The Art of Performance: Bonsai as a Cross Training Skill

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Column by Dr. Keith Wilson

By Dr. Keith Wilson

An important training adage is, “People perform as they train.” Training of skills is very important for any performance whether they are physical or mental skills.

One difficult challenge is the burnout which comes from training. Training the same performance skills over and over again can cause severe mental and physical fatigue. Consistent training is vital to high-level performance but many times the performer becomes “burnt out” from their hard work.

Cross training becomes an important part of the total training process. This allows the performer to change the activities they are doing so boredom can be overcome and defeated. As example, a soccer player would incorporate swimming during their off season. Swimming provides significant cardiovascular activity while providing new mental and physical stimulation to the participant.

Recently, I was introduced to bonsai as a skill and mental refocusing tool.

You might be familiar with bonsai trees. Often described as miniature trees, they look just like their full-size counterpart. Bonsai has become a worldwide phenomenon based on ancient eastern principles.

The bonsai process is focused on a small tree cutting or a young tree. Once a potential bonsai tree has been identified, the gardener helps shape its behavior to grow only in patterns which make it look like a miniature tree.

This is a slow and methodical process. The grower has to have a vision of the type of tree desired. Once the image is created in the mind, then the gardener goes about the process of shaping the tree to grow only in certain directions. The gardener uses wire and other special pruning tools to encourage it to grow the certain way in small increments. It is possible to help the tree grow horizontally, for example, by the use of wire to keep it going in the prescribed way.

These are long-term training goals for tree growth. Once a week, the gardener has to study the tree and prune or alter the smallest changes to match the plan for the tree.

This process requires patience and vision of the participant. It takes study, planning and imagery in order to create a tree which is very different than when it first started growing. Bonsai trees are a long term investment in time, patience and vision. Successful trees take years to shape and can live for a very long time.

Bonsai is a great cross training mental skills tool. Many performers spend significant amounts of time working on improving their mental skills so they do not feel pressure when shooting a free throw or making a putt on the golf course.

It is important to be able to calm one’s nerves and emotions under pressure using mental skills. The bonsai experience can help to reinforce these vital performance skills by providing an outlet of creation and imagery. Working in the bonsai environment requires calmness, patience and clarity of vision.

Bonsai can be a great cross training environment to maintain the mental skills necessary for high-level performance in areas like public speaking, playing golf or improving relationships.

Dr. Keith Wilson is the owner of The Wilson Center for Performance. He can be reached at TheWilsonCenter7@aol.com.