PYFS Mindful Strategies for the Athlete

For more comprehensive home study learning check out the above link for my Way of the Mindful Athlete Curriculum Course

PYFS Mindful Strategies for the Athlete

Whether you are at work, in the classroom, or on a playing field, our emotional and physical health has an impact on our ability to perform. For athletes of all ages, this is especially true.

Applying these strategies will support your performance at the highest level on and off your venue of competition.

Breathing is a function of life we rarely think about and comes to us as second nature. Nevertheless, focused breathing can have profound effects on your ability to relax, regulate your emotions, reduce anxiety, and distract your mind from potential negative thoughts. Every individual is different, however using some of these simple breathing exercises can help you benefit from deep mindful breathing in stressful situations.


You can apply this exercise before a competition, in the classroom, at your job, or at home. The great thing about diaphragmatic breathing is that it is a tool which you can use anywhere and anytime to help manage stress and anxiety and literally shut down the fight or flight response.

A picture containing screenshot

Description automatically generated
  • Be in a comfortable position. 
  • Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your upper chest
  • Close your eyes. Although this can be done eyes open as well
  • Take a slow deep breath in through your nose, send the breath down to your stomach and try to move the hand on your stomach out, while minimizing the movement in your chest
  • Exhale through your nose, noticing that the hand on your stomach sinks in as you empty the air out
  • Ideally, your breath is passing down through your chest to go lower into your diaphragm area
  • Repeat 1-10 minutes


Follow the steps of the Diaphragmatic Breathing exercise, but before repeating it, do a second inhale to stretch the lings, hold the breath and take a third tiny breath, hold and then exhale through the nose.  Push out as much air as possible on the exhale. This will make room for a fuller inhale the next time.  Visualize yourself pushing out negative thoughts and emotions with every exhale. 

4-7-8 BREATH

  • Be in a comfortable sitting or standing position. 
  • Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your upper chest
  • Close your eyes
  • Take a slow deep breath in through your nose, vigorously taking the breath in for the count of 4, hold the breath for a count of seven and finally, control the exhale for the count of 8.  
  • Send the breath down to your stomach and try to move the hand on your stomach out while minimizing the movement in your chest
  • This breathing technique is known as a tranquilizing breath
  • Repeat

There are many things to focus on in life. Add in the pressures of being a student-athlete to the load of an everyday college student and you can be overwhelmed. Mental skills and strategies can be employed to process tough times and achieve positive outcomes.


Cognitive reframing, also known as cognitive restructuring, is a skill taught to individuals to notice negative and intrusive thoughts and actively work to challenge/change those thoughts.  Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique that consists of identifying and then changing the way situations, experiences, events, ideas, and/or emotions are viewed.

Padesky, from the book “Mind Over Mood,” which is well worth reading for a deeper understanding of this technique.

  • Step 1: Calm Yourself. … 
  • Step 2: Identify the Situation. … 
  • Step 3: Analyze Your Mood. … 
  • Step 4: Identify Automatic Thoughts. … 
  • Step 5: Find Objective Supportive Evidence.

How to Use Cognitive Restructuring

Follow the steps below to use the cognitive restructuring technique.

This framework is based on the 7-Column Thought Record by Christine A. Padesky, from the book “Mind Over Mood,”

Step 1: Calm Yourself

If you’re still upset or stressed by the thoughts you want to explore, you may find it hard to concentrate on using the tool. Use meditation  or deep breathing  to calm yourself down if you feel particularly stressed or upset.

Step 2: Identify the Situation

Start by describing the situation that triggered your negative mood.

Step 3: Analyze Your Mood

Next, write down the mood, or moods, that you felt during the situation.

Here, moods are the fundamental feelings that we have, but they are not thoughts about the situation. Drs Greenberger and Padesky suggest an easy way to distinguish moods from thoughts: you can usually describe moods in one word, while thoughts are more complex.

For example, “He trashed my suggestion in front of my co-workers” would be a thought, while the associated moods might be humiliation, frustration, anger, or insecurity.

Step 4: Identify Automatic Thoughts

Now, write down the natural reactions, or “automatic thoughts,” you experienced when you felt the mood. In the example above, your thoughts might be:

  • “Maybe my analysis skills aren’t good enough.”
  • “Have I failed to consider these things?”
  • “He hasn’t liked me since…”
  • “He’s so rude and arrogant!”
  • “No one likes me.”
  • “But my argument is sound.”
  • “This undermines my future with this company.”

In this example, the most distressing thoughts (the “hot thoughts”) are likely to be “Maybe my analysis skills aren’t good enough,” and, “No one likes me.”

Step 5: Find Objective Supportive Evidence

Identify the evidence that objectively supports your automatic thoughts. In our example, you might write the following:

  • “The meeting moved on and decisions were made, but my suggestion was ignored.”
  • “He identified a flaw in one of my arguments.”

Your goal is to look objectively at what happened, and then to write down specific events or comments that led to your automatic thoughts.

Step 6: Find Objective Contradictory Evidence

Next, identify and write down evidence that contradicts the automatic thought. In our example, this might be:

  • “The flaw was minor and did not alter the conclusions.”
  • “The analysis was objectively sound, and my suggestion was realistic and well-founded.”
  • “I was top of my class when I trained in the analysis method.”
  • “My clients respect my analysis, and my opinion.”

As you can see, these statements are fairer and more rational than the reactive thoughts.

Step 7: Identify Fair and Balanced Thoughts

By this stage, you’ve looked at both sides of the situation. You should now have the information you need to take a fair, balanced view of what happened.

If you still feel uncertain, discuss the situation with other people, or test the question in some other way.

When you come to a balanced view, write these thoughts down. The balanced thoughts in this example might now include:

  • “I am good at this sort of analysis. Other people respect my abilities.”
  • “My analysis was reasonable, but not perfect.”
  • “There was an error, but it didn’t affect the validity of the conclusions.”
  • “The way he handled the situation was not appropriate.”
  • “People were surprised and a little shocked by the way he handled my suggestion.” (This comment would have followed an informal conversation with other people at the meeting.)

Step 8: Monitor Your Present Mood

You should now have a clearer view of the situation, and you’re likely to find that your mood has improved. Write down how you feel.

Next, reflect on what you could do about the situation. (By taking a balanced view, the situation may cease to be important, and you might decide that you don’t need to take action.)

Finally, create some positive affirmations  that you can use to counter any similar automatic thoughts in the future.


Negative thinking can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, death. While cognitive restructuring has been shown to have a positive effect on reducing occasional negative thinking, they are for guidance only, and readers should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if they have any concerns over related illnesses or if negative thoughts are causing significant or persistent unhappiness. Health professionals should also be consulted before any major change in diet or levels of exercise.

Key Points

Cognitive restructuring is useful for understanding what lies behind negative moods. These may undermine our performance or damage our relationships with other people.

To use cognitive restructuring, work through the following process:

  • Calm yourself.
  • Write down the situation that triggered the negative thoughts.
  • Identify the moods that you felt in the situation.
  • Write down the automatic thoughts you experienced when you felt the mood. The most significant of these are your “hot thoughts.”
  • Identify the evidence that supports these hot thoughts.
  • Identify the evidence that contradicts the hot thoughts.
  • Now, identify fair, balanced thoughts about the situation.
  • Finally, observe your mood now, and decide on your next steps.

Go through this process when you experience a negative mood, or when you feel fear, apprehension, or anxiety about a person or event.


If I were to tell you, “Don’t think about ice cream,” what’s the first thing you think of? Likely Ice cream. Thoughts can be seen in the same regard. So many times, we tell ourselves not to think about the negative things. We often end up, instead, focused on them. Here’s a way to manage the worry thoughts so they don’t manage you.

  • Every time you find yourself in a negative thought patter notice it
  • This is a moment of mindfulness
  • Flip the scrip on the thought, reframe the thought into a positive one
  • Consider setting a timer for a specific amount of time.
  • Now be intentional about what you want to focus on next and do it.

An example is:  I lost the game for my team”. Instead think, I trained hard all week, I did my best and I will train all week to be even better next week


Mindful SelfCompassion combines the skills of mindfulness and selfcompassion to enhance our emotional well-being. While mindfulness increases our awareness of the present, selfcompassion encourages greater kindness and understanding of periods of suffering.

This means accepting the good and bad, the success and failure. Mindful self-compassion teaches us how to take a step back from a situation, understand that nobody is perfect, and learn to love and accept ourselves for our imperfections. The first step to utilizing mindful self-compassion is understanding that everyone experiences failure. For many of us, when faced with failure, we immediately judge, criticize, and think negatively about ourselves. The goal of mindful self-compassion is to better respond to ourselves and our failings with kindness and self-understanding. To build mindful self-compassion: 

  • Write down a list of 10 positive affirmations about yourself that you can look at when you find yourself in a negative space.
  • Set a goal of writing three positive things about yourself, or about your day, before going to bed. This can help you to get in the habit of recognizing the good within yourself.
  • Stop judging yourself so harshly
  • Speak to yourself as you would speak to a small child about themselves


In athletics, visualizing an outcome you desire can be very powerful. Many individuals think visualization is a tool only used for sport. While it is beneficial in the athletic arena, it can be utilized in many different areas of life. Visualization has the ability to activate your creative subconscious and help in working towards your goals. Visualization can be done in many environments and time frames.  Structured visualization is a very powerful tool when done properly the mind cannot tell the difference between visualization and actually doing it.  Constant practice can settle the body down, giving the feeling as though your activity has been done before with great success, whether that is true or not.

  • Start with a relaxation breath or two to center yourself and focus on the moment.
  • Identify the outcome you desire.
  • Begin to visualize the scene, using all of your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, feel, maybe even taste?
  • Picture yourself taking the steps or actions towards the desired outcome and notice what that looks, sounds, smells and feels like.
  • Imagine yourself achieving the desired outcome and the reactions, emotions you might experience. Notice also any physical sensations that may result.
  • Seeing it, even in your mind’s eye, can result in believing it is possible, and achieving your dreams.


Having trouble sleeping, need a little “me time,” or feel your body is worn out by all the demands on it, both physically and mentally? Body Scan relaxation can help relax tired and stressed bodies and minds and prepare you for a good night of sleep or your day.

This tool can be used when dealing with anxiety, stress, sleep difficulties, depression, and overall well-being. Learning how to relax is a skill which can be used in any situation. Just as it takes time and practice to learn skills for your sport, but the benefits can be exponentially rewarding. This activity is most effective when you can carve out 15 to 30 minutes of time with minimal distractions. It can be done both lying down and seated.

Some links to start you off


As student-athletes we can become so frenzied by daily tasks that we don’t notice our thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations. With practice, meditative practices can allow you to develop clarity in your thoughts and feelings, decrease your negative thoughts, and promote a sense of peacefulness and centeredness. Try a mindfulness meditation on your own, for as little as 3 to 10 minutes to start:

  • Find a comfortable position.
  • While focusing on your breathing, allow your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations to flow over you, entering and leaving your awareness at their own pace. Recognize each sensation, but then let it fade away, allowing the next thought or feeling to enter your mind. Continue to acknowledge each sensation, then let it go.
  • You will likely find that your mind is very busy with thoughts about all kinds of things – some pleasant, some unpleasant. Each time you notice that your mind has wandered, gently and without judgment shift your awareness back to your breath.
  • Remember that the goal of mindfulness meditation is not to change your thoughts in any way, but simply to notice them and then, as best you can, continuously return to your breath.
  • Keep it simple. Be patient and kind with yourself. Do not expect that you will be able to “empty” your mind of thoughts and enter a state of deep relaxation. The point of mindfulness meditation is to simply and compassionately begin to notice your thoughts, and then let them go.


Gwen Lawrence is a Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT 500) with Yoga Alliance, which acknowledges the completion of a yoga teacher training with an approved and active Registered Yoga School (RYS).

 Gwen Taught Mindfulness to the NY Giants and NY Knicks under Coach Phil Jackson

 “I transform lives from good to great, helping my clients reach their highest potential, using my 6 power yoga for sports philosophy’s to Attain fitness, find Balance, Create goals, and Define personal happiness in work, school, family and life the way only an intuitive Yogi and seasoned MOM can”

Gwen has been a practicing fitness professional since 1990.  Her current practice includes private yoga trainings, class instruction, team instruction and her Power Yoga for Sports, sports specific training, International travel to teach, TV appearances, Writing, Workshops and radio contributions..  You can become a certified Yoga Coach through her online training, like people around the world in 18 countries are taking advantage of.  Gwen’s unique combination of dance, massage therapy, and yoga training experience, coupled with her extensive knowledge of anatomy and nutrition, provides her clients and athletes with overwhelming results.  Gwen Is the yoga instructor for many teams over the years including the NY Giants, NY Knicks,  NY Mets, NY Redbulls, NY Rangers, NYC FC and members of the NY Yankees, several major colleges like: Columbia, Yale, Manhattan, UNC and many more.   

Her writings appear in Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Women’s Health, Women’s Fitness, Cosmo, Fitness Magazine, Shape Magazine, Yoga Journal, Yoga Digest, Yoga Magazine, Details and and  

Gwen Starred as co-host in her own Nationally Syndicated on NBC TV show The Better Man Show and makes regular appearances on NBC TODAY SHOW, Good Day NY, and Dr. Oz as well as many Radio and TV news shows.

Gwen owns her own Yoga school registered to certify students with 200 and 300-hour trainings along with her online Power Yoga for Sports Teacher Training.

Gwen has been named Best of Westchester, and featured in ESPN Magazine as “The Best Innovation In Sports Medicine” 

Gwen has 9 Power Yoga for Sports sport specific DVD’s, a feature DVD with Gaiam, and published books Body Sculpting with Yoga, Tactical Mobility and Teaching Power Yoga for Sports.  You can take advantage of working with Gwen through Gaia TV, her Power Yoga for Sports APP, Audible Yoga and her You Tube Channel Gwen Lawrence Yoga.  Appears in 2019 Jade Yoga Calendar.  Top 108 influential yogis Online.