and more research on self-compassion coming out on athletes, we can begin to see that tough love may work temporarily but that cultivating self-compassion is even more important to overall performance and long term success.

The following meditation and yoga practices focus on developing a mindset of self-compassion.

Non judgement

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

Judging and comparison is at the very root of athletic competition and performance, i.e. we judge a team as “better” when they win the tournament or a race. This is an innate part of the competitive nature of athletes. However bringing this constant judgment and comparing mentality into your day to day life outside of athletics can be harmful to one’s mental health.

As an athlete, it is important to allow yourself the time and space to get away from the competitive nature of comparing and judging so that you can just “be.”

In both meditation and yoga you learn to let go of that judgement. For many when developing a mindfulness practice your attention will wander consistently and you begin to feeling like you are failing or are bad at mindfulness. There is no good or bad when practicing in a mindful way.

It is a practice of being aware of when your attention has been highjacked by thoughts and returning back to the present moment. Having the ability to see your judgements and then being able to eventually let them go.

The following meditation and yoga practice focus on developing a mindset of non-judgment.

Self-acceptance

Being you is enough. Of course go for your dreams and keep evolving, but you are enough. It is still something I am constantly learning. Some days I have to remind myself that yeah I didn’t crush five hours in the pool. Shoot I didn’t even work out at all.

Some days I walk my dog and everyone is happy. That is a good day. – Rebecca Soni

The practices of self-compassion and non-judgement lead towards self-acceptance. Many athletes have their entire identity built around being an athlete. It has been well documented on how this can impact an athlete when they retire, but it is just as impactful on them when competing.

When someone’s entire identity is built around one thing they often do not separate themselves from their performances. This can result in an athlete seeing a poor performance as indictment on who they are as a person. No matter how you perform it is important to accept yourself fully and whole-heartedly.

This meditation and yoga practice may feel uncomfortable and foreign at first, but over time self-acceptance will be the way in which you approach daily life.

 

All of these classes have been created to assist athletes improve their mental wellness and to support the Student-Athlete Mental Health Initiative

Click her to find out how you can support the Student-Athlete Mental Health Initiative.

This article and series of classes was a collaborative effort between Eliza Jane and Jeff Grace.

Remember that during the challenges we face with Covid-19 you can access free online Swimming-Specific Yoga class here.

The yoga classes in this series are taught by Jeff Grace is a registered yoga therapist.

Jeff holds diplomas in Coaching (Douglas College-New Westminster, BC) and High Performance Coaching (National Coaching Institute – Calgary, Alberta). He has a background of over 20 years coaching both swimmers and triathletes.

At the age of 26 Jeff was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder you can read more about his story here.

You can find out more about Jeff at www.swimmingspecificyoga.com

The meditation classes in this series are taught by Eliza Jane who received her Masters in Integrative Health from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Growing up, she played hockey on the national and collegiate level and is passionate about bringing mindfulness and self-compassion practices to athletes of all levels.

Mental Health

She lives in Vancouver, BC where she works as a wellness coach, meditation teacher, and group fitness instructor. To learn more about Eliza, visit her website at www.livewhereyourfeetare.com

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About Jeff Grace

Jeff Grace

Jeff is a 500 hour registered yoga teacher who holds diplomas in Coaching (Douglas College) and High Performance Coaching (National Coaching Institute - Calgary). He has a background of over 20 years in the coaching profession, where he has used a unique and proven teaching methodology to help many achieve their …

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