Kate Grace: Mental Game Strong

"It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen."
– Muhammad Ali

Kate Grace is the embodiment of an athlete fully realized. She accredits her success to training her body and her mind with equal focus. 

She logs the miles, lifts the weights, does the drills, commits to recovery via Jasyoga, ice therapy, and massage. And she also feeds her brain. Focuses on quotes of importance to her, on mantras. Scribbled words taped to mirrors, computer screen wallpapers. She recites affirmations as she prepares for workouts and races. She engages in a meditation visualization before racing, breathing blue energy into her body. 

We were honored to sit down with Kate to discuss her mental training and garner tips for us mortals to use. 

When did you begin incorporating meditation into your training and racing?
I began incorporating small meditations even in high school. It started as I looked for ways to center myself between events (if I was competing in multiple races in one day). I started to discover the power of even 5–10 minutes of time spent relaxing and re-centering. I have worked on various techniques over the years. Now I meditate in the afternoons through out the year, not just before races.

Photo: Jeff Cohen

Photo: Jeff Cohen

Were you using it in other areas of your life?
I use meditation techniques most when it comes to my running. I find that with something that can cause so much stress in performance situations, I see the greatest benefit in finding and strengthening a calm "inner core" of my being. So, because I know the races can cause anxiety, it makes it easier for me to find time for meditating. I know how much I can benefit from the practice. I imagine that if someone had another source of pressure in their life, they would feel the same purpose in finding ways to achieve balance and calm in the midst of that stress. For me, after practicing meditation skills in the context of running, I have confidence that I will use them for the rest of my life, whether it's in a job where I want to keep a clear mind when giving a scary presentation, or to rejuvenate in the midst of family life.

How does this practice look to you?
Outside of performance situations, I find that guided meditation tapes are helpful to get started. I use an app, and will listen to a 15–20 minute segment during that afternoon lull between 2–3.

When a race (performance situation) is coming up, I us mantras to help me stay very present in my thinking. "be here now," "simplicity is supreme," "celebrate what you want to happen more often," "daily acts of excellence."  I put them on sticky notes around my house or write them on my computer. That way I can't dwell too much on fear of the future, or let doubts arise on things I didn't do. I am reminded that I can only control today, and in doing that, I can take one step toward my goal. 

Immediately before a race, I use deep breathing and visualization techniques to keep calm and focused.

Do you have any tips for Jasyogis who may be interested in incorporating meditation or mantras into their life (both athletic and otherwise)?
I like the practice of keeping notes around the house with mantras written on them. It's just a quick visual cue that becomes almost subconscious after a while. If you don't want sticky notes everywhere, I know some people have art work with quotes on it. Or, I have certain mantras for practice/work situations (all about just putting in the effort, showing up, giving your best) and I keep those in my car. So if I'm having a hard day, I can quickly reference them. Then I have others for performance situations. I keep those in a notebook that is easy to throw in my bag and flip through. (Caveat. I wouldn't recommend flipping through notes immediately before the performance. This can happen the night before or morning of. But in the hours prior, just pick one or two and keep those in your head. Less noise. 

For meditation, I would think of it more like quiet time. At least to start, that was easier for me to wrap my head around.

Photo: Jeff Cohen

Photo: Jeff Cohen

Do you have a favorite Jasyoga meditation?
Controlling breath is key. I love the work Erin does on this. Especially as I am not super well-practiced in meditation, this is something physical to focus on, which has the side effect of bringing me into the present moment (You can't think about your breath and also worry about the future!). I use a version of the 3-part breath to deeply calm myself. I have also used the matching breath and balancing breath. I cycle through techniques... different ways to get to the same goal. Doing a form of the balancing breath is what lead me to use nose strips before races. It isn't for air during the race... I breathe through my mouth for that. It's because I realized that I wasn't getting as much air in my right nostril. And the strips help even that out and allow a more full calming experience. 

Love the mantra you recently shared on IG, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." It feels so applicable to your journey. What does that mantra mean to you right now?
Right now, especially after achieving a goal, next steps can be scary. There are thoughts of should I change things, should I suddenly start working out at a next level, adding extra stress. The mantra reminds me that I got here by staying present and focused on the task at hand each day (now I workout, now I do strength, now I recover). And now the only difference is it's July 30th vs June 30th, the formula hasn't changed.

Thank you, Kate! We'll be screaming at our TV screens in August. Goosebumps all over.