Sept. 4 2011 12:00 AM
Man doing yoga

As a competitive athlete for more than 35 years, I train everyday with a balanced body/mind philosophy. With heart disease levels at an all time high, taking unneeded stress levels off the heart is a good place to start for any athlete or fitness enthusiast. I believe in training the respiratory system first, which allows the heart to operate at lower rates during body movement. In addition, it lowers brainwave frequencies allowing more cognitive flow states rather than enabling the part of the mind that tries to thwart our exercise goals. No headphones, cell phones or TVs. The mind must be part of the transformation process. If it's distracted, it can't hear the body's intelligence. Our minds are already crowded with information. Exercise was designed to free the mind.

Key components of sports training and racing include proper warm-ups and cool-downs, and to add greater benefit, incorporating cross-patterning yoga movement to improve flexibility, balance and posture alignment. In my performance training programs I don't include any sun salutation movement. Only cross pattering movements to enhance the mind's ability to see the body clearly and balance male and female energy.

1. A warm-up routine should be focused on connecting and calming the fragmenting mind to enter the body. Using yoga breathing, we activate the respiratory system to raise heat in the core of the body (liquid fire) and flood the cardiovascular system with oxygen. It doesn't matter whether the warm up is cardio, light weights, stretching, meditation or a combination of all four. What's important is how you use the breath to contract the muscles controlling the inhale (the diaphragm, intercostals and pectoral muscles) and controlling the exhale muscles of the abdomen. Athletes should use long, deep, rich nasal breaths contracting the epiglottis muscle in the throat slightly. This warm-up brings you present, introverting your mind and the five senses. It removes external distractions as this is no time to escape. It's a time to introvert, listen and be present with your body using our emotions as fuel.

To begin, incorporate a four-part breathing process. Inhale through the nose filling your belly, ribs and chest with air. Hold the breath in for a moment. Then, exhale drawing the navel back at the base of the exhale. Hold the breath out for a moment and then slowly begin the inhale again as slowly as you can. Holding the breath in or out is called "retentions" or "kumbacha" in the yoga system. Go through several rounds of this and feel the liquid fire warm the body from the inside out. As most of our energy is stored in the belly, I always work my abdomen and respiratory systems first in a warm-up. It's a deep core sweat and brings my mind into the lower body energy losing its ability to distract me with negative habitual thoughts. Your body just wants to move. It's a waste of mental energy to engage the mindless energy of our thoughts. Remember your mind works for you; you don't work for your mind.

2. Mindful conscious movement is essential to optimal performance. Yogis were always concerned with placement and balancing the angles of the body parts that are in motion. It reduces the risk of injury from overused muscles and allows the body to move effortlessly. Flexibility doesn't just make the body stronger; it makes the mind stronger by removing artificial fears. Be mindful of hand/foot placement and the angle of the pelvic bowl. Pause and connect the mind with the body through a nasal inhale and notice the placement of your feet with your movement. The closer the foot placement, the more stress on the quadriceps and hamstrings. The further the feet move away from each other, the more you engage adductors and rotators. Always lift the bottom of the arch of the foot up away from the ground to engage skeletal muscles first and superficial muscular layers second. Adjust the alignment of your pelvic bowl to support your buttock muscles and low back so you're supported throughout the movement with appropriate angles. Your joints and knees will appreciate the added attention to detail.

Hand placement is next. Keep a relaxed grip as you angle yourself into the movement being mindful of your elbows, shoulders, cervical spine and crown of the head. Let your nasal inhale and exhale lead you into each micro movement. Learn to control body/mind by controlling the length, pace and depth of your inhale and exhale and you will get much more using less energy. Bring your mind's eye and inhale together as one field of intelligent energy as you begin to bring stress onto the muscles. Identify the muscles being used in the movement by holding the breath in for a few moments. Your mind will direct you immediately to the muscles that are active. This is a great tool in weight training. As you hold the retention, make a mental note of where you feel the contraction, begin nasal breathing again as you focus your attention on your mind's eye. Together as one, breathe as if there are two lungs and a heart there; hence, the union of the body/mind.

3. The cool down is the most important part of the workout. It's really the warm-up for the next time you train or exercise. No matter what you're doing, begin to slow the movement and slow your breath with nasal breathing. This may feel hard to do with an elevated heart rate, but you will be amazed how quickly the heart rate comes down through the slowed nasal breathing process. Notice where your body feels stressed from the movement. Begin using your mind to relax these areas of your body. Relax your low jaw and feel how your breath lengthens and stress levels lessen. Relax around your eyes and feel cerebral fluids and inflammation around the brain dissolve. Take your time. Relax and enjoy what your body/mind just achieved outside of the paradigm of a "good or bad" workout. Don't ever judge your self-esteem from one workout. This is self-sabotaging and creates a habitual pattern of discontent.

Sports training should be about obtaining higher states of consciousness. If you're training just to look good in the mirror, you won't ever discover the gifts of exercise. New energy patterns settle down into your nervous system the first 20 minutes after movement. This new energy is intelligent and needs you to listen not talk. You can't learn anything when you're talking. So, enjoy the cool down part of your workout as your body prepares to remove the toxins. I prefer gentle, slow stretching with eyes closed or seated meditation. Alternate breathing also cools the nervous system and synchronizes the left and right frontal cortex of the brain. When this happens, a third intelligent energy forms and makes suggestions to our "choosing" mind.

The "no pain, no gain" theory is outdated. It's impossible to create a body/mind connection when pushing your body where it's not prepared to go. However, when we create a union of trust between the two, you will be amazed at what the body will do for you. In the union, are flow states that allow the body to move effortlessly ... meditation in motion.

Edward Harrold, "The Athletic Yogi," is an owner of Comfort Zone Center for Whole Self Health and originator of Flexibility For Athletesâ® & Weight Loss ... The Yoga Way. Ed is a Life Coach on the human potential, yogic sciences and emotional intelligence. To view Ed's workshops, professional trainings as well as instructional DVDs and streaming videos visit,,