Hypnosis for Better RunningPosted on Sep 8th 2009 1:00PM by Jennifer Fields
| Photo: Getty Images
As I've struggled to advance my own training on my path to running a marathon this fall, I haven't been able to determine if it's my body or my head holding me back. I asked myself all the key questions to determine whether I'm over-training -- I'm not. And I know I'm uninjured so I've decided my stumbling block is mostly mental. Aside from giving myself half-hearted pep talks, I wondered if there was another mind-trick I could use to help me out of this performance slump. Could hypnosis be the answer or is that complete crazy talk?
The word hypnosis always conjures images of a creepy, bearded therapist waving a watch to send someone into a trance-like state. From there, the person, under the spell of the therapist, might either cluck like a chicken or assassinate politicians. Despite its shady representation in popular culture, however, hypnosis is a widely-accepted, highly-successful technique that has been proven to help people quit smoking, lose weight and improve athletic performance.
Gymnast Mary Lou Retton reportedly used self-hypnosis to prepare for the 1984 Olympics in which she famously scored a perfect 10 on the vault despite an injury. Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant are two other highly-successful athletes who've turned to hypnosis to perfect their games.
I spoke with the UK's premier expert on hypnosis, Ursula James, visiting teaching fellow at Oxford University Medical School and author of "You Can Think Yourself Thin: Transform Your Shape with Hypnosis" to find out how the everyday athlete can use hypnosis. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
That's Fit: How important is the mind when it comes to running and other sports?
Ursula James: Your mental attitude is key to any athletic performance. In our dreams we mentally rehearse physical scenarios. This happens to such a degree that we create a template for future events. We can do this in a positive way, creating a future image of success, or in a negative one, predicting failure. Mark Twain said "I have known many troubles in my life and most of them never happened ..." This goes to show how we create self-fulfilling prophecies. A good attitude will always produce a good performance, and this doesn't even take into account the biochemistry which changes when we prepare for success.
TF: How can hypnosis potentially help someone prepare for a marathon or improve their overall running?
UJ: Three ways. Focus, motivation and confidence. With these three in place a runner will be able to get through all of the possible pitfalls of distance running. Focus to keep you in the moment, motivation to get you through the physical barriers and confidence to move your eye to the finishing post. With hypnosis you have both your conscious awareness and your unconscious processes to keep you going through the whole event. Effectively you are working to your fullest potential.
That's Fit: Can hypnosis help you be faster and more fit?
UJ: Hypnosis can help motivate you by reminding you of past success or creating future templates of yourself as a winner. It can also help you visualize other successful people in your event, so you can "step into their shoes" and benefit from their template. Hypnosis will always move you to the edge of your positive potential, keeping you mentally fitter as well as physically.
TF: Is hypnosis the same as positive thinking or visualization?
UJ: Positive thinking is conscious. Visualization engages memory. But hypnosis is the best of all because it does all of this in a relaxed, focused state, one which allows you to fully experience the positive event. Your heart rate accelerates, your biochemistry changes and your mental processes are engaged. It creates a state of success.
TF: What won't hypnosis do for you?
UJ: Hypnosis can't give you skills and capabilities which you do not already have, so if you do not have the physical capacity to break a world record it can't instill it in you, but it can take you to the limit of your maximum potential.
James is so convincing and so enthusiastic about the potential for hypnosis, I decided to try her performance enhancement CD. I haven't used it long, so I'm not breaking any records yet, but I do feel more relaxed and generally more positive about my future running. The CD is available on her website and if you want a taste of hypnosis before you commit, James is also offering a free download of her total relaxation MP3. Just type MPFREE in the voucher code.
For more motivation, read about how the volume of your music pumps up your workouts.