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A Yogi in Sport: The Power of Stillness

Olympic Gold Medalist in Shooting, Peter Wilson: Courtesy of BBC Sport.

The word ‘sport’ conjures up images of athletes pushing, grunting sweating or panting in a bid to get faster, higher or stronger.

But some prize stillness – both in mind and body. I’m talking about the mental sports like pistol shooting or archery.

The arm pumping or leg lunging movements of sprinters or footballers are distilled into a slow, almost imperceptible squeeze of a trigger. It’s not about kilometres or even metres of movement but millimetres.

Maintaining this kind of physical stillness in the heat of competition requires serious mental control. The heart is pumping but adrenaline is the enemy.

A raised heart rate may cause a slight shift in arm position but also a momentary mental drift and the focus is lost.

I’ve worked with a few pistol shooters and the zen-like state they aim to reach is remarkably similar to that of meditation, so yoga is a great ally.

I don’t mean the athletic ‘updog into downdog’ side of yoga but techniques that ease them closer to this point of stillness.

A pistol shooter may take 40 shots in a match but the shot being taken is the only one that matters – it’s the very essence of here and now.

If the shot before was bad the mind frets about the future score. If the shot was good the mind anticipates success: both are bad.

The yogic sage Patanjali wrote ‘yoga is the stilling of the thought waves of the mind’ in his Yoga Sutras. Yoga has a vast range of techniques to reel in a jittery mind easily adapted to the mental sports.

These include pranayama, or breathing exercises used both pre-match and in between shot cycles, to pre-shot visualisation and meditation.

Mindfulness is also useful as it teaches us to stay both alert but anchored to the present moment.

One pistol shooting client and I drank a cup of tea mindfully at the start of our first session, noting the steam rising, the feel of the cup handle and the breath flowing.

Well, you have to start somewhere….

Lexie Williamson is a British Wheel of Yoga and Yoga Sports Coach™, and author of Yoga for Cyclists and Yoga for Runners (Bloomsbury Publishing). A former business journalist she now writes for the sports/yoga media, including Cycling Fitness, Women’s Fitness, Outdoor Fitness, OM Yoga and My Yoga Online. Lexie is a runner, cyclist and sprint-distance triathlete. She has worked with runners, cyclists, triathletes, sprinters, tennis players and pistol shooters.

To find out more about Lexie, click here to see her YSS Profile.

If you want to help athletes find stillness to improve their marginal gain, then train to be a Yoga Sports Coach™ today!

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