The following interview was conducted with Daria Albers. Daria is world class striking coach, mental performance coach and former professional kickboxer. She has worked with an array high level combat athletes and is the founder of The MAP- The Mindful Athlete Program.
Thanks Daria for taking the time to answer my questions.
There is a lot written about mindfulness, and definitions are often ambiguous and inconsistent. How do you define mindfulness? Why is it important for combat athletes concerned with maximizing performance?
Daria: I think one of the best definitions of mindfulness is : “paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, non-judgmentally .” It means to use your skill of attention- paying attention to certain cues, holding on to relevant information, to filter out distractions and interferences deliberately, and being in tune with the current task and being non-reactive.
In mindfulness we say reacting vs. responding mode. We as humans want to be able to respond intelligently to situations instead of always reacting automatically. That’s what mindfulness can teach us. Being present means being aware, which gives us more options and more control. This is relevant to fighting and in everyday life. Mindfulness is a mental skill. Paying attention and being less reactive is a skill we can learn, similar to acquiring physical skills.
All of what I just described is crucial for combat athletes. We need to pay attention deliberately to the fight, every second of the fight. We need to learn to switch deliberately between cues, but also be aware of everything relevant to the fight. For example, we need to know when to attack, when to play defense , when to use specific tactics and which strategies to use. We also need to be attentive to our opponent’s expressions and movements and listen to our coaches instructions. All of this involves monitoring and to regulating our mental and environmental states.
Mindfulness helps in an effort to be calm in the eye of the hurricane. When there’s a storm outside, inside we are aware observing. Being with whatever arises and then in real time we react accordingly. That’s a skill; a skill we can learn.
Are there specific exercises almost all combat athletes should do? Are there specific exercises they probably shouldn’t do?
Daria: I teach my athletes a broad spectrum of mental skills and techniques like: mindful awareness, focus, attention, nervous system regulation, breathing, ability to recognize and break habitual patterns of reactivity, goal-setting and visualization and more. Those are all essential skills that every child, and adult should learn. We these skills are learned we take back some control of our lives. We need to learn to regulate ourselves, our emotions and reactions. That’s important and crucial in combat and in everyday life. That’s what I call “free your warrior spirit.”
It’s the path of a warrior: the physical, mental and spiritual development we all should strive for. To create a unity of mind and body and a strong spirit is important in combat and in everyday life! It’s a path humans have walked thousands of years. It’s an innate quality; we are born with it. Also, as said in eastern philosophy, “the way out is the way in!” Everything we need we can find within. The dimensions of spaciousness we need as humans is within us. That’s where we find our true potential.
There are no exercises per se a fighter shouldn’t do, but the profile and present state of an athlete influences the tools we are using at any given moment and time in our work.
When identifying mental factors that influence performance, which factors rate as most important? That is, if there are mental factors that are consistently associated with top level performance.
Daria: I think attention, deliberately redirecting attention and holding focus is a superpower. When we have control over our attention, we can filter out distractions, demonstrate good focus, switch attention fast between cues and that’s a huge basis for learning and executing skills and for enhancing confidence. It also the basis for inner stillness, which is essential for performing at a top level. Being calm in the midst of the chaos and knowing you have the skills to endure the storm is important. Awareness, and self-acceptance is also extremely important. To learn to observe yourself non-judgmentally and non reactive. That’s the basis of progress and productive growth and development in sports and life.
Emotional regulation and self-regulation is also crucial. We need to learn to regulate our nervous system, to balance our emotions and mental attitude with it. When acquiring those regulatory skills we are able to regulate our various states and our motivation is higher.
It is evident, by looking at your work, and watching your videos you have acquired an exceptional level of knowledge. What do you wish you knew when you were competing that you didn’t know?
Daria: Thank you very much for saying that. It’s the result of many years studying and being on the field with the best athletes in the world. I always say that I learn with them. We grow together. The teacher and the student creating a much bigger power and potential through deep teamwork.
My program “Mindful Athlete Program” developed because of my motivation to bring my experience and knowledge to the world. As a fighter I didn’t have any of those tools and struggled with mental performance. I immersed myself so deeply into the field of mental performance and mindfulness because I wanted to create a program for my fellow humans, which teaches all those tools and how to build the skills … to free their warrior spirit on all levels in life.
Take readers through a typical day in your life. What is your schedule like?
Daria: I get up in the morning and do meditation, breathing or reading. Sometimes I just contemplate. Then I drive to the gym and do my own training. Mostly functional training.
Then I teach the fighters. In the afternoon I have one to one sessions with my clients from all over the world. I have also 3 dogs which I love walking in the woods. I try to have little breaks of stillness where I do some grounding exercises, meditation it breathing again. Depends on how much time I have. In the evening I go back to the gym to train my fighters and/or do some boxing training myself. I try to find time to talk to the people I love every day; even if it means only a short text. I have a small circle of incredible loving, powerful and intelligent people and I feel very grateful to have them. Before I go to sleep I try to find at least a short moment for contemplation and gratitude or a short meditation again. My days are busy, but I try to live a purposeful life; a life where I live up to my values and up to my best potential.
It’s a journey, an ongoing process. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but I am always moving towards my higher self.
Where can readers learn more about you and what you have to offer?
Daria: Thank you very much Jamie for taking the time to ask questions and for letting me write about my work. I truly appreciate that and also your work.
My website: www.dariaalbers.com My Instagram: dariaalbers