By Shahid Mishra
How could yoga be related to a mind game? Developed in the 1970s and 1980s, the field of neuroimaging opened up a window into the mind. For the first time, what happened inside the brain during exercise was visible to scientists and researchers. More than that, what happened when people thought about exercise was visible – and strangely, the results were almost the same. In 1992, a researcher found that trampolinists who imagined practicing their skill, in addition to physically practicing it, significantly improved their performance. Since then, the field of imagery in sports psychology has grown to a multi-million dollar industry, and everyone from Olympic athletes to child tennis players are exhorted to “imagine their follow through.” Sports, we are told, is: “90% mental.” But does this translate to other areas?
Using the imagery principles, you can improve your Yoga practice any time, anywhere. Techniques for mental imagery vary, but most suggest spending at least five minutes a day. In a quiet, relaxed setting, imagine each part of your Yoga practice, trying to feel the sensations of pressure or muscle movement that would be experienced in that asana. Rather than imaging success, as in a competitive sport, imagine goals such as the relief of stress from the body, or the flow of the practice. Imaging the same practice each time may make it more effective. This can be done while commuting to work, on a lunch break, or at another convenient time. Like other activities, the more often you mentally practice, the easier and more efficient the exercise will be. Falling into a receptive state, where one can get “lost” in the mental rehearsal, will get easier over time.
Where is the Mind Game Aspect?
So how does it really work? There are several theories. The first, psycho-neuromuscular theory, posits that imagery duplicates muscle action and the motor pattern being rehearsed, so the body is quicker to perform. Another school of thought is that, symbolic learning theory, assumes that learning is cognitive and imagery helps the brain, not the muscles, learn what to do. Finally, Suinn’s visual motor behavior rehearsal (VMBR) model assumes that that imagery is a holistic process that supports a reintegration of experiences, including auditory, visual, tactile, kinesthetic and emotional. Somewhat similar to the way in which dreaming processes memories, VMBR assumes that imagery improves performance. Whichever theory you ascribe to, you may soon be thinking your way to a more advanced Hatha Yoga practice.
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