Over training! Physical or mental? Part 2
Now that the Hippo Pod have started a new chapter by moving from the Idyllic river location and into the Forest for the foreseeable future. No I am not being put out to pasture just yet! I can do a follow up to the hugely popular post of a couple of weeks ago. But firstly, welcome to the Hippo Hacienda and its dwellers.
Following on from the overwhelming response I got to my last blog about the pitfalls of overtraining, it became fairly obvious that many people are in the same boat, and nearly all aspiring swimmers suffer to varying degrees with PHYSICAL over training. With the last blog I broached the concept of a more holistic perspective to training and preparation for the challenges one will face in an endurance event.
I mentioned 4 techniques that I use to better prepare my mind
for a challenge ahead:
My army of minions
Focusing on the mundane
All of these seemed to strike a chord with many who commented, where at least one or two were being employed in some form or another. What was also very obvious in the responses is that there was a wish that more was shared and known about the mental side of things and how to prepare using mental training. Failing me standing up and showing you the techniques I employ, I think the next best step is a bit of clarification as to how this can be done, or more to the point, how it can be controlled. I was reluctant to post that last blog edition as I felt that I might be ridiculed or at the least be classed as a nutcase. It is a good thing that I am chatting to like-minded people! I still think that swimming to France is an insane idea and have done so ever since I set foot on French soil – well, rocks in my case. But spending a day doing something completely different to the norm is far more acceptable in my mind.
What I have to say would require a book rather than a blog. I am working on that one although at a pretty glacial pace.
So let’s start with a question; the same one I posed at the end of my last post.
Does your body control your mind, or your mind control your body?
If people are in the same boat as me, the answer is that your mind controls your body. Everything you have ever done or taken on started with a thought process. so let’s explore how this happens every day in our lives. It is said that the average human uses about 10% of their brain. If that is the case, why is that? This thing called life stops us accessing the faculties we need to be able to function at our best. Every one of us is born perfect, but it takes years of living to screw that all up.
It is scientifically proven that during the day and night, our brain cycles through 4 different basic rhythms, based on EEG readings, which are as follows:
Delta Waves = 0.5 to 3hz – these are achieved in deepest meditation and dreamless sleep. This is often referred to as the unconscious level. We are unaware of our physical body. We enter this level each night for short periods when we sleep.
Theta Waves 3 – 8 Hz. Most commonly achieved during sleep but also in deep meditation. We spend about 50-60% of our sleep in this level. Associated with emotion. We experience intense pleasure and pain. We have REM sleep. Referred to as the SUB conscious level
Alpha Waves 8 – 12 Hz. These are dominant in some meditative states and we have quiet flowing thoughts. It is the power of now, being here, in the present. It is a resting state. These waves aid overall mental coordination. Calmness, alertness. Commonly referred to as the SUPER conscious level. Children spend most their time here. As they get older and are awake more, the faster brain waves become more prominent
Beta waves 12 – 38Hz. These dominate our waking state where attention is directed towards cognitive tasks and the outside world. It is fast, we are alert and attentive, engaging in problem solving, judgement, decision making and high mental activity. It is our logical and analytical state of mind. It also has some downsides to this level. It is the level where we experience stress, fear, doubts and anxiety. Lack of mental discipline. Commonly referred to as the OUTER conscious level.
There are other levels below and above these levels but they are not very well studied at this point
I mentioned that Life prevents us accessing our faculties. When we are born and in the early parts of our lives, we spend a lot more time accessing our Alpha brain rhythms. This Is due to us sleeping a lot more when we are youngsters. It is the main reason that as children, we have a zest for life, a carefree existence; we learn things quickly, picking up a new skill is easy, and we are not walking around stressed that the mortgage is not getting paid, or how am I going to pay off the credit card, what are we going to have for dinner, the clients at work are a pain, I am not swimming nearly enough to do this goal etc. etc.. Kids seem to be immune to stress and anxiety. As we grow up, and spend more and more time awake, the shackles of life start to tighten, stress at school, stress at home, upsetting parents and friends, not fitting in to name just a few. Most of these anxieties only exist in the higher beta levels until you get to being an adult, where you are required by society in general to spend most of your waking day operating in the higher beta levels, using logic, planning, budgeting, keeping fit, money management etc. etc… i.e., not accessing the most influencing part of your brain, the Superconscious.
During every day and night, our brains cycle through all of these states and when we sleep, with a complete cycle lasting between 90 and 110 minutes.
So, as you can start to see, it is not our lack of ability to achieve things that holds us back, it is our fear of managing everything around achieving the goals that can stop us dead in our tracks
So how do we control these waves?
So it is all just about higher or lower frequencies in our brain. These frequencies are directly related to how calm and relaxed we are or how stressed out and anxious we let ourselves get. Knowing this, we can start to understand that if we can calm ourselves down then we can enter into the states of Alpha and then on into Theta and Delta. There are many ways to achieve this and the ones that I use are deep slow breathing, often with my eyes closed -this filters out a lot of visual distraction.
If you are trying to reprogram your mind, then it needs the right input at the right time so that when you do start to consciously slow the brain down, this is the time to simultaneously input the new program that you want it to start to formalise. In my case, it was a channel swim, but it could be anything you want, a goal of any sort, but this is where you can start inputting the right stuff. The positive outcomes and the challenges you will have to deal with as well as the way in which you will deal with those challenges are met through visualisation or alternatively internal verbal dialogue. IT IS YOUR GOAL AND YOUR IMAGINATION, GO WILD – THINK OF ANYTHING YOU WANT THAT WILL HELP YOU IN YOUR END GOAL. The scenarios I make in my mind are the movies that I play in my head, and they are always in a positive light.
You can argue that in our busy lives,if you do this, you just fall asleep. And yes, you are right. If I do this in bed, then yes, I just slide through the levels and end up in Delta. However, when you go through your cycles between about 5 and 15 Hz,(Theta going into Alpha) generally about 15 minutes after you ‘fall asleep’ to about 60 minutes (or the middle third of your sleep cycle), your brain is at its most receptive state. If you are positively reinforcing a goal or challenge in this period, it starts to accept it as a given, as there is nothing challenging the challenge; no logic, no life limiting beliefs, no judgements etc., only positive thoughts towards an ultimate goal. To stop yourself falling asleep, sit as upright as possible on a dining room chair, back straight, without crossing your arms or legs. This may not stop you sleeping, but it will minimise the possibility of falling asleep totally. In my last blog I mentioned a 20 minute train journey; this was my ideal place to do it. You can argue with the above maths that I probably only have 5 minutes at my most impressionable state. But this is where effective calming or slowing down of the brain helps. I can generally calm myself down very quickly with my deep controlled breathing. It could help that I never have to worry in my life as the Slimhippo does it all for me so I already start at a fairly relaxed state.
Do you achieve this state without consciously reaching it? Yes, of course, you do it already on a daily basis, and often several times a day. The trick is to identify what level you are in and how to stay there for a longer period, which is key to allow new input. You go into the lower brain levels during the day are when you first wake up in the morning, daydreaming, reading a good book, having a shower, taking a nice long bath, watching a good movie, sitting on the loo, swimming to France, or even taking part in ultra-marathon events. (Lake Zurich swim is run by the Sri Chinmoy foundation whose Founder was a lifelong advocate of fitness in achieving self-transcendence) At these times your brain slows down and you access these levels automatically, completely unaware that you have accessed possibly the most powerful part of your brain.
Methods of slowing your brain down.
The most common way of doing this is deep slow breathing. This is a key part of Yoga, Pilates, and other types of meditation. All involve controlled breathing but a lot of people assume that this is to calm yourself down. Few realise that it is also the key to accessing your inner consciousness. Another way is by visualising something which you know to have a calming effect on you. In my case, I walk down a set of steps, imagining that with each step I descend down, my brain slows down. I only have 12 steps but some have more. Similarly, to come out I walk up the steps. At the bottom of my steps there is a shower of white light. I stand underneath this shower and when I enter it, the light coming off me is black; this represents all the worries, anxieties, stress being washed out of me, until after a few minutes, the light becomes white again. I have now entered a zone where I can peacefully programme my mind. Yes, this may sound like I should be in some form of institution and yes, the jury is still out on this. But for me, it all serves as a very powerful tool to be able to start to take control of my mind.
Once my new program is ‘set up’, I can start watching my movies and there is a whole realm of my existence that I have created in this level where I can do a lot of cool funky things, but these would be way too much to fit into a blog post. To give you an idea, I went on a three day course to learn and set all this up in my head and then went and trained as a lecturer in it as well, so a blog post is not really enough time to do it justice. In short though, some of the other benefits I get at this level are:
Ability to heal my body, this is where my minions hang out and also 2 very important people that I trust implicitly, these are my advisors, one female and one male. When I have difficult decisions to make like, is it a good idea to swim to France? These are the people who advise me. Again, this is done whilst sitting quietly and calmly.
Other benefits from the ability to just calm myself down are
Focused Concentration. – When I did my first marathon swim. My parents were on the boat and I even amazed them with my ability to focus for such a sustained length of time. Usually I lose focus very quickly and is the reason why I do short term goals and not long term ones.
I am more in control of my relaxation and with that my stress levels.
I have greater self esteem and belief in my abilities.
This list of positive benefits from something as simple as relaxation is Huge in my Opinion. Another thing which is very much in the media at the moment is MINDFULNESS. All of the above and of course the hard work in the pool or lake is what is going to get you there. I have seen far too many focus on the physical and come up wanting when they really enter their darkest hours.
Books that explain more about the effects of the above are
“The Power of Alpha Thinking” by Jess Stearn
“Perform Your Own Miracles” by Napoleon Hill
“The Mind’s Eye” by Robert Sommer
“Creative Visualisation” by Ronald Shone