Birdland Insier: The Power of Mindfulness –

Posted: July 2, 2020 at 7:52 pm

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Long before the COVID-19 pandemic heightened anxieties and accelerated the fear of the uncertainty, the Orioles coaching staff has focused on developing a culture where players, coaches, and staff are more in-tune and aware of these common emotions and feelings.

The Orioles welcomed Kathryn Rowe to the player development staff as the club's Mental Skills Coordinator prior to the start of the 2020 Spring Training. Rowe, a former high-level soccer player who played collegiately in her hometown at the University of Rochester, brought a new outlook to the Orioles training, combining her own experience as an athlete, her master's degree in counseling, and her work in mental health counseling and sports psychology.

While playing soccer, Rowe benefitted greatly from a sports psychologist who she encouraged her college team to utilize while she was on Rochester's women's soccer team.

"In my time there, I really started to see the benefits of mindfulness," shared Rowe. "My professors especially in the sports psychology world really were advocates for mindfulness, especially with athletes."

Mindfulness: a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

During meetings prior to the start of Spring Training, Rowe was introduced to the rest of the Orioles coaching staff, including another newbie to the organization, Tim DeJohn, Development Coach for the GCL Orioles. DeJohn immediately knew Rowe was someone he could benefit from.

During the few months prior, DeJohn had been battling anxiety and depression after a few life changes.

DeJohn spent the 2019 season as an Assistant Coach with the Milwaukee Milkmen of the Independent American Association. Prior to that, he spent two seasons as an Assistant Coach at the University of Memphis, where he had moved with his fiance at the time. They had a beautiful house and two wonderful dogs until they ended their engagement in November of 2019.

"I resigned from Memphis. I didn't have a job in the future in a sense, and my relationship was over. It was a mixture of the worst things at the worst time," explained DeJohn. "I was in a really bad place for about a month and a half."

He began therapy to work on himself and address some of the issues that had been pushed to the side for most of his life, which he realized took a toll on his relationship. When he was brought on to the Orioles staff, he was feeling better.

During Spring Training, and with the encouragement of Matt Blood the Director of Player Development and a big proponent of mindfulness Rowe started "Mindful Mondays" with the coaches. After successful buy in from them, Rowe began to incorporate player participation.

"Especially in sports, mindfulness is so important because there are so many different distractions that come about during the game, in practice, and in everyday life," Rowe said. "The biggest thing for mindfulness is just being in the present moment because it's all we can control. We can't control things that have happened in the past, we can't control things that will happen in the future, we can only control things that we have right here, right now."

After the COVID-19 pandemic suspended Spring Training and the start of the season, Rowe continued "Mindfulness Mondays" by offering players, coaches, and staff the opportunity to participate and meditate together a few times a week. Something that DeJohn finds has been very beneficial during this time away from baseball.

After relocating from Sarasota to Connecticut to live with a friend, the uncertainty of the season and the state of the world combined with the dreary weather of an early spring in New England didn't bode well for his mental health. He decided to dive fully into meditation and mindfulness, spending the downtime on working on himself and his mental health, which would benefit not only himself, but also his players, friends, and family.

"I've hit all of these things with depression and anxiety, but I've always thought, 'how am I going to be a 'man' and lead others and coach others when I can't get my own stuff together?'" shared DeJohn.

It was in Rowe's mindfulness and meditation virtual meetings where DeJohn could continue to share his "story" and be open about the struggles he's faced and continues to face, leading the way for other players and coaches to be open. He knew that in order to be the best version of himself not only as a person but as a coach, he had to be open and honest.

"People are supportive. I feel like I'm almost a better coach because I come out and say things that normally people wouldn't say because they're scared to put themselves out there. But in doing that it's made me more relatable and more of an approachable person in a sense," voiced DeJohn. "I am not afraid to tell anybody anything now because I've learned that everybody is going through something. If somebody is going to judge me for making myself a better person, then I really don't want to align myself with them anyway."

Outside of Rowe's virtual meetings, DeJohn has been practicing meditation each day for over two months straight. With the suggestion of Blood, DeJohn has been using the app Ten Percent Happier, and has found that it is his mental saving grace during this time of uncertainty.

"You're controlling your breathing. You're controlling your thought process. You're in control of it, instead of your thoughts controlling you," explained DeJohn. "It's so simple, and it's such a beautiful thing."

Both DeJohn and Rowe say that mindfulness and meditation are something that can positively impact not only personal lives, but also professional lives, especially when it comes to sports. Mistakes on the field, in relationships, and in personal choices happen, but it's how you react that matters.

DeJohn said, "I just think it's the acknowledgment of the emotion; the acknowledgment of the distraction; the acknowledgment of the whatever it may be in your life instead of the no I'm not going to play into that; I'm not going to get mad; I'm not going to fall in love; I'm not going to cry; I'm not going to laugh. If you feel it, do it. Control it afterwards. Move on, and then that's it."

Rowe shares that, "the biggest thing we're trying to teach here is self-awareness. What behaviors and thought patterns, do you have that aren't helpful and that are inhibiting you? With this self-awareness being an acknowledgment in that moment, hopefully you'll be able to shift yourself back to the present moment, and not respond in certain ways, or not overreact."

Both DeJohn and Rowe have seen firsthand the impact of mindfulness and meditation from their own personal lives. By sharing their insight, their story, and their love of this idea, they have both been able to reach people that may not have ever thought to address this in their own lives, or be so open and honest about it with other people.

Fan, player, coach, and staff members alike can benefit from mindfulness and meditation. No matter the struggles or problems, it's something that everyone can do and feel the positive impact from, especially in this time period.

"Practicing meditation could maybe even prevent [those problems]. It's just as much a preventative measure as it is a prescription to something that you do struggle with.

If you are interested in kickstarting your meditation and mindfulness practice, here are some ways to start:

Tips & Tricks from Tim DeJohn and Kathryn Rowe:

"First off learn what it is. Especially nowadays we can be ignorant to so many different things. I was one of those people. People fear what they don't understand. Learn about it first." DeJohn

"Your mind will be wandering a ton, and that's what it's supposed to do. So don't get mad at yourself and instead recognize that's part of the process. The whole point of meditating is to notice when it does wander and to bring yourself back." Rowe

"To start, do like 2-3-minute meditations. I think people sometimes start with 10 minutes, and it's very difficult. Starting with shorter meditations can be easier getting the grasp of it." Rowe

"It's called practicing meditation you have to practice at it. There's different techniques. Try it and don't give up on it. Once you start seeing the effects of it, it becomes like addictive. You almost feel like you couldn't function normally, like you need it." DeJohn

Helpful References: There are several smartphone apps that can help with your journey. Most come with a free trial to get started, and then require payment to use the full spectrum of their services. Rowe suggests trying some of these out and taking advantage of the free elements before committing to a full payment. The voice of each meditation is different, and plays a huge factor in your reception to it. Find what's right for you!

Ten Percent Happier | Calm | Headspace | Insight Timer

Online Videos: Searching online for different videos is another great way to get started and to find which type of meditation works for you. YouTube can help you try out different styles, different voices, and different lengths of time. Below are some specific videos that Rowe has done with O's coaches and minor leaguers during their weekly virtual sessions:

Apps and videos are great ways to practice meditation, but you don't just have to meditate to be mindful:

"You can go on a mindfulness walk, where you essentially are walking through nature and using all of your senses to recognize what's around you, and being in the present moment," shares Rowe. "Even doing the dishes, or any type of chore, can be done mindfully," she continues. "Everyone thinks of mindfulness as meditating, and yes that's a big part of it, but you can do other things mindfully."

Continued here:
Birdland Insier: The Power of Mindfulness -

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July 2nd, 2020 at 7:52 pm

Posted in Self-Awareness