March 23rd 2016: Thought of the Day

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One of my dear friends encouraged me to get the motivate chrome extension that displays a motivational and uplifting quote every time you open up a new tab. The quote above came up yesterday morning while I was doing some work. While I recognized the profound wisdom in Confucius’ statement, my ego bristled at it. Losing is for losers my ego continued. Only if I knew how I would be challenged later on that day.

I had recommenced training with the track team at UBC later that afternoon after a brief hiatus because of some troublesome achilles tendonitis. Something in my body felt a little bit off, but I ignored my inclination as I was feeling quite explosive and eager to return to action.

We were practicing our run throughs for a competition this weekend. I was blazing down the runway doing the last run through of my jumps for the day when calamity struck. The moment every track athlete feared occurred. Just as I had taken off for my jump, I felt a searing pain simultaneously with a huge “muscle cramp”. Having hurt this hamstring before, I knew this was a severe injury.

TRINIDAD'S BOLDON HOLDS HIS LEG AFTER THE 200M FINAL IN SYDNEY

No one is immune to injuries. However, some of us bounce back stronger and more resilient.

Even though I was extremely disappointed and angry, a tiny voice calmed me down and quipped, “they are no failures or negative events, just learning opportunities”. They were a lot of glaring physical and mental weaknesses that I was ignoring because of the wonderful progress I was making in my training. I needed this to occur to focus my attention on them so I could rebound a stronger and better athlete and human being.

Before I could conduct a thorough investigation of my injury, I needed to become aware, accept, and then let go of the emotions that were coming up after my injury. It is essential to realize that any so called negative emotions that arise from a certain event/situation is NEVER caused by that situation. Life brings out these suppressed dark elements of ourselves to the light so that we can transmute them into something beautiful. 

There are no bad or negative emotions. Emotions only become negative when they become bottle up and submerged. The key is to let it flow and then let it go. For example, do not suppress your emotions of anger because it is not socially acceptable to be angry. Instead, revel in the anger, pay attention to how your body feels when you’re angry, and then and only then can you make the enlightened decision to drop the emotion. An important corollary is that just because you are feeling an intense emotion, you are not compelled to blindly have your actions follow that emotion. It is human to feel angry, but it is wrong to commit violence when angry. 

Dealing with the emotions that arise due to an injury is just as important as anything physical you do to ameliorate the injury. Just like you can get scar tissue lodged in your muscle and joints after an injury, you can get emotions, such as anger and fear, lodged into your psyche. This lodged emotion will hamper your performance just as much as scar tissue.

How do you deal with these emotions? Two tools that I have found helpful when these emotions arise are:

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One of the most therapeutic and effective tools I have used when dealing with with tough times.

  1. Journaling – There is something truly remarkable about spilling the contents of your mind onto a blank piece of paper. The key is to place NO filter or judgement on what comes out. People who say they have nothing to write about are just unconscious about how much they judge and limit themselves. Lastly, it is essential that you physically write in cursive with a pen and paper. There is an intimate connection with the hand and brain that you need to take advantage of to be the best that you can be.
  2. Body Meditation – Many times physical pain experienced in the body is a deeply lodged emotion’s last cry to become noticed. It is no coincidence that disease has the words “dis- ease.” Disease can not occur in a body in a state of ease and non-resistance. This meditation can be done anywhere at anytime you have a spare moment. Become aware of your body. How fast is your heart beating? What does it sound like? What is the rhythm of your beats? Are you at ease? Is there tension in your body? Get curious about your body and revel in all of its sensations. For the vast majority of people, they experience reality all in their head. Remind yourself that you have a miraculous body attached to your head.

Losing and/or getting injured just plain sucks. There are no qualms about that. Sometimes I wonder if the ruthless mentality of professional sports and NCAA athletics, which unfortunately is seeping its way into youth sports, needs to be revolutionized. A maniacal obsession with winning and being superior to others should NOT be seen as a positive trait. The pursuit of self actualization and personal excellence are, but beating others is definitely not!

Even though there are many pitfalls with this culture, there is one major positive aspect lurking in the background. Elite athletics is such a ruthless world that every athlete will experience their fair share of losing, heartbreaks, and injuries.

This is an amazing opportunity that provides the impetus for all of us to not only be a better athlete but also a better human being. I hope this post gave you a fresh new perspective to help deal with defeats, disappointments, and injuries that are integral parts of athletics and just life in general. If you are going through an injury now and this has helped you, please share your experience below. It will not only warm my heart, but hearing someone’s experiences could be exactly what someone needs to be the strongest version of themselves. Lastly, if you have any other tools you use to deal with tough injuries and loses, please share it with everyone. Let’s create a community of leaders who are adamant about achieving their full potential and serving the world. 

Personal Excellence and Service, 

Pavan Mehat

PS Here are a couple of ways to connect with me if you have any questions or have any specific topics you would like me to address.

Pavan Mehat’s LinkedIn

Pavan Mehat’s Instagram

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Using Douglas Heel’s “Be-Activated” – 4 Week Reflections – Part I

This system has completely changed the way in which I look at the body and mind – posture, body language, breathing, recovery, focus, and performance.  I now activate almost every point we were shown every day, in the morning and/or before training.  I have many of my athletes do a smaller version of activation before practices/workouts.  Our reactions are below:

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What’s changed for me?

Running/jumping feels effortless

Used to sleep with a pillow between my legs because hip pain would wake me up at night, and have avoided playing basketball to avoid aggravating my hip’s FAI impingement/damaged labrum – pain is completely gone at rest and during intense activity

Low back (SI joint) pain gone a few hours after bothersome activity (heavier weight training) instead of a few days. This recovery time is still getting shorter as well (update: have not had pain in several days, for the first time in a year)

My usual head-tilted-to-the-right posture has diminished significantly

Left hip can raise up above 110* while standing, when it could not go much past 90* previously

Significantly less soreness in hamstrings after sprinting/doing posterior chain work, more soreness in the glute

Passive range of motion of the gastrocs (calves) went from barely 90* to 15-20* past that – if the calves can only get to 90* the whole body will have to compensate

Previously fractured area of my right foot no longer goes numb in the cold/with tightly laced shoes – felt a serious rush of blood in there during one particular treatment

Right knee pain can be reduced/almost entirely eliminated immediately by rubbing a particular point and repeating 1-2x daily for a few seconds – and every time it comes back it comes back less

Neck and shoulders no longer stuck in forward position – feel taller, more confident, with significantly less tension

Jaw finally jiggles while sprinting – gotten rid of harmful tension there

Have not gotten my usual monthly migraine, even with a more stressful month than usual

Butt (glute muscles) have grown significantly relative to others

Maintaining posture feels easy/effortless by focusing on breathing – in slouching I am aware of how much it restricts my breathing!

Can breathe into my belly with no extra effort

I can get out of fight or flight stress response much more quickly than before to make rational choices while under stress

I do almost no stretching now – once the right muscles fire, your body removes the tightness it created as a way of protecting itself from your dysfunctional movement patterns

What’s changed for my athletes?

I have tried the technique (mostly zone 1 – diaphragm/glute/psoas) on friends, family and a large portion of my collegiate track athletes – their reactions listed below. The first few are almost universal, while others are more specific; although I may have included a specific quote all reactions I list here were mentioned/seen in more than one athlete/client:

Improved strength – ability to contract zone 1 (psoas/glute) without tensing jaw, shin, or other distal areas to assist – meaning changed order of sequencing – more on that in part II

Ability to breath into belly more easily/more deeply

Changed posture – taller, reduced head forward/rounded shoulders position

“I feel lighter”/”like I lost 20 pounds”

“Effortless” feeling while walking/running/sprinting

“I didn’t notice much until halfway through my run – my legs didn’t feel heavy where they usually do”

Improved mechanics while running – greater push through hips, knees appear to pop up without extra effort

Relaxation – at rest, and seen while running (ability to relax jaw)

Improved ranges of motion – as drastic as hamstrings going from 45* to 90*, calves from 0* past 90* to 25* past 90* in one 10 minute session

Reduced/eliminated pain in back/hip

Reduced anxiety during strength test after treatment (less feeling of “things about to snap”)

Feeling “cleansed”

And my favorite reaction, from an athlete that was clearly not sold after treatment, halfway through the toughest workout of the week: “I just feel so loose right now. I feel amazing.” Then he proceeded to crush the rest of the workout.

The Story:

The morning of the Super Bowl was a little manic for me – our local Patriots were playing that night, and a blizzard was scheduled to hit before work the next morning. But both of those things were not really on my mind, as I was trying to reserve a spot at Douglas Heel’s “Be-Activated” Level One seminar the following weekend, looking into the last-minute travel arrangements that would go along with it.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect – the videos/articles I saw showed results, but since this system didn’t fit into my previous knowledge – touching points on the stomach to gain flexibility in the calf, for example – part of me was not sold. We worked in partners on both days, one partner for each day, to learn activation. My partners were novices in activation work, as I was – one had experience with manual therapy as an osteopath, the other was a high school track & field coach. Video from another course, but similar to what we saw (and experienced) while in Chicago.

The Seminar

**Part II of this article will explain some of the theory behind why this works**

Felt cleansed afterwards – endorphins out of this world, perhaps partially because some of the points were so painful – but I also felt that I had let go of things that my body and mind had held onto for years. Difficult to describe, but profound and worth mentioning, since I am not the only one who mentioned feeling that way.

I have studied Zen, tai chi, and chi gong for 7+ years…I thought I knew how to breathe into my belly. After that day I took breaths into my belly that I don’t think I had taken since high school, if not longer – activating the diaphragm and psoas made an impact on the quality and natural depth of my breathing.

I visited a friend that night who is living in the area – he remarked that I seemed “really excited” about my work as we talked – I had a ton of new energy, that’s for sure.

SINCE THEN

As a former athlete recovering from several injuries, a couple in particular combining to end my college athletic career early, I have always felt a feeling of the wheels about to fall off while sprinting.  It’s not a happy feeling, it is my brain receiving signals from my body that something ain’t quite right.  Upon returning to practice, I noticed myself running back and forth between coaching venues the way a kid runs – getting somewhere serves as an excuse for the joyous activity that is running. I was bouncing off of the walls with energy. That feeling of the wheels falling off being imminent was completely gone and I felt freer than I had in a long time. Later that week, there was a day in which my car’s battery died and I had to wait at the shop all day, missing both of my jobs for that day – despite the initial stress, I was able to return to a state of acceptance about missing work by focusing on my breathing and my posture. The next day, I had too much energy and a blizzard was threatening after I picked up the car – I didn’t have time for a workout at the gym, as the snow had already started to fall, I knew my sanity for the next two days holed up in my home was at stake. So I laced up my trainers and ran. A couple minutes in I noticed that I didn’t feel any tightness, so I turned it up for a stride. Before long, my “run” turned into sprints on pavement at about 85-90% intensity. In 30* weather, with the snow falling – without any tightness, without the usual anxiety accompanying maximal effort. It was awesome.

While the initial rush has worn off, I am in significantly less pain on a daily basis than I have been in at any point in the past 6 years, and my posture is effortlessly so much better. Perhaps just as important, my relationship with stress has changed – I am much more able to address situations calmly, with an open mind. By changing my posture, I can change the way that I feel and think for the better – perhaps because our posture influences the hormones our body releases. I really buy into Heel’s saying that “what’s in the body is in the mind, what’s in the mind is in the body.” Look in a mirror, close your eyes, then picture your most embarrassing moment in vivid detail. Open your eyes again. From demonstrations I’ve done with my athletes, 100% have adopted a forward neck, rounded shoulders, hip-out-of-alignment posture, sometimes even with crossed arms. How can you perform in that position?? Any trainer, coach or mom can tell you that a body looking like that cannot safely and effectively perform. On the flip side, the posture that kids adopt on their best days – a light, open posture – is exactly what Heel’s system builds. This is the position that trainers dream about their athletes getting into, and coaches picture when they picture their team succeeding. Don’t take my word for it, watch people on their best and worst days. Change the body and you change the mind, change the mind and you change the body.

To learn more about activation, and to try it yourself, contact me at swuest22@gmail.com,

check out this article (http://www.joekelly.me/pdfs/Muscle%20Activation.pdf) in Runner’s World UK,

or check out this list of US practitioners (http://itccca.com/9825/2015/02/dont-implode-explode-be-activated/)

I have to thank Joel Smith, Tony Holler, Dr. Tom Nelson and Chris Korfist for providing enough information/excitement for me to fly out to Chicago to learn from Heel in person. Smith, at just-fly-sports.com for posted an interview with Chris Korfist in which he mentions Heel’s Activation work – causing me to google around and see Tony Holler’s articles on Activation, Nelson’s videos/website (activateanddominate.com) on the activation work he does with Nazareth’s football team, along with actual injury statistics and player/coach reactions.

You can read Smith’s articles here:

http://www.just-fly-sports.com/epic-speed-training-interview-with-chris-korfist/

http://www.just-fly-sports.com/chris-korfist-interview-on-ankle-rocker-speed-and-vertical-jumping/

You can read Holler’s articles here:

http://itccca.com/9825/2015/02/dont-implode-explode-be-activated/

http://itccca.com/8430/2014/10/you-only-know-what-you-know/

http://www.freelapusa.com/3-reasons-why-activation-is-a-game-changer/

http://www.freelapusa.com/hamstrings-activation-and-speed/

http://itccca.com/8163/2014/09/speed-never-sleeps/

Food Combining: How Gain More Energy and Recover Faster From Workouts by Wasting Less Energy on Digestion and Getting More Nutrients from Food- A Ukrainian/Chinese Perspective

T’ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)

Ella Fitzgerald had it right, at least when it comes to diet – while what you eat is important, it is of equal importance how you eat it.  Everyone knows that eating enough protein is good for you, but it two whole thanksgiving turkeys every day, and you will gain weight and have little to no energy.  While that’s an exaggerated example, it goes to show that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.  Likewise, a “bad thing”‘s harmful effects can be minimized by eating it at the right time.

This post is largely based on Ukrainian and Chinese Medicine, two countries where they teach food combining in schools as part of nutrition classes.

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Why Food Combining Matters:

If you spend extra energy digesting food, it is less energy that you have mentally, physically and emotionally to deal with anything that comes your way.  Good digestion helps you feel more energetic and just plain better, for longer.  Bad digestion, caused by poorly combining foods, doesn’t just lead to gas, abdominal pain and swelling, it also leads to decreased nutrient assimilation.  This means your body doesn’t get the nutrients that you are eating.  How does this happen?  Your body uses different enzymes to process different types of foods.  Sugars, proteins, and carbs/starches are of particular importance, because they require vastly different types of enzymes.  If we eat different foods at the same time, the body cannot produce the exact enzymes required to break down the food.  If a food isn’t broken down well, it isn’t absorbed well by the body, and doesn’t help you recover, and may leave you feeling hungry, leading to overeating and weight gain (your body missing nutrients –> hunger signal).

Proteins – require a ton of stomach acid to break down, especially if it is from meat or eggs.  Carbs will have to wait.  Ways to reduce the amount of energy spent by the body in digesting meat is actually to marinate your food!!  Citrus, vinegar, and wine all actually predigest some of the proteins and make them more available to your body – they start the work of digestion for you.  Another way to reduce the strain on your system while eating meat is to eat green vegetables during or after meat consumption.  This is why Italian and French people always eat salad after a meal, not before.  It helps you to digest rich/large meals.

Carbs – require different enzymes than proteins for proper digestion.  Eating them separately is a good idea for those weak from illness, those trying to maintain energy levels immediately after the meal, or those trying to lose weight (better nutrient assimilation through better food combining –> less food you need to eat).  However, it is not common for people to eat them separately, and this is not a big deal.  If you would like to maximize nutrient absorption without separating proteins and carbs, just eat the protein before the carbs, or at least on top of them (I have seen plenty of rice and beans with the beans on top of the rice, but I have never seen the opposite!)  Also, by cooking proteins and carbs in a soup or stew for a long time (>1 hour), each item begins to take on the flavors (and qualities, leading to needing similar enzymes for digestion) of the others, negating the need for a food-eating order.  Many traditional dishes are cooked as stews/soups for a reason!!

Sugars – here’s where it gets tricky.  Sugars (includes sweeteners, natural or artificial, and fruit) digest extremely quickly.  To do this they monopolize digestion.  That means if you eat a ton of fruit with a meal, everything will sit in your stomach (or en route) fermenting and collecting bacteria.  Likewise, if you buy processed/refined food and sugars/sweeteners are one of the first few ingredients, the nutrients from this food will be absorbed neither quickly or effectively.  Always read the ingredients!!!  This is the reason a large dessert or a lot of fruit after a meal will often lead to a stomachache.  It is much better for digestion and nutrient assimilation to have sugary foods on their own.  This is why in many cultures, especially in Europe, the food cooked with the most sugar is consumed at breakfast, combined only with tea (British tea and cookies, for example).  This can be a whole meal (preferably breakfast, as discussed below) or as a snack in between meals (30 minutes before, 1 hour after).  Fruit is a better choice than refined sugars, as the fiber changes the way that your body utilizes the sugar that it provides.

Other Considerations:

Food Combining for Sleep Quality – Pav wrote a great article last week on insomnia.  What can food combining do for insomnia?  First, eating late at night (after 9, or within 2 hours of bedtime, whichever comes first) means that your body will still be digesting when it is supposed to be resting.  The consequence of this is that the quality of your sleep suffers – for a few people it will mean a more difficult time falling to sleep, but for most it will mean that you need more sleep to get the same rest, since your body will not be able to get to its deepest levels of sleep (the ones that leave you feeling recharged) while digesting.  Although you feel like you are passing out after a big meal and sleeping so well, it is actually similar to passing out while drunk – it isn’t real sleep.  Most traditional cultures and many modern ones as well (Spain, for example) customarily eat the biggest meal of the day at lunch.  Our health-ignoring American society has changed for the sake of productivity, but this has a negative impact on our health.

An anecdotal note on this subject is that if I have a dessert after dinner I have insomnia.  Although for years I could not sleep well, since transforming my diet my sleep quality has been vastly improved.  I have had insomnia less than a dozen times in the past year – all triggered by a heavy dinner with sugary dessert.

Never eating after 9 is advised by both Ukrainian athletic coaches and Traditional Chinese doctors because of its effects on the liver and other internal organs involved in digestion – the liver is what detoxes our body, it works all day when we digest, exercise, do anything – it needs rest!  The entire digestive process requires many of your organs be active, you need to let them rest.  The liver is especially active between 1-3 a.m. according to Chinese Medicine, cleaning itself – if it is being called upon to work while it should be recharging, it will not recover well.

Last thing:  Digestion starts in the mouth.  Chew your food!!  If you are a “gulper,” you are much more likely to suffer from indigestion and nutritional deficiencies than someone who mindfully gets all the food into small pieces, easier on the internal digestive system.

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Thank you to Alex Ponomarenko and Paul Pitchford for much of the information provided in this article!

Mindfulness in Motion

“It’s not about how much you practice, it’s about how much your mind is present when you’re practicing.”

If you follow psychology at all, you may have noticed that in recent years, the term “mindfulness” has been garnering a lot of attention. The most commonly accepted definition of mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.”  Mindfulness is not a trance state, it is not someplace that you can get to. It is a way of being in the present moment.  It is not some clear-minded, peaceful fantasy world.  Noticing the breeze brushing against your cheek is mindfulness, but so is noticing your desire to check that text as you drive.

Chinese Study showed that after only 20 minutes a day for 5 days a group given meditation instruction scored significantly better than a control group (given relaxation training) in:

Attention

Lowered anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue

Decreased cortisol

Increased immunoreactivity (increased immune system functioning)

Recently, researchers from Harvard have also begun to study mindfulness meditation on a regular basis.  Using randomly-assigned studies where they have taken before and after shots of the participants’ brains have shown that over the course of 8 weeks the group that practiced mindfulness meditation had significant changes in their brains.

Brain

What were these changes?

Increased gray matter in:

The left hippocampus – involved in both short & long term memory, as well as spatial navigation.  Team sport athletes – imagine being able to learn and absorb your team’s playbook more quickly than ever. Imagine being able to navigate the court knowing exactly where your teammates are, developing court vision like Chris Paul.  Individual skills and sport benefit from increased gray matter in the hippocampus as well – memory is necessary for learning, so this finding would imply that you would be able to remember and re-create that perfect forehand on the tennis court or a spot-on approach in the long jump.

The posterior cingulate cortex – link between several different regions of the brain – if your parts of your brain can’t communicate with the others, you can’t function.

The temporo-parietal junction – used to process incoming information – think of how much information you have to process during a competition – your coach, your opponent’s intention, your teammates’ intention, their location, etc.  Improved ability to do this would theoretically lead to improved skill on the field.

The cerebellum – this piece of the brain has a large role in motor control, i.e. coordination.  Damage to the cerebellum has been shown to mess with motor skills and posture among other things.  As an athlete, you need this area in tip top shape!!

, in the body, stress markers such as cortisol were proven to have become significantly lowered – cortisol is implicated in disease and overtraining, among other things.

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But wait…aren’t these meditators sitting the whole time staring at the floor?  How do these changes in brain structure apply to performance in a sport?  It’s a fair question.  Let’s bring it back to the Kobe Bryant quote at the beginning.  You cannot improve without being present.  If you aren’t paying attention, or are otherwise putting in poor-quality work, it is not going to be of the same benefit as high quality work.  You can’t even know if you are putting in high or low quality work if you aren’t present and paying attention!  Being present is a skill.  Some people are better than others, and these people generally learn faster than the rest of us.  However, like any skill, you can practice it.  Just like training for strength in the weight room can benefit an athlete on the track, training in formal mindfulness can benefit an athlete by helping them stay focused.  Formal practice is helpful, but you can also practice it without sitting. It can be walking to class or brushing your teeth, an everyday moment.  I used to use segments of collegiate practices throughout the week as specific times to hone my focus – warming up, cooling down, during downtime.  I would try to stay as much in the present moment as I could.  By doing this I noticed two things: first, that I would become more aware during the rest of practice as well, and second, I would notice a lot of things that I had never noticed – feelings and thoughts that were there all along were brought to light.  Simply using your mind to pay attention to whatever may arise in the present moment – worries about the upcoming test, regret that you didn’t say more to your crush in the dining hall a few minutes before, the sensation of sunshine on your face, whatever might be swirling around in that head of yours– is practice.

A key to mindfulness practice is being there for anything that comes up – often we like to run away from thoughts or feelings that we don’t like, and often make our situations worse for ourselves by doing so.  Procrastinating is an example – the work does not go away, and the anxiety only gets worse with each passing moment.  While mindfulness practice does not mean that you must resolve anything, it requires courage to face it.  It takes effort to be with suffering without running to a social media feed or whatever we like to use as a distraction when we would rather be someplace else.  One must be there for our sensations, thoughts and emotions in the present moment like we are there for a loved one – unconditionally, through good times and bad, without judgment.

On the playing field, this means that we are not only present with thoughts and emotions that we like – the sound of the ball hitting the back of the net, the thrill of a big hit – we are present with things that we do not like, like our self-judgment after a mental error, or the butterflies in our stomach.  By harshly condemning our response to our errors, we make a mistake in the way we handle our mistake.  The first step is to stop digging, to accept what is, and to move on from there.  Mindfulness’s contribution to sports psychology is not in that it changes our thoughts and emotions as much as it changes our relationships to our thoughts and emotions.  They may change as you really face them, examine them, hold them up to the light – but they do not have to.  It may be enough to understand that we can tolerate fear, embarrassment, anything.  In the same way that the thought that “this is going to be a great game” doesn’t always turn out to be true, by staying present and accepting of the opposite thought (i.e. this is going to be terrible), we do not have to trap ourselves in the self-fulfilling prophecy that that thought often leads to.

at mark  Throwback…Monday?

As a track & field athlete, some days, practice was pretty painful.  However, as both my mental ability and meditation practice developed, I was able to stay with my dislike of workouts that I wasn’t good at, and shift my attention back to what I needed to do to get better.  Many track runners, and other athletes as well, mindlessly blow through repetitions without realizing that every step is an opportunity to perfect their form, their speed, even work on their attitude as they practice.  So although the workouts still hurt – and I still didn’t look forward to them – when I left the track I could honestly say I was better than when I arrived.  Had I tried to avoid those negative feelings…I would have completed the workout, sure, one way or another…but I would have missed the opportunity to improve that my new acceptance in the present moment gave me.  Sport is all about small improvements. In track & field athletes train for months to get fractions of a second faster.  In team sports as well, an inch will often separate a basketball from a defender’s outstretched hand.  Every little thing matters – the question is, are you going to be present to improve?