To work hard – physically and mentally – without falling apart, you need to follow the formula for success:
From a physical point of view, this formula describes the fundamental training principle of getting the balance right between training and recovering. Recovery isn’t necessary if you haven’t trained, and you won’t optimise your training without appropriate recovery. Successful performance requires a unity of the mind and body to meet the demands of the competition, so recovery strategies need to consider both mental and physical requirements.
What does this mean in practice?
The body needs to be physically stressed to improve fitness.
This stress is provided by the training load which represents the stimulus for change to occur.
The training load results in a degree of fatigue or depletion of the physical or psychological systems involved.
Adaptation to training is accelerated when residual fatigue is reduced as soon as possible after training and the challenged functions are restored quickly to normal operational levels.
To encourage adaptation to training it is important to increase workloads gradually and develop corresponding recovery activities which reduce residual fatigue from these workloads.
Rest and recovery counteract the physical damage done during exercise.
Athletes need to give their body rest and recovery to gain the most out of their training.
Good nutrition, hydrotherapy (i.e. contrast hot/ cold water therapy, cold water immersion), massage, proper warm-down routines, visualisation and compression garments are just a few examples of some of the methods of recovery (both evidence-based and anecdotal) that athletes employ to give themselves the best possible opportunity to recover from and prepare for a big event.
One of the most effective ways to rejuvenate is by sleeping. Unfortunately, when we’re under stress, nervous or have a heightened sense of excitement, we sabotage the most natural method of recovery that is readily available to us… the outcome… we have trouble sleeping!
Within the tradition of yoga, pranayama is the formal practice of using the breath to soothe and revitalise a tired body and to settle a “wild” and active mind. The ancient yogis believe that “prana”, the vital source that circulates through us, can be cultivated and channelled through a range of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted.
Regardless of whether this makes sense to you or not, trying the breathing exercises detailed below can certainly help when you’re trying to get some much-needed sleep. The techniques emphasise breathing to create a calm and serene state of being.
Move the belly with the breath
When we are at ease, the diaphragm is the primary engine of the breath. As we inhale, this domelike muscle descends toward the abdomen, displacing the abdominal muscles and gently swelling the belly. As we exhale, the diaphragm releases back toward the heart, enabling the belly to release toward the spine.
Keep the upper body quiet
During high-stress times, it’s common to heave the upper chest and grip the muscles in the shoulders and throat. When we’re at rest, the muscles of the upper chest remain soft and relaxed as we breathe, and the real work occurs in the lower rib cage. To promote this type of breathing pattern, consciously relax the jaw, throat, neck, and shoulders, and envision the breath sweeping into the deepest parts of the lungs as you breathe in and out.
Although some breaths may be deeper or faster than others, when we’re relaxed, the alternating rhythm of the inhalations and exhalations feels like a lullaby—smooth, soft, and uninterrupted by jerks and jags. Consciously relaxing into this wavelike, oceanic quality of the breath deepens our sense of peace and ease.
Lengthen the exhalations
When we feel stressed, our exhalations tend to grow short and choppy. When we’re relaxed, though, the exhalations extend so completely that they are often longer than the inhalations. Some teachers even instruct that if we’re deeply relaxed, each exhalation will be twice as long as the inhalation. To facilitate this, try gently extending each exhalation by one or two seconds.
Pause after each exhalation
In our most relaxed state, the end of each exhalation is punctuated by a short pause. Lingering in this sweet spot can be deeply satisfying and can evoke feelings of profound quiet and stillness.
Let the whole body breathe
When we are at ease, the whole body participates in the breathing process. Imagine a sleeping baby: When he breathes in and out, the belly swells and releases, the hips rock to and fro, the shoulders bob, and the spine gently undulates. This offers a mini-massage for the muscles and organs of the whole body and turns each breath into a soothing melody that further calms and quiets every cell within.
EXERCISE: MEASURED BREATHING
- Once you’ve reached a state of full and involved breathing, try the following exercise. It is called “Measured Breathing” and involves counting the duration of your inhalations, exhalations and pauses between each.
- As you inhale, breathe in to an even and steady count of 4.
- Once you’ve filled your lungs, belly and diaphragm with oxygen, hold the air in your body for a count of 4.
- As you then exhale, breathe out steadily to a count of 4.
- Once you’ve emptied the air from your lungs, count for 4 before you begin your next inhalation.
As you follow this cycle, be sure not to force your breath. You may want to experiment with the duration of the inhalations, exhalations and pauses… 3 seconds might be best for some of you, others may prefer 5 or 6 seconds. Find what feels most natural to you. Give yourself 5 minutes of this measured breathing exercise.
Take the time to try these techniques to help settle your mind and keep your energy and focus channelled in the most optimal way possible.