Train Your Focus, Part III: Mantra

Among the many tools that yoga gives to us for endurance training is mantra. By repeating the same syllables over and over, you’ll quiet mental chatter and yoke your mind to what is happening right now.
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Among the many tools that yoga gives to us for endurance training is mantra. By repeating the same syllables over and over, you’ll quiet mental chatter and yoke your mind to what is happening right now.

In my previous posts on focus, we looked at using pratyahara, or inward focus, and at drishti, a fixed gaze, to hold your attention in the moment. Another tool yoga gives us is the use of mantra.

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You’ve probably spontaneously used mantra in your sport for years. If you sing a song to yourself, if you count your steps or strokes, if you inwardly repeat phrases like “Go, go, go” or “Strong and smooth” or “Long and loose,” you’ve been using a mantra. Coming from the Sanskrit for “instrument of thought,” the word mantra refers to a tool for harnessing your thoughts—for focusing your attention in the moment.

The yoga tradition brings us many sacred mantras, from phrases like “Shanti, shanti, shanti” to the Gayatri mantra. Repeating a phrase rich with meaning can lend a sense of ceremony and devotion to your actions, whether you are sitting in meditation or moving through a workout mindfully. But beyond the significance of the words, the real power of mantra lies in its repetition. By repeating the same syllables over and over, you’ll quiet mental chatter and yoke your mind to what is happening right now.

Here are some ways to include mantra in your sports training.

  • Set the tone for your workout by choosing one to three mantras for your session. These can be a few words or many lines long. Let at least one be directly applicable to the workout at hand. For example, choose “Strong and smooth” for a tempo run, “Here and now” for a free-throw practice session.
  • Synch your mantra to your breath. If you are running, cycling, swimming, or rowing, line up the rhythm of your breath and your stroke with your mantra. If you are practicing skills or lifting weights, coordinate your actions with your mantra.
  • Come back to your mantra regularly. Set a countdown on your sports watch, so that you return to your mantra every 5, 10, or 15 minutes. When you realign with your mantra, you’re practicing mental association. Your thoughts may drift away, but they’ll return to the mantra the next time the timer goes off.
  • Add what works to your mental mantra library. When a mantra proves especially useful, make a note of it and add it to your repertoire. It’s good to have many go-to mantras, while also being open to the phrases that come to you in the moment.