Sports scientist and psychologist Shayamal Vallabhjee’s next book aims to help you perform better. In sports, the boardroom or life
There is an exercise right at the start of Shayamal Vallabhjee’s new title, Breathe.Believe.Balance, that one had already been given the answer to, though in a completely different context. A friend had been sharing an exercise her therapist had given her to assess ‘how much do you love yourself?’ I knew the hack. And yet, when it presented itself again here, I was still not able to manage to give the right answers. Perhaps therein lies the need to actually do the exercise.
Vallabhjee, born in South Africa, is a sports scientist and a psychologist. He has spent the past two decades working with Olympians, professional sports teams, corporate executives, patients, and children. In Mumbai, he set up the HEAL Institute in 2013, a physiotherapy and rehabilitation clinic. Even so, while the book has the undertone of sports, Vallabhjee says it’s not aimed at the athlete. It’s for anyone on the journey of self-improvement. But, because that’s his background, he uses sports to discuss how an increase in the awareness of emotions, thoughts and feelings, using the rational cortex of the mind can help us distance ourselves from our emotions and still the mind when the stakes are high and improve our performance. This can be achieved with mindfulness, meditation and breathwork and will help whether you are a runner on race day or a working professional during a presentation or well, an astronaut.
“Once you still the mind and understand yourself, you bring the best version [of yourself] to that project, to the world,” adds Vallabhjee, whose own spiritual journey began when he was a 20-year-old.
“I grew up in South Africa during the apartheid era, a systemic oppression of the coloured. I wanted to play sports for the country, but that wasn’t an opportunity that was open to people of colour. I played at the state and national level, but couldn’t progress beyond that. It left me angry. I noticed that oppression turns people of colour against their own. I came from a spiritual family and knew that that was my anchoring point. For three-and-a half-years, I lived at the Hare Krishna Temple and worked out of here sporadically,” he adds.
It’s the principles he learnt through their spiritual practices, that come together in the book to help readers, critically, with emotional healing and learning how not to sabotage yourself.
On why emotional healing is necessary in every aspect of our lives, Vallabhjee gives the example of an athlete who breaks their racket during a super difficult point in a match. “Now the ramifications of that in the field of sports are big. It shows the inability to control one’s anger. And the learnt behaviour probably came in early childhood when someone around him reacted to a situation with rage and got a positive outcome. Let’s say his mom or dad shouted with rage. The other got subdued and listened. However, in the field of sports, there’s a penalty for such behaviour. This athlete would need to rewire his brain.”
The book aims to help you find your own patterns. “The brain,” says Vallabhjee, “loves symmetry, story and familiarity. Familiarity is the most dangerous.” It’s
familiarity with what’s toxic that pushes us to choose what we don’t want. How does one break these patterns?
Everything is in the book, he says. The first step of course, is to fall in love with yourself.
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