Enhancing Performance: Becoming an Embodied Athlete

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By: Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, CEO, Chicago Dance Therapy

The mind-body connection is a hot topic and it is more than mindfulness and meditation. Embodiment is the ability to connect to your feelings, senses, thoughts, sensations and existence, not just in your mind, but in your physical being as well. When we disconnect from our bodies, we lose the ability to relate, communicate and even empathize with those around us including ourselves.  Just because you are an athlete, physically active or are currently participating in a mind-body exercise that does not mean that you are living an embodied existence. Sometimes those practices actually create a greater disconnect because we are looking for the aesthetic or the perfection in it, not the enlightened path or awareness that is intended.

So how does living an embodied life correlate to enhanced performance?  Well when we are more aware of how our actions, physical activities, or even training regimens affect our mental health we can protect ourselves from burnout, fatigue, and stress (physical and emotional).  When asked what advice she had for a rising tennis player, Martina Navratilova said, “under train.” Although this seems counterintuitive, what it suggests is that we do not push our bodies past the point of mental and physical fatigue.  Many pro athletes will attest to a balance of mind, body, and even spirit to keep them grounded and in the game.

Looking to increase your self-awareness and performance?  Here are some tips:

Utilize your breath to its fullest potential.

Breathing not only lubricates our joints and fuels our workouts, but it can actually help manage the parasympathetic nervous system which is vital to staying calm and focused.  

Warm-up your body and mind before and after a performance, game, or practice.

Performing stretches that enhance the connections in the brain also enhance your level of performance by creating more mental acuity, focus, and resilience.  

Listen to your body.  

Your body is always talking and often times it is trying to guide, warn, or even protect you from further harm or injury.  Pain for example isn’t a punishment. It is a signal that something is out of alignment. Instead of pushing through or ignoring it, try to listen and evaluate what the pain is for and what it is trying to tell you.  Work with your PT, OT, or physician to identify the cause and create a treatment plan.

If you are looking to increase your connection to your own body and how it connects to your mind, contact Chicago Dance Therapy.