Editorial by Tom Demerly.
I love that term. It describes the ability to control
involuntary functions such as heart rate, respiration
and even pain perception.
Think of the ramifications:
What if you could practice neurophysiological autoregulation
while running a 6:30 mile and lower your heart rate
by 10 beats per minute, or lower your respiration, or
both? Think of the energy you could save, think how
much faster you could go. If you had mastery over that
mystic thing you call "myself" think of the
barriers you could break down. If you could train yourself
to see only possibilities instead of obstacles think
what you could do. Heck, even if you have some failures,
what difference does it make? You're on your way to
bigger and better things.
I'm not selling anything here, no weird "self-help"
crap that helps you tap into the inner you or any of
that. What I do want to tell you about are two things
that are really one, and how working on connecting the
two can benefit your enjoyment of the sport (and everything)
and your performances.
I so often hear athletes speak of their "mind"
and their "body" as two separate things. As those
these two entities are exclusive and operate in opposition to
one another: "My mind wanted to go harder but my body just
Your mind and your body are not two things; they
are one. They are interconnected and interdependent. When the
integration between the two is complete there is no opportunity
for opposition. To understand the basics of this let's talk
about two strategies for exercise:
Association and disassociation.
Associative athletes are like a fighter pilot
in control of his aircraft. They are constantly monitoring their
systems and maintaining a high degree of situational awareness.
They know how they feel and why they feel that way and are in
acceptance, not at odds, with it. Associative athletes thought
patterns, if verbalized, might sound something like this: "My
footstrike feels good, these new shoes are an improvement. I'm
running very level today. I feel warm, I need to be sure I am
hydrating, I will hydrate at the next opportunity. My knees
hurt today but it just feels like soreness, not an injury coming.
I think I can speed up a little and I will begin that a little
now. Good. I like this, I think I can hold this for at least
a moment. OK, Good, I can continue another moment at this speed.
Ok, my respiration is higher but I can sustain this
Associative athletes, a group which includes most elite athletes,
are thinking about what they are doing while they are doing
it. They have a high state of arousal during a given activity.
Associative athletes are proactive. They are in control and
maintain control. They are always producing results at or very
near their absolute physiological limits. There is a direct
and constant link between their body and mind.
Disassociative athletes are the ones who are thinking
about other things when they are training or racing: "Oh,
my boyfriend is a dick, I wish my Walkman was louder. I forgot
to pay my cell phone bill. I wonder why my friend Al doesn't
like me anymore, I can't wait to get this over with so I can
do some laundry
" Disassociators tend to think of
everything but what they are doing at the moment. They like
"distraction" while training and racing, such as music
or other thoughts. They are usually not in touch with their
body until it is complaining so loud that they can't ignore
it anymore. It is no surprise that disassociative athletes make
up the majority of recreational athletes. And injured ones.
In the grand scheme of philosophical things disassociators
are usually running away from something. Associators are usually
running toward a higher level of awareness and capability.
Acknowledging that the quality of your athletic
experience will be improved if you become an associator brings
us back to neurophysiological autoregulation. If you can begin
to master or, more accurately "accept and facilitate"
your body's operation during training and racing you can enhance
your experience and performance. To coin a granola, new age
term, you are more "in the moment".
Try this: Think about nothing for 60 seconds.
Absolute nothing for an entire 60 seconds. It's hard isn't it.
Thoughts keep creeping in. Bills to pay, things you forgot,
whether or not you're doing this correctly. It is hard to completely
empty your mind. Achieving this relaxed state is the first exercise
in learning neurophysiological autoregulation and unlocking
the key to associative exercise. It is like the Buddhist's say
"It's not the walls of the bowl that make it useful, it's
the empty space inside." To begin with associative athletics
you must start with an open, relaxed mind.
Now, give this a try: Lay down on the floor and
try to systematically relax your entire body from head to toe.
Concentrate on each body part as you relax it, think about your
breathing and visualize your breath as a thin curtain blowing
in and out as you inhale and exhale. Start at your feet and
work up. Notice how heavy your body becomes. If this works it
should start to feel like a big blob of goo all spread out on
the floor. You feel heavy and soft. The only thing holding you
up is your skeleton. This is the state from which you begin
the process of neurophysiological autoregulation: A state of
With your mind empty and your body relaxed you
can see that, by wearing a heart rate monitor, you can concentrate
on lowering your heart rate, controlling your respiration and
becoming more efficient. There is nothing hocus-pocus about
this. Because associative athletes are only focusing on one
task at a time (their running, cycling or swimming; whatever
they're doing at the moment) they are more efficient and use
less energy. There are no distractions. They are on task and
in control. Thoughts of failure and compromise do not enter
their mind because their mind is already filled with other things.
Constructive things. And this becomes a reciprocating "upward
spiral" of positive mental energy. Yuu do not exist at
odds with your body, but rather work in concert with it.
You will notice this works in both directions:
Sure, you lay down and relax and your heart rate goes down.
That's no surprise. But try this: As you lay there, monitoring
your breathing and muscle tonus, staying relaxed and focused
only on the thoughts at hand- visualize your next workout. In
vivid detail. Visualize getting dressed to go outside. Visualize
the sensations connected with the efforts of the first few steps
or pedal strokes. Now notice that despite the fact that you
haven't moved a muscle your heart rate is climbing. You can
affect the state of arousal your body is in by what you are
thinking and picturing.
Although this editorial amounts to a ramble about
mental training my point is to illustrate that we do have control
over our bodies through our minds. It is funny that an athlete
who has never even addressed their "mental game" let
alone tried to optimize it will spend thousands on equipment
and racing and not once work on the one thing that could net
them the greatest results: Their mind.
It may not be good for business to say so, but
the greatest obstacle we all face are our own perceived limitations.
And the greatest opportunity for improvement is how we think
of ourselves as an athlete and how well we get along with that
big bag of skin that hangs below our brain called our bodies.
Work on your mental game. You won't regret it.
us your feedback on this editorial here.