Monthly Archives: March 2022

Mind-body connection

By Marina Postlethwaite Bowler

In this article #TeamOUsport Staff Tutor and Associate Lecturer Marina Postlethwaite-Bowler explores three mind-body strategies that can have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing – yoga, mindfulness and journaling.

Yoga

Photo by Sean Stratton on Unsplash

Movement is the medicine we all need to nourish mind, body and spirit. The need in these challenging times to nourish the connections between the mind, body and spirit have never been more prevalent. These connections inextricably link into the varied types of yoga you can practise and their unique abilities to develop both psychological and physiological aspects. We sometimes forget our mind and body are connected. We cannot work the body and expect a healthy mind and vice versa. Yoga is an activity that strongly emphasis the mind-body connection. The word Yoga means ‘union’ or ‘connection’ and in Sanskrit, the word ‘yoga’ is used to signify any form of connection. According to Bhagavad Gita (1996) “Yoga is to maintain equilibrium of the mind in any situation”. There are many varied forms of yoga offering “something for everyone”. Yoga Nidra or yogic sleep is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. Hatha yoga is the branch of yoga that typically comes to mind when you think of yoga in general terms. The practice involves breath, body, and mind. Kundalini yoga involves chanting ,singing, breathing exercises and repetitive poses. Its purpose is to activate your Kundalini energy or shakti. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps, commonly known as the limbs of yoga, offer guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. The most recognised limb of yoga is “Asana” which works the physical body and in theory gives the mind a healthy and peaceful place to reside.

Positive psychology, which simply emphasises how and what in our lives is positive and going right, instead of what goes wrong is an important approach to wellbeing and one that is emphasised in yoga. Various studies have shown that positive psychology-based interventions buffer against stress, improve health and productivity, and enhance social connectedness (Vázquez, 2009). Yoga can prove a useful intervention. Positive psychology does not deny the negative; it simply helps you to focus in equal measure on what does work for you and why. Yoga can help to support you in the process of creating a life filled with meaning, purpose, and joyful celebration. Whether it’s a five-minute gentle stretch or a dedicated sixty-minute practice, sometimes it’s all you need to shift gear and turn your day around.

Mindfulness

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

Mindfulness is best defined as “paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2004).

You can be mindful in two main ways by:

  • Doing simple practices (meditations)
  • Being completely in the moment enjoying something simple like eating your lunch so you really taste and appreciate it rather than just gulping it down.

Neuroscience is helping us understand how our brains work and the effect mindfulness can have upon it. It can help keep you calm. Feeling some stress and anxiety around exams, for example, is natural and indeed can help boost performance. It’s when it becomes too much that it becomes a problem. Mindfulness helps calm activity in the part of your brain (the amygdala) associated with worry. Mindfulness can also help increase the neural connections in the front of your brain (hippocampus). This is part of the brain is associated with memory, your ability to solve problems and helps to manage distraction. Chiesa et al. (2011) concluded that mindfulness improves well-being, emotional reactivity, and psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression, as well as cognitive abilities, such as selective and sustained attention.

One of the simplest mindfulness practices is focusing in on your breath. This helps create a sense of calm which is great for reducing worry and helps increase your focus and memory and helps you to make better, more skilful decisions. Mindful breathing is a simple practice available to all. Regularly engaging in it can provide benefits such as a reduction in stress, increased calm and clarity, as well as the promotion of happiness (Catherine, 2010; Kar, Shian-Ling, & Chong, 2014).

Try to practise this (e.g., using the the video below) for 10 minutes every day. Find a regular time that works. Slowly you should start to notice yourself becoming calmer. It can work more quickly for some people and more slowly for others. The most important thing is to give it a go and explore with a sense of openness and curiosity. Life is happening right now! Is it about time we reframed the way we live – instead of working toward an ideal future, work toward an ideal present!

Journaling

Journaling is the process of keeping a record of your personal thoughts, feelings, insights, and more. It can be written, drawn, or typed. It’s a simple, low-cost way of improving your mental health that has been shown to help us shift from a negative mindset to a more positive one, especially about ourselves (Robinson, 2017). Journaling is a great way to channel what’s weighing heavy on your mind and allows you to jot down everything that feels relevant in a safe and non-judgemental space. When you first start journaling it can be hard to know what to write – the fear of the blank page is real! How we overcome this to get us to start writing and break down our barriers is important. Try not to hold back – when we listen to the voice of caution, we deprive ourselves of those exciting and scary experiences and we increase the likelihood of the dreaded ‘what if?’ Keeping a journal can help you fully explore your emotions, release tension, and fully integrate your experiences into your mind (Scott, 2018).

The words of William Wordsworth echo here: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

Here’s a few prompts to get you started…

Daily Journal Prompts

  • Set yourself up to keep writing for two minutes – write anything even if you write the same word over and over until something comes into your mind-a great way to “unblock”
  • Jot down your thoughts – think about the event/experience you want to write about and have a good old vent about life. Ask yourself what is working? Don’t worry about “rambling” or getting a bit off-track; you can also revisit what you’ve written and clarify or organise it later (Hardy, 2018).
  • What isn’t working? What can I change?
  • What is important right now? What can wait? How can I prioritise my happiness today? “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life” (Tolle,1999).
  • Ask yourself what have I done recently that I am proud of?
  • Take time to recognise your hard work.
  • Make a list of your aspirations for the future and set some goals to get excited about. Setting goals are linked with higher motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence, and autonomy (Locke & Latham, 2006)
  • Observe/ give thanks for the special things in your life that you often overlook or haven’t appreciate in a while.
  • Empty your mind on paper, write what feels relevant.
  • Write a reminder or some kind words in the form of a letter and address it to your future self to read when things get overwhelming

Celebrate any wins, anything you realised, overcame and all the ways in which you showed up for yourself this week.

Everything you need is within you”
Namaste

 

References

Catherine, S. (2010). Focused and fearless: A meditator’s guide to states of deep joy, calm, and clarity. Accessible Publishing Systems.

Chiesa, A. (2014). Are mindfulness-based interventions effective for substance use disorders? A systematic review of the evidence. Substance Use & Misuse, 49, 492–512.

Hardy, B. P. (2017). Why keeping a daily journal could change your life. Medium: The Mission. Retrieved from https://medium.com/the-mission/why-keeping-a-daily-journal-could-change-your-life-9a4c11f1a475

Iyenger B.K.S (1996) Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga, Schocken Books.

Kabat-Zinn, J, (2004) Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness meditation for everyday life, Piaktus

Kar, P. C., Shian-Ling, K., & Chong, C. K. (2014). Mindful-STOP: Mindfulness made easy for stress reduction in medical students. Education in Medicine Journal6(2), 48-56

Latham, G. P., & Locke, E. A. (2007). New developments in and directions for goal-setting research. European Psychologist12(4), 290-300.

NhatHanh,T, (1999) The Miracle of Mindfulness, Beacon press.

Robinson, K. M. (2017). How writing in a journal helps manage depression. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/writing-your-way-out-of-depression

 

Man Up! The Inclusion of Transgender Men in Sport

Authored by the team ‘Insight’: Charleigh Heathcote, Denise Hamilton-Mace, Daisy Manuel, Olivia Whitehead and Dina Day [E119 21J students].


This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor, and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


When someone is told to ‘man up’ what comes to mind? Is there an inference that something is lacking? Are they not meeting some sort of masculinity model presented by modern-day society? There are men out there that have done their fair share of ‘manning up’ to become the pillars of men they are today, but the recognition is hard to come by. They are treading paths that very few dare to tread.

So, to whom are we referring? Transgender men. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, transgender men or transmen are individuals that were born biologically female but identify as male. Every fibre in their body tells them they are men through and through. For some, to fulfil their identity, competing in sport is the ultimate dream. Athletes such as Mack Beggs, Shay Price, Verity Smith, and Danny Baker to name a few, are forging armour for the modern transman. But it is not without its kinks.

Rightly so each sport has a set of rules and guidelines to be abided by. But what happens when you do not fit into those age-old parameters? Conflict and turmoil arise. Whilst there is a plethora of legislation for transgender women in sports, transmen athletes are not deemed as having a physiological advantage over their cisgender male counterparts (Burnett, 2021). Therefore, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as of 2015, stated that “Those who transition from female to male are eligible to compete in the male category without restriction.” Furthermore, The World Athletics Eligibility Regulations for Transgender Athletes (2019) stipulates a transgender “male athlete must provide a written and signed declaration, in a form satisfactory to the Medical Manager, that his gender identity is male.”

One particular trailblazer is Chris Mosier. His work as an athlete, coach and educator has brought about significant changes to how trans athletes can compete. Mosier has made history in several ways: in 2015 he was the first American transgender male athlete to qualify for the duathlon world championship; at the 2016 Olympic games he was the first transman to compete against men; he was even the first transgender athlete to feature in the ESPN Body Issue! He was pivotal in campaigning to the IOC specifically asking for the removal of the requirement for surgery in order for transgender athletes to compete. He fervently continues to educate and campaign for LGBTQ+ inclusion.

However, this does not mean everything is plain sailing. Take for example transman Mack Beggs. In 2017, at just 17 years old, he was Texas state champion wrestler for two consecutive years but competed against girls. Beggs wanted to compete against boys but a state ban in Texas limited transgender athletes to teams aligning with their gender at birth. The girls he competed against wanted him to wrestle men as they felt he had some sort of advantage whilst on low doses of testosterone as part of his transition. All of this took a massive toll on Beggs’ mental health. He says, “You have to wrestle against girls — but you really want to wrestle against guys. You beat girls, but technically you are a girl, but technically you’re not. It was a no-win situation” Because of this experience he admits, “I was in a very dark place. I had to seek out help” (Hartley, 2021).

It is this dark place that many transgender individuals face. In a resource put together by Public Health England (2015), “One study in the UK found that 34.4% of trans adults had attempted suicide at least once,” and “There is a strong evidence base that demonstrates the negative impact of discrimination and stigma on trans young people. The result is increased substance misuse, depression, self-harm and suicide.” Whilst many athletes in general do not make it to elite level, grassroot and community sports play tremendous parts in transmen’s lives.

Shay Price is one transman that relied on bodybuilding to battle his demons. He explains, “Going to the gym is like therapy. I can go there and take my anger and frustration out. It just picks me up.” (Ward, 2021). His success in the industry prompts others to ask him for training tips and advice. He is a walking billboard for other transmen to aspire to. Jordan Jackson, a three-time taekwondo gold medallist fights for inclusion within his self-made fitness centre Stealth Fitness UK. His ethos envelopes more than just training. It is about support for the trans community and having a sense of belonging. Jordan admits, “I know the mental health deterioration that can happen when trans people don’t have a physical outlet… there’s nothing worse than being stuck by yourself and having your thoughts go over and over in your mind” (Ward, 2021). Rugby wheelchair player Verity Smith was the target of abuse for being transgender but relied on sport and his team members to support him. He echoes Jordan’s words saying: “I struggled with my mental health […] Playing sport gave me something to concentrate on. It gave me another family” (Ward, 2021).

Whilst some sporting governing bodies are adjusting rules for transgender athletes, the tides of promise are sometimes still too little, let alone too late. In the meantime, inclusion at the very least should surely be the priority; for some it could mean their life. Verity Smith epitomises all the hopes and dreams for transmen athletes in but a few sentences when he said, ‘Sport is life. Everyone should have the right to play sport as themselves” (Ward, 2021).

 

References:

Burnett, S. (2021) Fact check: Do trans athletes have an advantage in elite sport? [Online] Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/fact-check-do-trans-athletes-have-an-advantage-in-elite-sport/a-58583988 (Accessed 24 January 2022).

Cunningham, S. (2016) Chris Mosier First Trans Athlete to Pose for ESPN’s Body Issue Duathlete Chris Mosier is making history as the first transgender athlete to be profiled for ESPN Magazine’s Body Issue. [Online]. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/chris-mosier-first-trans-athlete-pose-espn-s-body-issue-n597146 (Accessed 23 January 2022).

Harding, R. (2020) Mack Beggs Is Still Grappling With Ignorance. After a high school wrestling career muddled with controversy, he’s addressing transgender rights head-on Available at: https://www.menshealth.com/trending-news/a33984383/mack-beggs-transgender-wrestler-interview/ (Accessed 16 January 2022).

Hartley, E. (2021) Mack Beggs, transgender wrestler who rose to prominence for competing against women: ‘It took a toll on me’ [Online]. Available at: https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/mack-beggs-transgender-wrestler-who-rose-to-prominence-for-competing-against-women-it-took-a-toll-on-me-191642125.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9kdWNrZHVja2dvLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAKtWap5aNQ8Cxd8_Xx5fXM2TxXBBeSo7EWcN8CRwQlUdZgO51zPYf_k5VNIYZuq7iOo_4bDmSsWJMh2H9hp3Aw8Bhn7xKXCGlbVDbIMi-iWXsWOp-w0OdNiYtuFOqtFeSPjECjmu3XWAFoG_dho8rYi9Ga72wMAVsvXH9WFxpJRG (Accessed 11 January 2022).

IAAF (n.d.), Eligibility Regulations for Transgender Athletes [Online]. Available at: https://www.worldathletics.org/download/download?filename=63067c17-1ab4-4a08-a132-5e36bda5fc61.pdf&urlslug=Eligibility%20Regulations%20for%20Transgender%20Athletes%2C%20in%20force%20from%201%20October%202019 (Accessed 15 January 2022).

Ingram, Benjamin James MD1; Thomas, Connie Lynn (2019) Transgender Policy in Sport, A Review of Current Policy and Commentary of the Challenges of Policy Creation [Online]. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/acsmcsmr/Fulltext/2019/06000/Transgender_Policy_in_Sport,_A_Review_of_Current.10.aspx?fbclid=IwAR2AGlQBfbUmpZBRCLk9PLC0IqA2F7Uu9qkuXslpQrUt0ZxgEjd_etz0DXs (Accessed 17 January 2022).

International Olympic Committee (2015) IOC Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism November 2015 [Online]. Available at: https://stillmed.olympic.org/Documents/Commissions_PDFfiles/Medical_commission/2015-11_ioc_consensus_meeting_on_sex_reassignment_and_hyperandrogenism-en.pdf (Accessed 23 January 2022).

Jones, B et al. (2017) Sport and Transgender People: A Systematic Review of the Literature Relating to Sport Participation and Competitive Sport Policies [Online]. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-016-0621-y (Accessed 12 January 2022).

Mosier, C. (2021) [Online]. Available at: https://www.transathlete.com/ (Accessed 14 January 2022).

Public Health England (2015) Trans suicide prevention toolkit [Online]. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/417707/Trans_suicide_Prevention_Toolkit_Final_26032015.pdf (Accessed 14 January 2022).

QVoiceNews (2019) Transgender boxer Patricio Manuel. Video courtesy Everlast [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaaV3YhwwYk (Accessed 11 January 2022).

Ward, T. (2021) ‘Equal Play’. Men’s Health Magazine, December 2021 Issue, pp. 70-79.