Ayurveda Life: Enhancing Athletic Performance
We are excited to bring you another post in a comprehensive series on the practice of Ayurveda. ‘Ayurveda Life’ is a weekly series of posts from some of the most influential Ayurvedic authors and organizations. We are proud to partner with Banyan Botanicals and hope that you enjoy and share these posts with your communities.
“Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences that developed together and repeatedly influenced each other throughout history. Yoga and Ayurveda work together to enhance their great benefits on all levels”.
“The link between yoga and Ayurveda is prana, or the life force. Yoga is the intelligence of prana seeking greater evolutionary transformations, while Ayurveda is its healing power…” ~ Dr. David Frawley
Enhancing Athletic Performance
Performance, we could argue, is in fact life itself. At some level we’re always performing – whether as a pro athlete trying to make a game winning shot before the buzzer, sink a 5 ft putt to win The Masters, or as a loving parent balancing precariously on a step ladder to pull down that storage bin with hand-me-downs for a friend’s cute new baby. Not to mention singing your favorite Grease or Springsteen number in the shower, although not quite entirely sure that qualifies as athletic. As human beings we conduct a myriad of tasks everyday that require a symphony of movements to be properly harmonized, using the exquisite equipment of our mind and body. Which as we often see on America’s Funniest Videos isn’t always that… well… exquisite.
These movements are no more crucial or equally scrutinized than in the field of professional sports. I’ve had the pleasure of consulting with professional athletes for over a decade and the principles of Ayurveda continue to prove so powerful in the way they effect the mind and body regardless of the person I’m helping or their level of prowess. Although there are many deep levels of understanding covered in this beautiful science here are some of the broader insights about the 3 main qualities of energy (doshas) we distinguish in Ayurveda that I hope will help enhance your inner athlete regardless of your level of proficiency.
Principle quality – MOVEMENT
Vata is predominantly made up of air and is known as the king dosha as it governs all movement – clearly a major factor in any athletic endeavor. When out of balance, vata can cause havoc and turn a world-class athlete into a quivering mess. Having a strong influence on the central nervous system, excess vata can physically throw off timing and mentally create anxiety and the all too common monkey mind! We’ve all seen talented athletes “choke” just at that moment of truth. Although the root cause of this usually lies in deeper subconscious belief structures (the foundation of my work), vata’s distracting vacillations in the mind can nonetheless take an athlete from being in the zone to being a zombie. If I had a buck for every time I’ve heard an athlete say “if I could only get out of my own way” I’d be … well you get the point. So what do they mean? What athletes (and anyone for that matter) are referring to is mainly getting out of the way of the negative dialogue (NOISE!) in their head that interrupts and often sabotages performance. The incessant diatribe of “don’t miss!”, “don’t f@%k this up!”, “what will they think of me”, “what happens if … (fill in the negative outcome)” etc. etc. Although this is all an intrinsic part of the human ego, when vata is outta whack, all this mental chatter gets exacerbated. So the number one place to start enhancing your performance is to bring down vata so you can stay calm, focused, and most importantly PRESENT.
Signs that your athletic performance is being effected by Vata:
You’re thinking about the results too much (getting ahead of yourself); your timing is off; everything seems to be moving quickly; you feel nervous or anxious; you feel dizzy or light-headed; you’ve lost consistency; you’re experiencing degenerative issues – aches and pains, loss of strength, stability, and stamina.
Things to avoid that will increase vata:
Lack of sleep; irregularity (meal/sleep/training times etc.); dehydration; stimulants (caffeine etc.); dry/cold foods (crackers, salads etc.); excess travel; excess talking; overuse of the senses (smart phone & social media addiction); resisting natural urges (holding in ya pee & no. 2!); exposure to cold; over exertion; mutli-tasking; excess sex (sorry, I promise I’m trying to help! J)
Things to encourage that will decrease vata:
Quality rest; good routine (sleep, meals, regular bowel movements!); meditation; time in mother nature; oil massage (see http://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/lifestyle/self-oil-massage); eating fresh warm nourishing foods (soups, stews, good ol’ mother’s cooking); proper hydration; good friends and loving community. Breeeeaaaaaathe and SLOW DOWN.
Principle quality – TRANSFORMATION
Pitta is made up predominantly of fire. Have you ever seen an athlete get pissed off?? Or dare I ask, someone in your own house? Never right?!! Welcome to pitta! Just like any dosha pitta has it’s fors and againsts and is an intrinsic part of athletic performance. Although a generalization, most athletes are pitta dominant. Pitta gives us the quality of drive and that competitive spirit. The desire to bury your best friend on a tennis court or achieve bragging rights in a “friendly” game of HORSE. It’s tenacity can drive athletes to the top but it’s potency can equally lead to their demise. Pitta “burns” – not only your opponent but also yourself if not kept in check. In the world of athletic performance, pitta oscillates between the victor and the self-saboteur. The trick, as with anything in Ayruveda is … balance. Driven and yet not maniacal; competitive but not tyrannical; focused but not obsessed. Pitta can give you that winning edge, but it can also cut you in the process if you get too intense.
Signs that your athletic performance is being effected by pitta:
You’re getting pissed off at virtually anything; your performance is never perfect enough; you’re obsessing and working too hard over your activity; you feel frustrated and are about to break something (assuming you haven’t already!); you’re experiencing inflammation – mentally and physically.
Things to avoid that will increase pitta:
Too much heat (hot weather, hot yoga, too much computer work etc.); late nights; alcohol; excess work; stress; skipping meals; hot spicy foods; fermented foods; pressure situations.
Things to encourage that will decrease pitta:
CHILLAXING; cool weather; cool/cold showers or swimming; cool/soothing foods; meditation; anything to inspire calmness; moonlit walks; earthing (standing barefoot in good quality damp soil – I know that might sound whacky but you pittas out there try it … you’re welcome!); good hydration; loving relationships; fresh organic clean foods; soothing music.
Principle quality – STABILITY/STRUCTURE
Ah sweet sweet kapha. Where would we be without you? A ball of swirling flames!! Kapha is that grounding and soothing force in our lives. Think of that nurturing friend of yours who is always there for you, invariably with a cup of tea and some way too fattening treats! Kapha is nourishing, lubricating, rejuvenating, replenishing. It heals us after our athletic endeavors. Kapha gives stability and endurance to our body and steadiness to our mind. Kapha athletes tend to be consistent. Trouble is they can be consistently bad or good! It takes work to move kapha as it is the heaviest of the doshas. For that reason kapha athletes equally tend to be bigger and slower, but also much stronger with greater stamina than their fellow dosha counterparts. Think of the 300lb+ line backer versus the more speedy and nimble vata/pitta wide-receiver. But regardless of your dosha kapha is crucial for enhancing performance by providing routine, a strong foundation, and the fortitude to deal with adversity and losses.
Signs that your athletic performance is being effected by kapha:
Er, when you don’t even have any athletic performance (coz you’re too lazy to bother!); you feel lethargic and don’t want to train; your mind feels cloudy; you’re getting depressed about your results; eating and drinking seem way more appealing than competing.
Things to avoid that will increase kapha:
Stagnation; laziness; lethargy; cold heavy foods (dairy); cold damp weather; sweet foods; over eating and drinking; excess sleep.
Things to encourage that will decrease kapha:
Activity & exercise (get off your ass!); getting up at sunrise; light, hot, spicy foods; getting out and about; variety in life.
So welcome to the world of the 3 doshas! I hope these insights help enhance your performance by providing insight as to how you can create the conditions for your inner athlete to thrive. (To learn more about your personal constitution visit http://www.banyanbotanicals.com/constitutions/) I know if you incorporate these principles of Mother Nature you’ll enjoy the experiences of greater balance, harmony, and performance … not only in your athletic pursuits but also in your every day life!
Peter Crone is the Chief Inspirer and Founder of Be Alive, Inc. As a thought leader in human potential and performance, Peter devotes his life to sharing insights, strategies, and products for people to live an inspired life and thrive. www.petercrone.com