Author: viswanathauthor

Power of Subconscious in sports

brain with neuron

The December 11, Times of India edition, carried an article on Mayank Agarwal, the Karnataka cricketer that read- New approach helps Agarwal score big. Mayank has hit a purple patch in the just concluded Indian domestic cricket season, scoring 1142 runs in 7 matches.

Speaking to the reporter Mayank said- “The book Power of subconscious mind by Joseph Murphy got me thinking about my approach to life and vipassana helped me understand life better. It taught me that life is a journey and each one of us takes a different path. I didn’t change overnight, the process has been slow and the results have only come this season,” says Mayank.

When you look at the words spoken by Mayank: you will see there are a spiritual touch and a philosophical outlook in his approach to his game. He is 26 and old enough to learn from the lessons life has taught him along the way.

Mention subconscious mind or meditation to any youngster he would vanish the very next moment or dismiss the whole thing as unreal, impractical or mystical. The scope and contribution of the subconscious mind cannot be dismissed lightly- as a non-empirical and hypothetical thing. Because many successful people have used it to good effect: it is like being religious- you know being religious is powerful but the effects can’t be measured.

Mind- the conscious and the subconscious[ unconscious]

Mind is a non-physical entity like air or electricity, something you can’t see or touch but can feel its existence. It is a bundle of thoughts or simply vibrations that happens due to firing of neurons at different parts of the brain.

The vibrations that emerge from the upper cortical areas of the brain are generally classified as the conscious mind and for those that emanate from the submerged brain parts [limbic system and other parts] below the cortex is the subconscious mind.

The conscious mind is the thinking mind- analysing, judging, planning and decision making is its true nature. But it is in the subconscious where all our learned skills, long term memories, experiences and creativity are stored. The power of the conscious mind is only the tip of the iceberg [20%] and the rest lies hidden with the subconscious [80%].

To highlight how powerful the subconscious is: all the unconscious processes like breathing, metabolism, cell growth, blood circulation, heart beating; performing of the learned skills etc is the work of the subconscious. These are actions beyond the control of the analytical conscious mind.

Once learnt, we perform activities like driving, typing, playing instruments, performing complex tasks, playing sports in an automatic mode without thinking. But, under evaluation, be it any competitive event, academics, work challenges or any other: man is habituated to be too much with the thinking conscious mind and this is like putting a virus in to a computer system- it corrupts the whole system.

Though every action or process happens with the synchrony of both the minds, being too much with the thinking mind debilitates performance. All experiences are stored in the files of the subconscious brain parts and we have to be very careful what we retrieve from the long term memories of the subconscious.

The subconscious performs according to the directions of its BOSS- the conscious mind because it is innocently dependent on the conscious mind for its inputs. Whereas the conscious mind is receptive to the direct signals it receives from the five senses namely: touch, feel [taste], sight, smell and hearing.

How we think/verbalise/believe/imagine and affirm affects what we manifest in to our lives. Because the subconscious is not bestowed with the analytical and judgemental ability: it innocently produces the result it is asked for without judging whether it is right/wrong, good/bad.

Repeated pattern of thinking: be it negative or positive, has a bearing on the subconscious and the outcome. Statements like I am no good, I am always a loser, I don’t deserve to win; will be taken literally by your sub-conscious and despite your best efforts you will never be the champion you want to be.

The negative- self-belief’s and self-fulfilling prophesies comes from the subconscious and that is what made Swami Vivekananda to say- “ whatever you think you’ll be, you think yourself as weak, weak you’ll be- if you think you are strong, strong you’ll be.  

In sports, beyond planning, strategizing, analysing – to a little extent, there is no need to over-analyse things because the execution is best left to the sub-conscious: to be performed in an automatic zone.

Factors that can influence the subconscious mind: Belief’s, Emotions, Verbal language, Authoritative figures [parents, teachers, coach, principal etc], behaviours, Imagination, Hope, faith and intense desire.

How to impregnate the subconscious mind:

The SCM can be impregnated through- Transformation in thinking, self-hypnosis, Meditation, Lucid dreaming, subliminal messages and repeated affirmations.

Dr Rudi Webster, sports psychologist wrote in his book `Think like a champion’- You should talk and listen to the little man[ subconscious], make him your best and trusted friend and work with him closely to perform your tasks and to reach your goals. If you make him your enemy he will sabotage your performance.’’



8tricks-leadThe art of dreaming and imagination is a gift bestowed upon human beings. Successful people, since the beginning of time have used imagination of mental pictures and dreams to achieve success.

Visualization or imagination is a creative concept used by scientists, architects, engineers, artists, painters, graphic designers, sports persons and other performers. The greatest creators of manmade wonders have admitted that they used their imaginary abilities before they were able to bring it in to reality.

Napoleon Hill wrote in his classic book Think and grow richImagination is literally the workshop wherein are fashioned all plans created by man. The impulse and the desire are given shape, form and action through the aid of the imaginative faculty of the mind.

In the field of sports: visualization has been used by athletes for different purposes ranging from improvement in performance, raising self-esteem and confidence to injury rehabilitation.

Sports persons are known to visualize having given a memorable performance, being declared victorious, receiving a glittering trophy, being- applauded, congratulated and crowned.

Visualization is a technique of seeing in the mind’s eye a future performance using the visual senses but Imagery is an extension of visualization where in the other senses of touch, smell, hearing and feeling are also used. For example a golfer who prepares for a swing in his imagery session can smell the grass, feel the club in his hands, and see the golf course with the greenery ahead, feel the movement of the arms, twist of the torso, hear the sound on impact and again see the ball land where it was intended.

There are two known methods of Imagery practice, they are:-

Internal imagery: – In this type of imagery you imagine your own actions, seeing and feeling from within.

External imagery:- here you are seeing yourself from outside, as though you are an outsider observing your own actions. You are seeing an image of yourself engaged in a series of motor actions.

How does Imagery work?

When a motor skill is learnt a motor plan or blue print is created and are located in the neural pathways of the brain. Each time a skill is performed the neural pathways expand and the cognitive templates become stronger. During the actual physical action the brain constantly transmits to the muscles impulses for movements to happen. During imagery, the same cognitive templates are activated as during real time performance. Real time action and imagery processes use the same areas of the brain, but in imagery, the real physical action does not happen.

The psycho neuro muscular theory suggests that low level electrical impulses are transmitted from the brain during imagery. This causes a low level innervation in the muscles which may not be equivalent to the real time physical activity, but enough to show some physical reaction happens during imagery.

Visualizing a future performance:-

  • Sit erect in a comfortable chair.
  • Do some deep abdominal breathing to get relaxed.
  • Close your eyes and observe your natural breathing for some time.
  • Recall a positive event in the past vividly to full detail.
  • Come back to the present, do some rhythmic breathing.
  • Imagine a forthcoming event that you are going to take part in.
  • See yourself performing in calm, relaxed, confident, and focused manner and in a positive state of mind. Visualize a positive performance.
  • See yourself winning the match, hearing the applause of the audience and shaking hands with the people congratulating you.

Speaking to a reporter from The Times of India, Pankaj Advani, world champion snooker player, recently said he visualizes as a part of the preparation process before an event. He said “ I visualize myself playing well and executing the right shots. At times, you have to visualize and prepare for the worst as well.’’

Ajinkya Rahane, one of India’s top batsmen does not find himself in the best of his form. Prior to his departure for the South Africa tour he started his preparations to come out of his poor patch along with his coach Praveen Amre. He is reported to have said [ TOI] – “ The other day I was sitting by myself, thinking about the what I used to do in such situations, when things didn’t go my way. We created those proper [positive] situations and I got busy playing a game of virtual cricket [visualization] inside my mind. I kept going through several such match situations inside my mind.

Absorption in the activity is mindfulness


July 2013- Andy Murray won his first Wimbledon title beating Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 in an intensely fought battle that lasted for 3 hours and 10 minutes. It was 77 years since a British player had won the Wimbledon title. After the match, Andy said it was mentally the toughest game he had ever played. In an emotional victory speech, he said he was in a shock and didn’t believe he had done it and couldn’t remember the final game that saw him complete the victory.

I was a witness to that match on television and was not surprised that Andy could not remember a thing about the final moments of the game: that he didn’t remember is an understatement because he was intensely absorbed and in a trance like state that saw him rewrite history for the Britons.

It is no secret that Andy Murray practices Hot Bikram Yoga – a practice that is conducted at various Bikram Studios, in temperatures of over 40 degree Celsius. Andy took to Bikram Yoga to gain mental strength and for its other benefits. Bikram Yoga, it is said, helps in controlling breathing; improving focus and calming of the mind. Whatever be the form of practice, Yoga done with mindfulness [awareness of body, breath and mind] has great advantages. May be, Andy’s emotional control, calmness and deep absorption in the activity could be attributed to Bikram Yoga. Watch this:

Mindfulness is a state where in our attention is intentionally placed on the present moment awareness. When an athlete is in the present and is with the process of the activity s/he is performing and not engaged consciously, s/he ultimately surrenders to the process and starts performing it unconsciously. This total surrender and mindfulness produces feelings of focused attention, relaxed concentration, loss of self-consciousness with a sense of control and confidence. These are mental states that contribute to the mystical sensations – commonly referred to as Flow and the Runners high.

Being involved in whatever activity we are performing and being mindfully aware of what is happening we quickly immerse our awareness in to the activity and transcend the body and mind in to a different realm and this mystical experience puts us in to a flow: suddenly you feel there is feeling of bliss, liberation, a lift in the moods, absence of pain or discomfort, absence of external distractions and a sense of smoothness and ease of movements. This is what long distance runners, marathoners and mountaineers experience when they become mindful of every step they take and every action they perform.


Recently, I was one of the members of a trekking expedition, to one of the tallest peaks in our state: as we climbed along- with the mountain being steep and treacherous, I found myself panting for breath, feeling pain and discomfort- half way through. I doubted whether I would be able to reach the peak and complete the trek. Inexperience in climbing added to the woes.

Suddenly I remembered Edmund Hilary’s quote `It is not the mountain but ourselves’ and realized the challenge was within. I switched over to mindfulness and started placing every step with awareness feeling the sensations of the softness of the soles of my shoes as it made contact with the earth, enjoying the breath- taking scenery around the mountain- the greenery, the chill and freshness of the air, the natural sounds of birds and the breeze etc: Very soon I was forgot all the pain and discomfort and felt that something was taking me forward and all I had to do was to surrender this mystical thing that would take me to the top. Later I found myself at the peak waving crazily to the others below as if I had conquered the world.

Meditation is a wonderful tool to practice mindfulness as it teaches us to be in the present with the focus on our breathing.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the spiritual guru and author of Peace in every step: The path of mindfulness in everyday life, tells us – Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.          

Breathe better to perform better


Few months ago an article that appeared in TOI caught my eye, Title:` This German used Indian breathing techniques to heal POWs and refugees– the lady in question is, Katrien Hertog- Director of the peace building programme, at  International Association of human values. This organisation was founded by Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living Foundation Bangalore- India.

Katrien Hertog for the past 15 years has helped thousands of prisoners of war and refugees in Europe and central Asia [countries like Jordan and Lebanon] recover from trauma through Indian breathing techniques. She uses breathing techniques like pranayama sudarshan kriya amongst others to heal the body and mind from deep seated trauma.

It will not be an exaggeration if I say Indian breathing techniques are as old as life itself. It was learnt that the Indian sages/ yogis used yogic breathing as a natural form of breathing. The secret of their longevity was in the ability to breathe deeply. To say the least, breathing is integral with the ancient art of yoga: as it is central to every form of Yogic ASANA [Posture] and other techniques like pranayama.

When we talk of breath we think it is the incoming and outgoing of atmospheric air in to the body through the nostrils. Indeed breath is not just air but the life force containing vital elements like oxygen, which are most essential to the body. Breathing is a proof of our presence and life in general.

Breath along with food and water forms the nourishment source of our body. It supplies to the tissues, nerves, glands, brain, skin, bones and other organs with oxygen. The brain which is the control centre for the body depends heavily on oxygen, for its proper functioning. About 90% of the body’s toxins are thrown out through breath.

Emotions and breath are also intrinsically linked. By modifying the breath, we can also impact the emotional aspect of our existence and get rid of depression, stress and trauma. Deep breathing is a prescribed antidote for stress. It can flush out emotions like anger from the person.

When you compare the predator big cats like lions, tigers, cheetah and leopard and also the dogs with tortoises and elephants: you find the former set of animals live an average of 14 years and the latter go on to live beyond 100 years. The secret lies in their breathing styles- while elephants and tortoises breathe deeply dogs, lions and others breathe rapidly and shallowly.

The same is said of the modern day humans. The present day human beings have forgotten how to breathe: their shallow breathing is the reason for their stress. During shallow breathing only 70% of the air reaches the lungs, whereas in deep breathing more than 90% of air is drawn in allowing maximum supply of oxygen to the lungs.

Breathing has a huge impact on an athlete and his performance. Pressure situations can make an athlete tense, nervous, anxious, uptight, fatigued and fearful. His breathing can become shallow and rapid. S/he can tend to hold the breath, breathe rapidly or hyperventilate.

Hyperventilation happens when an athlete breathes excessively beyond his metabolic needs resulting in the lowered Co2 levels in the body. When the athlete loses too much Co2 from the body there is an over binding of Oxygen to haemoglobin, which causes poor transportation of O2 throughout the body.Co2 also plays a key role in allowing O2 release to the brain and the heart at the proper levels.


Whereas when an athlete breathes deeply it results in the improvement of HRV [heart rate variability]. HRV is necessary for a healthy heart functioning. When a person breathes in deeply his heart rate increases and while he exhales out slowly his HR slows down. This in medical terms is called RSA [Respiratory sinus arrhythmia] HRV is a greater indicator of autonomic nervous system balance. It is related to increase in physical and mental performance [Raymond, Gruzelier and others 2005, Strack 2003].

Sports psychologists- V.E. Wilson and M Cummings [2004] York University have used the advantages of long, slow and deep breathing to develop the Learned Self- Regulation [LSR] and Ahhsome techniques which incorporate breathing. The purpose of Ahhsome is to relax several systems quickly. The objective is to release tension in key muscle groups, stimulate effective breathing and to enhance good blood flow. LSR involves awareness of the mind and body states choosing to lower/ increase mental and emotional activation and changing attention and focus when needed.

To sum up the advantages of deep breathing:-

  • Promotes relaxation and calmness.
  • Increases oxygen intake.
  • Reduces the effects of anxiety and muscle tension.
  • Brings the person back to the present moment and in tune with the life force.
  • With deep breathing- focus, attention and decision making are enhanced.

During moments of pressure an athlete has time only to do two things- take some deep breaths and change the mind set to positive, in order to keep his chances alive and be hopeful of a favourable result.

This quote from Curtis Strange [golfer] talks of the importance of breathing under pressure. Under pressure, one of the important things I have to remember to do is to breathe”