Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way. With yoga, we become aware of how and where we are restricted — in body, mind, and heart — and how gradually to open and release these blockages. As these blockages are cleared, our energy is freed. We start to feel more harmonious, more at one with ourselves. Our lives begin to flow — or we begin to flow more in our lives – Cybele Tomlinson (Ayurveda Wisdom, 2003)
When it comes to athletics, and for the purpose of this article one must intrinsically believe that pool is an athletic endeavour, every athlete uses a method of triangulation for sport development. Approaching sport training from a holistic perspective is something which trainers, coaches, athletes, and sport medicine professionals have embraced. So, when looking at current approaches to cue sport development, a missed opportunity in pool improvement lies in the holistic and mindful engagement of all available training practices.
Coming from a background of high level sport pedagogy, and research in neurological processes of education, I feel that a critical aspect which could hold optimal development for any pool player is regular Yoga and meditation practices. The following will present my argument and rationale for incorporation of Yoga for development of the physical, cognitive, and emotional areas of the self for enriched cueing.
Connecting the Mind and the Body
A common exercise which I have engage many of my sport students in is sense deprivation for enlightened body connection. For example, I have used a blindfold on high level kayak racers to improve focus on specific muscle efficiency for maximum water displacement. Evoking a differentiated perspective on body kinesthetic movements through a lack of sight is crucial for building the nuanced fundamentals of body movement. But how can one develop this body and mind connection through external training? There must be something which one can do to become more in tune with their own body, and the micro motions which your brain and body converse through.
The answer is through consistent Yoga practices. The foundation of Yoga in Western culture is in physical positions. Asana is the practice of body postures for finding balance and understanding of the self. Without any analysis at all, immediately the prospect of being balanced and self-enlightened should excite any pool player. Entrenched in the body postures, novice to advanced, is the focus on posture, alignment, and balance. A brief inspection of Yoga fundamentals will provide a rationale for improvement of cue kinesthetic movement.
Like any other sport, many coaches work on physical technique from the ground up. Yoga starts in just the same, as one may stand or sit in their first pose. With eyes closed, stand or sit for a few moments with a pointed focus on how the body feels over the contact points (feet or sit bones). Notice which side feels heavier, the natural sway of your body to one side or the other, how your hips are uneven, lower spine is curled and unsupported, upper back is hunched, and a supination of the head. Everything is out of line, but without the pointed focus, you have no idea. Why is that? Much like anything else, the brain needs to be conditioned to engage in any habitual behaviour. Consistent practice of Yoga can condition the brain to be more aware of body alignment, and ultimately overall mind-body connection becomes a part of natural kinesthetic processes. Imperative to fine motor skills needed for pool, this connection to your own body can improve your stroke by rewiring your neurological processes related to physical action.
Something which can be assumed as an improvement for the physical self which Yoga can provide are improvements in health and fitness abilities. Flexibility, strength, and endurance are all developed through Yoga practice, and I have observed the undeniable overall improvement this can have for any athlete. Additionally for improved health practices, the body degradation from repetitive physical mechanics requires constant attention, especially if one wants to continue playing for the lifespan. If you want longevity out of your pool enjoyment, then a healthy moving body is a prerequisite.
So, through an analysis of the potential for mind-body connection, and other inherent benefits, one can see that Yoga has the opportunity to develop the pool player from holistic physical engagement. But what else can Yoga do for the self, other than just an exercise in body mechanics?
Using Pranayama and Meditation for Better Decision Making
As previously stated, Western Yoga is movement-centric; however, Eastern philosophies rely more on a well-rounded approach of breathing and mental calming (pranayama and meditation). At first analysis, this seems useful of course. Take a breath, calm the mind, and take your shot. This should be rudimentary, but concentration and focus are major factors which impact cueing. It is important for any pool player to be aware of the ways which can help improve brain functioning for good decisions, and Yoga can provide the foundations for sound problem solving on the table.
Why is it in high concentration and focus scenarios that humans engage in breath cessation? It is not uncommon for athletes who require high levels of focus to pass out from hypoxia. However, we know enough about neurology now that oxygen is required for better communication of all parts of the brain. Pool, being a sport which requires a high level of creative and pattern/spatial cognition, the interaction of left and right brain is critical for high level performance. Without focused breathing incorporated into your game, you are depriving your brain from the oxygen needed to perform to your fullest potential. Much like the mind-body connection which the brain needs to be conditioned to be made aware of, Yoga can help reinforce the breathing required for good decisions through fluid neuron activity fueled by oxygen.
Yoga is roughly defined in the Sutras of the Patanjali as the calming of the fluctuations of the mind. This sentiment alone sounds like something which would immensely enrich life overall, not only pool. But how can one actually do this? Try calming your mind for a moment, and immediately you hear your inner voice. There is always a narration to your life inside your head. You should be hearing voices; this is your consciousness which enacts your free will. While you try your hardest to quiet it, the voice is still there, and sometimes even louder. What is important to be aware of is your ability to care, or not care, about that voice. Yoga meditation practices attempt not to shut those voices off, but engage in more of a rational conversation with them. Appropriation of focus can be quite magnetic in nature, and so meditative practices can help train your brain to magnetize your focus to what you choose to.
Use this as an example:
You are cueing on a rudimentary shot, and your consciousness drifts away from the object ball. Your voices are giving you all sorts of information layered over top of the pointed concentration of the task at hand: pocketing the ball. The longer you are down, the louder the overlaying voices become, and as you swirl into the abyss of unconscious thoughts, you consciously pull the trigger on the shot, and miss.
You know that you needed to focus, but you just were not able to appropriate your unconscious thoughts in the direction you wanted for conscious action. With training of mind through meditative practices like any other aspect of sport training, it is possible for the player to transcend the radio chatter of the unconscious thoughts. The more you practice meditation, you will be aware of the irrationality of thought appropriation in your everyday life, and naturally prove to calm the fluctuations which cause poor decision making.
With an alternative perspective on the cognitive impacts Yoga practices can have on focus and concentration, this further provides a rationale for enriching a pool training regime with holistic triangulation. What helps in the big picture of mental health and cognitive awareness for life, inherently enriches the cueing of any pool player.
Finding Yourself to Know Yourself
A common Yoga adage is: Yoga is not about touching your toes, but what you learn on the way down. Influencing the affective, or emotional, aspects of your pool game can be developed through Yoga in this same way. As any pool player knows, curbing the emotions which emanate from such a tumultuous game are crucial to performance. A body mechanic which requires such precision cannot allow for emotions to detract from execution. By gaining control of the broiling inner self through Yoga practice, and the self awareness that comes through personal anguish, one can overcome the emotional factors which damage your ability to perform.
Much of my experience lies in educating students in situations of peril (wilderness expedition and adventure pedagogy) to activate resilience development and self actualization. Using danger and consequence to faulty action as a neurological motivator for development of decision processing, this powerful technique allows for optimal control of the affective domain of the self. This frames the rationale for my proposal of Yoga as a training technique to engage emotional resilience for pool, which requires one to overcome some of the most emotionally damaging moments (any miss can hit the ego pretty hard).
When first looking at the Asana aspect of Yoga (the physical practice), one can immediately perceive the physical anguish which can come from some of the postures. Bending, twisting, stretching, balancing; these aspects of any Yoga vinyasa can prove to be physically difficult. Feelings of pain from deep stretching, pain from pressure points, discomfort from exertion, and even ego discomfort from an inability to stay in a posture are all inherent in the practice of any Yogi. The tacit benefits from willfully placing yourself in these postures of discomfort train your brain to be able to deal with peak anxiety, much in the same way I have explained how the physical and cognitive domains are trained and conditioned.
By gaining a better understanding of the extremes of emotion, and through training in Yoga to rewire the brain to overcome emotional distress, one can reach higher self actualization on the table. Again, with a holistic approach as the foundation for my rationale, an overall life ability to control emotion through knowing the self, one can improve their pool game from the inside out through affective awareness.
After an analysis of the three domains, physical, cognitive, and affective, which I feel Yoga helps in athletic training, one can see how on incorporation of Yoga in cue sport training is imperative. Gaining a better mind-body connection, improving efficient brain activity, and a controlled awareness of emotions are all observed outcomes which I have seen in both my students and myself in various athletic endeavours. The myriad of improvements which the practice of Yoga can afford would be in any pool players best interest. I hope that through reading this I have made you reflect on your own experiences of how each domain is influenced, and that I have imposed you to question: Why have I not been doing this from the beginning?