Mindfulness is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis” (Webster Dictionary).
Simply put, mindfulness means awareness.
How does awareness help in roller derby?
Ever watched these kung-fu movies where there’s a blind character, whether it’s the hero or some badass sidekick, and he can kick ass as if he possessed a million eyes? The guy is usually super chill, but one blow from him can send you flying into outer space before you know it. He can also fight better than people with 20/20 vision.
We won’t go as far as playing roller derby while blind, but we definitely want to send people flying while remaining as calm and focused as possible, and perfectly AWARE of what’s happening around us. Whether we’re blocking or jamming, we need to process countless thoughts, feelings, and sensations at once.
Successful athletes of all disciplines practice mindfulness to reach their full potential. Simple breathing techniques can lower anxiety, and help with clearing the mind and body of negative thoughts and emotions, such as fear. A composed skater will always perform better than a scattered, short-fused one.
How do we turn into killing machines on the track?
Let’s take a minute to travel back in time to the very first day you (and I) strapped skates to our feet. If you never skated a day in your life, needless is to say the endeavor felt freaking weird. We weren’t born with wheels! Some impressions about the pads? They were bulky. The Velcro stuck way too much to your clothes. Your knee and elbow joints were in that angle you couldn’t keep your legs and arms fully straight anymore. The wrist guards prevented you from using your hands and seamlessly uncapping that bottle of Gatorade. You fell backwards a lot. The contact with the floor was hard, very hard. Your muscles and bones hurt in places you didn’t know it could hurt like that. Holding the derby stance for one full minute made you want to vomit. Your leg muscles felt like jello. You were stiff, very stiff, and while veterans told you to relax, you got stiffer! What about your breathing? Do you even remember how you breathed?
Setting aside bodily sensations, how did you mentally and emotionally handle these new challenges? Did butterflies fly havoc in your stomach? Were your palms sweaty? Did you talk to yourself on your way to practice, and convince yourself it was a good idea to show up and gear up? Did you talk to yourself again after gearing up and setting foot on that oh so slippery rink floor? Did you suffer from anxiety? Did you cry? Did you laugh? Were you excited? Did you experience a high from accomplishing something you didn’t know you could do before?
If any of these sound familiar, you exercised mindfulness. You were fully aware of what was going on with you that very day.
Sadly, our fast paced lives force us to be on auto-pilot for most of our daily tasks. We just don’t take the time to be aware of simple yet essential things such as breathing. As such, maintaining a high level of awareness takes training.
How do you train your mindfulness?
Set your timer on one minute, and close your eyes. Find a quiet place, where you won’t be distracted by people or noises, and adopt a comfortable position. When ready, start the timer, and focus on your breathing. Push any distracting thoughts away by being solely dedicated on your inhale and exhale. When the minute is up, assess how you did. Did you feel pain or tension in any part of your body? Did your mind wander?
It’s okay if you achieved only ten or fifteen seconds of pure focus while the remaining forty-five to fifty were spent trying to get there. That’s perfectly normal. Like anything, mindfulness takes practice.
The purpose of the exercise is to focus on one thing, your breathing, to allow yourself to be completely present and aware of your body and mind. As you get more accustomed to the exercise, you can gradually increase the time.
Now the one million dollar question comes.
How do I exercise this mindfulness amidst all the chaos on the track?
Baby steps. It’s gonna take work. The way I practice it is whenever I get a quiet moment, on my commute to work, at work, as I take a walk, I focus on my breathing, and try to shut down any distractions. I find it easier to do with headphones on, but the exercise should be practiced in natural conditions too. This allows me to fully feel my body. It helps me clear my mind.
I practice mindfulness as much as I can outside of derby practice during daily routine activities, so when I’m at practice, it’s almost like second nature. I practice right when I wake up. I let my mind wander, and gently bring it back to my initial point of focus, my breathing. I practice when I wait in line, or when I’m stuck in traffic. I choose a cue (my commute really allows me to be focused) on my way to work, and shift my brain into mindful mode.
Someone on my team much more skilled than me, and with more years of experience, once told me that being aware is like opening a door of possibilities. I let go of all the crap the day has thrown at me, and the crap I throw at myself too, to be fully there during a jam, for as long as two minutes.
Once the whistle blows, it’s like the timer I set. If I’m aware of the present moment, I can better control my reactions. I can be responsive to my teammates yelling orders. I can move to where the OJ is coming, or if I’m jamming, to where the next blocker is.
The key is to start small and practice often. Countless scientific studies have proven that mindfulness helps balance our activities, thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions to minimize stress so you can become your best self.