Using Yogic Mantra as a Mental Resilience Tool for Performance
Written by Alex Johnston

There’s no denying CrossFit Games athletes are super strong. What we can’t necessarily “see” all the time is their inner mental strength. How their mind works. This past weekend, at Invictus Master’s Camp at Invictus Seattle, I got to observe some of CrossFit’s greatest Master’s athletes. When Kevin Koester, owner of Invictus Seattle, spoke on the topic of “mindset,” I eagerly listened, hoping to hear what cannot be seen – how the Champ’s mind operates.

Productive Thoughts

 One principle of mindset that Kevin shared was “Productive Thoughts.” In training and competing, Kevin intentionally fills his mind with exclusively productive thoughts. There is no time or space in his mind for negativity, doubt, fear, or even mind-wandering.  

To him, “productive” doesn’t necessarily mean “positive” but certainly can include positivity. Productivity includes strategic and tactical awareness of exactly what he is doing/supposed to be doing for each movement in a workout and how he is feeling/supposed to be feeling the intensity. He trusts his physical training and can reliably strategize his way through any physical demand. 

Meditation in Workouts

The deeper, unseen toughness is sustained mental concentration. From a yogic perspective, Kevin is meditating. He is highly aware of his inner mental space, just like he is highly aware of his outer physical space. His “productive thoughts” method is a hybrid meditation strategy of “present moment awareness,” “body awareness,” and mantra.  

Yogic Mantra

A mantra is a word or phrase repeated internally. In yoga and meditation, mantra is used to occupy the busy mind to keep the meditator present and observing. The mantra fills the mind with one repeated thought, and allows a meditator to observe how their busy-monkey-mind will quickly forget the present task of repeating mantra and will instead default back to what the mind likes to do all day long: replay the past (regret, judgment, shame, guilt, reflection) and anticipate the future (fear, worry, anxiety, preparation).

During Kevin’s mindset discussion, Cherrianne Benoit, a member of Invictus Seattle and two times CrossFit Games athlete, chimed in and offered her mantra to the group: “Yes, I can!” 

Another camp athlete had asked Kevin for advice on pushing themselves to and beyond their maximum during training and Cherrianne stepped up to say she could relate. Cherrianne knew about that tough spot where the body is still capable, but the mind has quit. Cherrianne has heard her own self-talk, her mind’s doubt of her body’s ability to persevere. And in those moments, when she hears self-doubt or even before she hears it, she inserts a mantra “Yes, I can!” This mantra is positive and gives her belief in herself. But more importantly than that, it quiets her mind/self-talk.

Conquering Limiting Beliefs

Fear starts in our minds. Our thoughts are afraid of failure. Cherrianne’s mantra allows her to shift outside of or beyond her mind’s limiting beliefs to her true Self, who knows she is bigger than her mind and her thoughts. Her true Self is unlimited. Cherrianne recognizes thoughts are temporary and she can control her mind. We are not the mind, the thoughts, or even the body, those things are always changing. We are the unchanging awareness that sits behind the thoughts observing. That observing awareness has never changed since the day we were born. Thoughts will be positive one second and flip to negative the next. This is vivid in meditation and peak performance.  

Kevin practices awareness of his mind space and chooses to block out negativity during training and competition through simple mental yoga (raja yoga). Cherrianne does the same.

If you want to begin to recognize your true Self, beyond limiting thoughts: meditate. Like any new skill, keep it simple to start and isolate it before mixing it in with other practices. You can use your breath as a mantra –or- you can choose a mantra, word, or phrase, like “Yes, I can!” 

Beginning Meditation Practice

First, shutdown the device you are on right now and close your eyes for just 3 minutes. Find a relaxed position, try not to fall asleep. Unclench your teeth, relax your shoulders. And begin to (a) silently and genuinely repeat your mantra -or- (b) for a breath-based meditation, feel your inhales and feel your exhales. Count one inhale, one exhale. Two inhales, two exhales. Continue counting the entire three minutes.

For both (a) and (b), notice when you lose track of your mantra or breath, the mind has wandered. And without judging yourself, with light-hearted compassion, love, and kindness for yourself, remind yourself of what you are trying to do for just three minutes – concentrate exclusively on your mantra or breath. Try this every day for one week before quitting. Congratulations, you are building your mental fitness.


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Kirsten Ahrendt
Kirsten Ahrendt
July 21, 2022 2:38 pm

Super solid, article, Alex! The body cannot go if the mind is unwilling to follow – a book I love that explores this topic is: “Endure: mind, body and the curiously elastic limits of human performance”.

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