Your mind can be your greatest ally or your worst enemy at times, especially when it comes to health, wellbeing, and even sports performance.
The London 2012 Olympics sees some of the world’s greatest athletes falter under extreme pressure, or an underdog exceed everyone’s expectations. All the competitors have proven their ability to make it to the top, however, athletic talent is only one factor to the equation. Being in tip top physical shape is essential, but the power of a performance is also determined by the mind.
Strong mind, strong body
Sports psychologists help athletes deal with the incredible pressure using various relaxation techniques, positive psychology, and one of the most important: visualisation. The power of visualisation and mental training is tied to one important physiological fact: the mind knows no difference between an actual and an imagined activity. “From the brain’s point of view, when you create an image of an act, that fires off the same neurons in the brain as physically performing the act,” says Victorian Institute of Sport sport psychologist Paulette Mifsud.
“The signal strength, if you like, is greater when you actually perform the act – when you actually lift your leg as opposed to thinking about lifting it – but the neural pathways are the same. And so visualisation strengthens that neural network so it’s more accessible, and becomes the pathway your brain follows naturally.” (Quote taken from ‘All Psyched Up’ by Amanda Hooton, Sydney Morning Herald 2012)
But this technique is not just for the elite. Visualisation, relaxation, and positive psychology can improve all areas of your life! Here are a few simple ways they can help:
1. Heal with hypnotherapy
This alternative therapy is becoming increasingly popular to treat a variety of issues including overcoming addiction, pain management, and even treating irritable bowel syndrome. However, the exact mechanism of how hypnotherapy works is still under question. One suggestion is that hypnosis decreases activity in the part of the brain associated with daydreaming, and lets the mind become more open or ‘susceptible’ to suggestions (Source).
To read more articles on self-healing click on the image above.
Putting theories aside though, the benefits of hypnotherapy are becoming more recognized by the scientific community, and particularly for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. I can personally say that I’ve tried it and noticed a marked improvement in my symptoms. The process includes deep relaxation and training your brain to imagine your gut working synchronously and harmoniously. It is also important to repeat these visualisations often, so they become the new ‘normal’.
Hypnotherapy can help a variety of ailments, and has few drawbacks compared to say drug treatments, making it an ideal choice to consider to improve your health.
2. Think yourself stronger
As stated above, muscle strength is not solely determined by the size of your biceps. Sure size does factor into the equation, but it is your ability to use those fibres which ultimately determines your strength. So how can you improve your neural network and get fitter faster?
The easiest way is to ‘put your mind into the muscle’. When working a muscle, such as your biceps, visualise and feel those muscles contracting as you progress through the movement. The benefits of this technique include greater activation of the muscle, as well as more focused training because you are more ‘present’ in the activity. Try it today and you’ll be reaping the rewards in no time!
3. Reduce stress and balance your body’s hormones
Stress is literally a killer. Even though we’ve caged all the predators, our primal ‘fight or flight’ response remains unchanged. When we detect a threat, our body sends out hormones that stimulate an increase in heart rate and breathing, among other things. The problem is that these days we’re no longer fighting off lions and tigers, but mortgages, final exams, and the rising cost of living. And so the stress becomes chronic and can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and even a decreased immune system.
This interesting documentary looks into the chronic effects of stress on the body. Click the image to watch online.
So how’s a modern day gal or guy to cope? Learn to relax by controlling your breathing. Simply close your eyes, inhale for a count of 5, hold for 2, then exhale for a count of 5. Repeat this several times and you will find yourself becoming more centred and calm.
It is quite satisfying to know that your brain can better your health, and I hope you find my techniques and suggestions useful. Why not try one today? You are only one thought away from being better, faster, and stronger!
Do you use any visualisation of relaxation techniques?
How do you cope with stress?