How To Train A Wild Elephant: Mindfulness Exercises

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Athletes of all levels can benefit from mindfulness exercises.  It is a skill that can be utilized at any time during training, competition, or recovery.  In order to integrate mindfulness into your mental game, daily practice is required.  Recently, we came across a great book called, How To Train A Wild Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays. Chozen has twenty years of mindfulness practice and her book contains 53 exercises in mindfulness, each of which she and her students have practiced for a week at a time, year after year. The depth of this exploration becomes obvious both in the nature of the exercises themselves and in the reflections that Chozen brings to them. Chozen regards each exercise as a “seed” that can be planted in the many nooks and corners of our life in order to “grow mindfulness”.

How Training  A Wild Elephant Works In Athletics: Grow Mindfulness

These seeds are exactly what performers of all levels need to grow and nurture the skill of mindfulness in action.  For example, she describes a mindfulness action that is called “Entering New Spaces” (exercise 17).  It describes an awareness in everyday living regarding the act of walking through a doorway:
“As we walk toward a door, our mind moves ahead to the future, toward what we will be encountering and doing on the other side. This mind movement is not obvious. It takes careful watching. It makes us go unconscious, just briefly, of what we are doing in the present. The unconscious or semiconscious mind, however, is able to steer us through the movements of opening the door and making our way safely through.”

Why Does Mindfulness Work for Sport?

A reasonable question that an athlete may ask about this exercise is, “how is this going to help me in my sport?” What this exercise teaches an athlete is how to be aware of subtle energy shifts, which become vitally important in competition.  The Entering New Spaces exercise will translate into competition when the “monkey mind” gets active when experiencing pain, a doubtful thought (I can’t), or a performance mistake that takes over all thoughts.  If an athlete had practiced the Entering New Spaces mindfulness exercise, then it will be utilized during the “monkey mind” moment and an athlete can quickly become aware of the thought process and take action towards a change in mental energy.  When this change occurs, vital energy is saved and then it can be used towards the athletic endeavor rather than against it.  Give it a try.  Have patience.  Enjoy the journey.

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