Listening to my body and making self-care a priority is a theme that constantly runs through my life. My default is to always be on the go. If I find myself with some free time my inclination is to think about how I can use that time productively, which sometimes is great, but not all the time. I don’t see watching TV as decompression, I see it as a waste of time. Even right now I could be relaxing getting ready for the week, since it’s 8 p.m. on Sunday night, but I made a resolution to post one blog a week and I’m sticking to it! And because it’s a goal and a resolution I believe it’s worthwhile to stick with it, but there are definitely other areas where I need to be a little more cognizant of what I’m sacrificing.
Being and/or becoming an elite level athlete, be it in high school, college, or beyond, takes a huge toll on our bodies. And even if it doesn’t feel like it, recovery plays a big part in enabling us to maximize our potential on the road to accomplishment. Recovery means discipline, sacrifice, and learning to listen to our bodies. This past week of training involved a decent increase in volume and I was exhausted by the end of it, but I had a big weekend planned and I was determined to make the most of it… wrong choice. I ended up going home early Saturday afternoon before the festivities were over to curl up in the fetal position, order in food and watch a movie. My body had had enough and told me NO! I didn’t listen the first time it said no, but I heard it loud and clear that second time. Still trying to catch up before the clock strikes midnight and it’s officially a new week requiring fully replenished energy.
So how do you make sure you’re spending ample enough time taking care of yourself? I mean where’s the line between hermit and party animal that’s right for you? That’s the hard part and we’re always going to be guessing a little bit. In my experience it really depends on what your goals are in the immediate future and where you are in your life. Trying to qualify for the Olympics? Err on the side of shuttin’er down. And I find that there are many more instances where erring on the conservative side serves us better than letting it all hang loose. Even though letting loose is important as well.
One of the best ways to become, or stay, in-tune with our bodies and minds is to find time to sit and just be. Lots of people call this meditation, but it can be whatever works for you. Find some time, even just five or ten minutes; if you can get out in nature I believe that works best, or throw some headphones on with some classical music and transport yourself somewhere peaceful. Take the time to feel what’s going on in your body. Notice where you’re holding tension, where you feel stiff, if there are any noticeable imbalances where one side feels different than the other. Try and release any tension that you’re feeling, pay special attention to your jaw.
Any stressful thoughts you’ve been suppressing or trying to mask with distraction will pop up during this time too. This is helpful, because carrying those thoughts around can be a detriment to our physical health and this is a chance to face them head on, to simply sit and get comfortable with them. I find it helpful to take myself outside of the thought and just observe it, like it’s not happening to me, a lot of times this allows me to find perspective and realize it’s not as big of a deal as I’ve been making it in my head. I also believe it’s really important to withhold judgement about the thought. Try to accept it and make peace with the thought, the more you can do this the less it will bother you. After you’ve worked on getting more comfortable with the thought and have diffused it of some meaning then let it go and focus on your breath. If it comes back, don’t judge it, just see it as if in third person, and let it float out into oblivion again and go back to your breath.
If too many thoughts come up at once during meditation I like to write down a list of things I need to go back to. Then I can call those thoughts back to the forefront of my mind and deal with them one by one until I’m done. In many instances the thoughts that arise will be things that I need to get done in the 3D world so they don’t take up mental space that can be used for other more important endeavors, endeavors that will get me closer to my goals and dreams. So I write those things down in a to-do list and get them done after my mediation. This is one of the best self-care practices there is, make time for it. (I’m telling myself this as much as I’m telling you.)
Another part of the self-care/recovery spectrum is what has newly become known as JOMO. Embrace JOMO. JOMO is awesome. It’s the opposite of FOMO and stand for the “joy of missing out”. Sometimes you just need to say no to social plans and sometimes you just have to straight bail on your friends. Will they be mad? Sure. Will they get over it? Yes. (Or else you’ve just been given the gift of discovering who your fair-weather friends are.) Skipping social plans, as emotionally painful as it can be, can be huge for recovery and self-care. If you’re constantly out with your friends, when are you doing the extras that are going to get you that competitive advantage? Are you going to be more or less energetic at practice the next day? Are those days going to add up over time and cause you to be less masterful at your craft than the person next to you who does say no in some of those same situations? It is a clear sacrifice and there is no shame in picking your social life over your other goals, but don’t claim you want ‘such and such’ more than anything if you’re not willing to take care of yourself the way you need to in order to accomplish said goal. Get ready to have JOMO!
The other practice I consistently use in this vein is yoga. I used to hate yoga, now I don’t go a week without it! Especially bikram yoga, specifically designed for your health and recovery. During yoga I can pay attention to my mind and body while it’s being pushed through something strenuous that IS NOT volleyball. Because I’m not outcome oriented in yoga, I am better able to notice what thoughts pop up when it gets hard, when I want to quit. How am I talking to myself? Is it positive and uplifting or frustrated and critical? I can also practice perseverance. Do I want to quit when it gets so hot I can barely see through the sweat blurring my vision? Of course! Am I going to let myself quit?? No. Way.
Through yoga I can also pay close attention to my body. Not only do I notice where the tight spots and imbalances are, but I find my weakness as well, which is such an ASSET! Once I know what and where my weaknesses are I can get to work strengthening them. This will strengthen my whole and make me less prone to injury. And obviously this can be applied in all areas of life- on the court, in our relationships, in our academics, and everything else. Finding our weaknesses is a blessing.
Now all of this is a practice. Doing it once or twice isn’t going to do much. Finding a way to incorporate it consistently in our lives can pay huge dividends, but like every practice it takes a lot of discipline and commitment. And those are both muscles that get stronger with use, so take a step today by doing one of these things and get to work strengthening those muscles that will help you turn this practice into a lifestyle!