Hopefully, by this point in the series you have begun to make some connections in your body through awareness of your posture and breath and how daily movements feel when practicing them. Congratulations, you have already begun to discover the mind/body connection!
This week, we will take a look at how this connection helps to improve your proprioception and is integrated into your tennis game.
Mindfulness is about being present in the moment without judgment of yourself. Have you ever found yourself up 40-love and you end up losing the game which potentially leads to losing the set and the match? What actually happened here? You were one point away from closing the game out and that could have been the difference between winning and losing the match. Somehow your mind got ahead of you and in your mind you had won the game, set and match. Sound familiar? How many times have you missed hitting a ball you thought was going out only to have it land two feet inside the baseline because you weren’t quite sure where you were on the court. These are not uncommon scenarios for tennis players, but what do they really mean and what can be done to lessen their occurrences?
Mindfulness is not only being aware of your body but also of your attitude Yoga benefits athletes by teaching self-control through breath, focus through drsihti points (focal points) and calmness again through breath work.
Proprioception is knowing where you are in space and time; essentially, knowing the location of your body parts without having to use your vision to find them. The proprioceptive system is one of the three systems in the body that contributes to balance. Proprioceptors are sensory and motor nerves that send and receive muscle impulses to and from the Central Nervous System (CNS). These impulses are sent from within the skin, muscles, joints and tendons. Once received, the brain then determines how much muscle tension is needed during any given moment. Progressive balance training is used to strengthen an athlete’s proprioception.
Improving proprioception gives an athlete the ability to fine-tune many court skills including change of direction and coordination. Having good balance also decreases your risk for injury by keeping the muscle tissue healthy.
To begin to bring mindfulness into your balance training, remove your shoes and socks and stand bare footed on the floor.
Notice what the floor feels like under your feet. Begin to notice how your body feels standing. Most often, before I do any movement practice, I tend to feel all my joints as separate units. I feel my ankle, my knee and my hip as opposed to feeling my whole leg as one fluid unit.
Close your eyes and notice what happens to your body. Does your body stay still or begin to sway a bit? If your body swayed, it was because so much of our balance is achieved through our vision.
Take a moment and go back to the rolling the ball under your bare feet technique (see week 2 blog).
Begin with rolling your right foot and notice the sensations you feel in your foot after rolling. What does your leg feel like all the way up to your hip? How does your right leg feel different from your left leg? There are no right or wrong answers here, everyone will feel something different but remember you are waking up the sensations in your body and getting the blood flowing.
After rolling both feet, stand with your eyes closed again. Notice if your body is still swaying or do you feel more stillness and balance?
Mindfulness is about consciousness but it also about the connections made throughout the body and our ability to awaken the sensations that give us the opportunity to understand this connection. Yoga teaches us to slow ourselves down, integrate breath into our activities as well as awaken the sensory and motor nerves to activate the proprioceptors in our body which transfers onto the court to improve our movement and performance. It is through mindfulness that we can improve our balance, focusing on what it feels like instead of what it should look like. Next time you are up 40-Love, take a moment and try focusing on what that next point feels like and see what happens but always remember tennis, like yoga is a practice!