Head coach Tony Fagelman talks relaxation part 2

Head coach Tony Fagelman talks relaxation - part 2

Date: Wednesday 13th May 2020 at Whittlesford

This is part 2 of the article on Relaxation and follows on from the previous one. In the last article, we looked at Muscle-to-Mind strategies. This time we're going to look at Mind-to-Muscle strategies.

Using my own experience, I have to say although I used a combination of techniques to achieve a controlled emotional state before I competed, including meditation, it is probably this use of self-hypnosis, this Mind-to-Muscle strategy, that I used the most. For some of you I have tried to give you my method (prior to my new learning, via my studying), and I hope you found it useful. Below is a more considered and scientific approach to the strategies.

To recap on what I said in the previous article; mind to muscle includes, is a meditation and imagery to train the mind to release the tension. An outcome of Mind-to-Muscle strategies is the ability to achieve 'momentary relaxation' This technique allows you to quickly and efficiently achieve a state of relaxation prior to activity, it will reduce muscular tension, removing worry and anxiety and lead to enhanced body awareness. If you can achieve this in the moments before competing, or attempting a new skill, then your chances of success increase massively.

Mind-to-Muscle skills and strategies:

These focus on nerve control, using meditation, visualisation and self-generating (autogenic) training.

Find a comfortable position and quiet environment to practice these to begin with. Over time you will find that these are really helpful to put you in a state of calm and restfulness and you will be able to do them anywhere. I found them particularly helpful to perform just before I competed. I would do my warm-ups, then find a quiet (darkened) corner and undertake some of the following exercises.

Exercise 1: Meditation

Regular practice of mediation will help you to achieve a state of deep relaxation and will allow you to concentrate the mind on what you are about to undertake. It works for everything, not just sport. Use it for study and physical activity, it is a very useful tool.

There are four basic components to most forms of mediation; a quiet environment (although this can be overcome); a comfortable position; a mental device (a mantra or a fixed gaze, I used the fixed gaze) and a passive attitude. Do not worry about how well you are performing the technique as this just disrupts the effects of the meditation. Just let it happen, embrace the moment and be part of the activity. The most important element is the 'passive attitude' by this we mean be mindful, relaxed and open. Don't worry if you find your mind wandering, just re-focus and bring it back. The more you practice the easier it becomes.

Here is a method you can use to find a meditation. If this doesn't work, have a search on the internet, there are lots of different types out there.

  1. Sit quietly in a comfortable position
  2. Close your eyes
  3. Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them as relaxed as possible
  4. Concentrate on your breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth. As you breathe out say the word 'calm' or 'warm' or something that evokes a sense of relaxation. Breath easily and naturally repeating the word in your head with every exhalation.
  5. Continue for 10-20 minutes (I know it's a long time, but you can shorten this). Don't use an alarm to let you know as this will be disturbing, just open your eyes occasionally to check the time. Don't worry about the time, that's another distraction.
  6. When you complete the time, don't immediately stand up, sit with your eyes closed for several more minutes, opening them after a couple of minutes. Stand when you feel you are comfortable. Don't worry if you don't achieve a deep sense of relaxation at first. Just try to remain passive by letting it happen. Try to practice this once or twice daily, but avoid doing it within an hour of eating (food digestion is a noisy process and can interfere with the relaxation)

Exercise 2: Visualisation

This harks back to my previous article on Imagery. If you have trained yourself in good quality imagery then this method may work for you.

Visualise yourself in a place where you feel the most comfortable and relaxed, on a beach, in bed, on your sofa. Listen the gentle sounds around you and the comfortable heat of the surroundings. Feel yourself drift into a sense of calm relaxation.

Whenever you want to reach that state, find that image in your head and put yourself back in the place. Aim to be able to reach the place quickly and feel relaxed and calm on entering it.

Exercise 3: Autogenic training

Used extensively in eastern European countries during the cold war, its is a form of self-hypnotisation and is the method I mostly used when competing. This can take quite a lot of time to master, but if you can get it to work for you it is really beneficial. You will need to practice up to 5 times a day and each practice (while learning) can take 30 minutes or longer. It combines the mediation of Exercise 1 with the visualisation of Exercise 2 (when proficient).

There are a number of stages to the learning, here is one method of practice you can use. As with all these techniques there are others, feel free to search for them and try those if this doesn't work for you.

Stage 1;

  1. Lie down or sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes
  2. Focus your attention on your dominant arm while saying 'my right/left arm is very heavy' repeat the phrase 6 times
  3. Say 'I am at peace' or 'I am quiet' between each statement about your arm
  4. Cancel out the effect by bend the arms, take a deep breath and open your eyes.
  5. This cancelling out must happen with each stage to maximise the effect of the heaviness
  6. Practice 2-3 times a day until the heaviness starts to spread to the other arm naturally. When this occurs, replace the statement 'my right/left arm' with 'my arms'.
  7. Once its starts to move to legs also after more practice, replace the statement with 'my arms and legs are heavy' or 'my limbs are heavy'
  8. Ultimately, the entire body will feel heavy. If the mind wanders, as before, just re-focus and bring it back It can take quite a few weeks to reach this stage, but once you can, you will find that you can do it very quickly and easily and reach the state of heaviness and deep relaxation with very little effort.

Stage 2;

  1. Replace the word 'heavy' with the word 'warm' in your statement in your head.
  2. Repeat as before, going through the process until you feel warmth throughout your body when you complete the process.

Stage 3;

  1. Continue as before but now look at your heartbeat.
  2. State 'my heartbeat is calm and strong' (if you cant find your heartbeat when you try this, place your right hand over your chest and feel your heart beating. Follow the process as in stage 1 & 2, concentrating on your heartbeat as you go through the exercises and saying your previous statements to yourself. 'My limbs are heavy' or my 'limbs are warm' while concentrating on your heartbeat throughout

Stage 4

Repeat for breathing rate; 'my breathing rate is slow, calm and relaxed

Stage 5

Warmth in the solar plexus; 'My solar plexus is warm (place your hand there if necessary) 'sun rays are streaming quiet and warm on my skin

Stage 6

Coolness of the forehead; 'My forehead is cool'

Once you have mastered all these, you can run through sequentially; and when you are able to do all 6 you will find that you can quickly enter the meditative state without a long pre-amble

Finally, you can improve the whole autogenic process by introducing visualisation. Work your way through the process and visualise each of the desired feelings or objectives. Then move that through to visualising a successful execution of a skill while undertaking the activity, associating the activity with the feeling of successful completion. Repeat to doing it while doing your routine and finally while doing your routine to the best of your ability while competing, maybe using a memory of a successful competition to assist the visualisation

There are further skills and strategies one can use to enhance the learning with Autogenic training, these include;

Breathing; Using the breathing techniques in the Muscle–to–mind strategy, visualise the expulsion of wasteful products from the body, these could include wasteful thoughts and energy and concentrate on breathing in positive thoughts and energy. See the patterns and images both on inhales and exhales

Imagery: Imagine you are a machine built and designed to produce the best possible outcome. Building up its forces and energies to deliver the best execution of the skill or routine. If a machine doesn't work for you, imaging you're an animal, adept at the skill. Find a supply of imagery cues that help you identify he need and action and that can be called up easily to assist you prepare and deliver

Verbal cues: Use words to symbolise the energy or action you need to help you execute it. In the routine you may want to concentrate on your breathing at the top of the bounce, find a word to help that 'out' for example. In shape, find a word to improve it, 'tight' for line-outs, think 'exit' and so on..

Combination cues.

Use the words with your imagery to visualise yourself doing the routine and performing the actions as you say the cue words. You can use them in the routine as you perform it. Add in the breathing to assist, on the exhalation, use the cues to help you perform the skill or routine. Maybe using the in-bounces to quickly prepare before execution.

There are others, many use music to help, pacing around the gym, distraction techniques. Find what works for you and then use it.

These are not simple and easy fixes. These are practices that you should undertake for life-long learning. They are not just for your sport, although they will be of great help there. Don't dismiss these, they are proven techniques that will help you in everything you aim to do.

In my next article I will look at the practice of Self-Talk and the use of Goal-Setting.

Practice, enjoy and I look forward to seeing you back at training soon