Thursday, March 21, 2013

Soulwindsurf, yoga, meditation and competition

Windsurfers are inclined to understand what is the "soul" component in their sport. It's natural to them to enjoy in it, to feel connected to nature and to be lost in the incredible "flow feeling". However, competitive windsurfers (and other athletes) sometimes think that, if they start to pursue "soul" feelings, that they will lost the edge – literary, that they will have to abandon competition.

In this article, I would like to convince you that this is not true! You can be a soulwindsurfer and, in the same time, very successful athlete. Actually, there is a chance that soul approach will help you improve your results on the sport battlefield!

I spend my youth in sport. For some time I was a semi professional basketball player. I also enjoyed playing baseball (one of the first teams in Croatia) and swimming. Due to extensive trainings, my knees suffered a lot. Once I had a terrible injury and was out for a year of rehabilitation. That, and innumerable minor injuries, did not stopped me from regular training and competition. I was never a first class athlete, but I had my share of success. I know what it means to bite hard if you want to achieve your goals. Even today, (in considerable age of 50) I am not lazy and working hard, always trying to improve something and stay in shape and fit.

However, with time I also understood that all this efforts have a price. Not only in your time and energy, but also in your health. Instead of improving it, you may finished damaging it.

During my twenties and thirties I came in contact with other kind of knowledge: yoga and meditation. At first glance, this two activities are not very much connected with sport. However, yoga has the means to immensely improve your physical abilities (flexibility and static power). Meditation can improve your focus, reduce stress and help you to give your best when needed.

When I came across the book by John Douillard - Body, Mind and Sport, I knew I found the confirmation of my own thinking: this two seemingly different approach may join together and create what I latter called soul/windsurfing (can be "soul" with any other sport, of course).

Douillard was working with world class athletes (for example Martina Navratilova, famous tennis player) proving that different approach can give excellent results, without causing so much stress on mind and body, and actually keeping the fun and enjoyment as part of any training, no matter how serious it is.

Some ten years ago, I myself participate in forming training for a group of young athletes. It was very rewording experience, but unfortunately, I did not pursue this line of work.

But, I am using some of the principles of different training for myself. I firmly believe anyone can use it and improve his or hers results, no matter if they are just amateurs like me, trying to see how much they can improve; or professionals and serious world class competitors.

In the absence of my own systematic materials for developing the soul component in sport, I have to recommend Douillard's book again.

However, I can describe some principles I apply in soul approach to sport.

1. Mental preparation

Calm head, focused mind, determination and will. Peace and relaxation. No stress. A good technique of meditation can give you all of that. There are many techniques available, different in methodology. I prefer and recommend easy, natural ways, not the ones to include great effort (like concentration or visualisations). The best way is to learn to meditate from someone who has experience in teaching. Don't shy away from this – like a windsurfing skill, meditation is a skill to learn.

2. Preparation of the body

Cross training, jogging, running, using different sports, not only your preferable one. This helps you stay in shape, specially during winter time, when there is less windsurfing. As a special addition, I recommend yoga postures to increase your flexibility.

Some principles of nutrition can be added here. Contrary to the usual believes that nutrition for athletes must be concentrated and mainly artificial, my practice (confirmed by Douillard's book and some others) is to give preference to natural foods, rich in carbohydrates, specially the day before competition (or the day you are attempting to improve some of your PB – "personal best"), not so to protein rich food.

It will be to much to speak now about different food for different body constitution – but it is very interesting topic (so, maybe some other time). However, I want to add that I am vegetarian from my 13th birthday (so - 36 years!). I use some cheese, but no eggs, no fish and no milk. There is some discussion about suitability of such nutrition for professional athletes, but Duillard again proves the point that for some kind of sports, vegetarian (or even vegan) nutrition could be the right choice.

3. Warm up

Some say that trimming of the equipment is essential for good results in windsurfing. The same is true with your body. Many (actually ALL!) of the windsurfers I know, skip the warm up exercises before entering the water. That is wrong and can lower your speed (or any) results and of, course, increase the probability of the injury. My estimation: god warm up is 50% of the success on the water. It may look too much, but I firmly believe in that!

The best warm up exercises I know also comes from yoga. So called "Sun salutations" (Surya namaskar) in different variations is excellent way to warm you muscles in no more than 5 to 10 minutes! Also, that can be done with some other exercises from so called "power yoga" (or ashtanga, vinyasa and some other kind of yoga practices more similar to aerobic activities than to traditional passive yoga posture exercises).

4. Breathing techniques

The way you breathe is the way you think, and also the way your muscles work. There are two ways to improve your breathing - two kinds of breathing techniques: before and during sport activities.

One of the best breathing exercises before (similar to warm up of the body) is so called bhastrika or fast pranayama. Again, this is not the place to describe it (some other time). It is a short technique (not more than 2 minutes), which, if applied the right way can increase the level of oxygen in your brain and body. Very useful for short and intense sport activities.

During sport activities, specially if it is longish I practice two breathing techniques. One is again from yoga and it is called ujjai breathing. It is kind of "through the mouth, snoring like, 'dart vader' sounding" breathing. Excellent for long distance runs (or sailing, of course).

The other is my own technique, developed for water sports. Namely, ujjai breathing is hard to do when swimming, or when activity includes sudden moves and ups and downs in muscle activity. Than I use dolphin breath – a simple technique, actually very natural, which includes temporary breath suspension (not too long, though).

Breathing techniques are very efficient in quick achievement of the zone, "in the flow" feeling or, if you like, windsurfing nirvana! Of course, they will improve your abilities, and consequently, improve your results - if that is what you are looking for!

5. "In the flow" principles

Windsurfing naturally accepts and actually demands from a windsurfer to apply some principles which are simple and natural. However, we sometimes tend to forget them. Little refreshment here and there, and also some thinking how they apply in different situation, can be very helpful to keep you in the zone, while in the same time improve your results.

Here are seven basic principles of soul sport:


Much can be said about each one of thise principles. They are kind of mental attitudes transformed into practice.

Just for example: when speedsurfing (or windsurfing in general), the point of least effort (ease) is usually the point you are in when you feel the most in control. By the way, control is an oxymoron in windsurfing. You are never in control, just in balance with wind and equipment. It may seems that this is not so important distinction, but this understanding may help you find that point of least effort. When you find it, you will see that you are the fastest ever!

Searching for ease in windsurfing is a part of soul approach. But, it should not be confused with quiting or avoiding the hardships of sport activities! Quite a contrary, when you find ease in the midst of hard work, than you are on the right soul path!

I could write much more about concrete techniques of soulwindsurfing, and maybe I will in the future. For now, I just wanted to point out that soul approach is possible alternative to usual ways of sport training. It is meant to give you pleasure and fun, to keep your health intact and improved, and, in the same time, to enable you to give the best from your self – to achieve the most you can!

If you are in competition of any kind, that is the alternative you should consider – it may surprise you with efficiency, and, of course, with unforgettable experiences of the zone!

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