Published on Tuesday, 21 June 2016 15:07
Tim Tuttle, Ojai Valley News correspondent
Ojai resident Kamala Nellen has had a multi-faceted life. She began dancing at 8 and continued with it to the professional level into her 20s.
She found time to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from New York University in 1975 and to become a credentialed life coach.
In 1976, Nellen met Swami Muktanda Paramahamsa, founder of the Siddha Yoga spiritual path, and studied with him for 7 years, then working for his foundation, in the United States and India.
Nellen put her varied skill sets together in 1996 and begin teaching yoga in her hometown of Indianapolis, followed by four years with a studio in St. Louis and a move to Southern California, where she formed Coaching for Champions in 2009.
From the start, Nellen has focused on enhancing the physical and mental skills of athletes competing at high levels.
“When I started to teach, I would get all these different athletes in class,” Nellen said. “I felt a connection with them from when I was dancer. I just connect with that type of personality, the elite performer. And I just loved the athletes that would come to class. We had a connection.”
Nellen has taken her teaching career a step further by authoring “Working In: The Elite Athlete’s Guide to Working Out from the Inside.”
The 69-page book is comprised of seven case studies of mental challenges Nellen has helped athletes, who are not named, overcome. There also is an introductory two pages by four retired-from-competition athletes and a major league baseball scout that recommend its reading.
“I was helping the athletes a lot with the physical stuff from yoga, which is what I really started with, and then one day, I was giving a workshop in Laguna Beach and a free diver called me,” Nellen said. “He said, ‘I already hold the U.S. record and I’m trying to beat it. I’m having terrible fear.’ He wanted to slow his heart rate and to be able to overcome his fear.
“Free divers go down for like eight or nine minutes without any oxygen. They take one breath and go down a line. I taught him a focusing technique that pointed his mind in a specific way so he wouldn’t go into fear. He was very focused on it, almost like a visualization. When I gave him a point of focus and how to work at what he was seeing in front of him, it was how to focus his vision and thinking so that they stayed in a place outside fear. It was a success. He beat the record.”
Nellen custom designs exercises for each athlete to solve their particular problem.
“What I’ve done because I have so much experience — over 40 years studying, practicing and teaching yoga — I can target what they need. For instance, I had a baseball player who was going through a rough time. His dad had lost his job, his grandma was dying, his mom was sick and he was having horrible panic attacks. He was a top kid on the team, trying to get drafted by major league baseball. We did some breathing stuff and some focusing stuff and he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals the next year. That kind of stuff thrills me.”
In addition to overcoming fear, the book’s case studies entail issues such as overcoming exhaustion, managing distractions outside the field, pulling out of a season slump, entering the zone and overcoming performance memories.
Karl Mecklenburg, a former NFL All-Pro defensive player for 12 seasons with the Denver Broncos, endorsed the book.
“I met him online and we chatted,” Nellen said. “I was interviewing athletes to see where I could narrow my work. I wanted it to be the best value for the athlete. One of the things I learned was at the top level of the NFL these guys have to learn 3,000 plays at a time. They have to be able to take care of the mind and they have to know how to use it properly.
“What happens is they’re like Ferraris. They train, they can do anything physically, but they haven’t done anything with the mind. The distractions there is the outside pressure — the girlfriend, family obligations, advertisers (endorsements) and the fear of keeping their contract, on top of a packed schedule. They have a lot of pressure. They need to learn how to focus avoiding distractions. There’s how to rest the mind, how to sharpen it using tools from yoga, which are ancient. It’s not a gimmick.”
In his endorsement, Mecklenburg wrote: “As I moved up the ladder of competition in football, the differences between athletic ability of contestants grew smaller and smaller.
What differentiates at the highest levels is mental. Kamala’s ‘Working In’ gives you tools to work on this often-overlooked area of athletic preparation.”
Nellen’s program is designed for off-season preparation for the elite athlete.
“If I can help the young athletes on the elite track to have these tools to avoid injury, to know how to recuperate fully without using any substances, to improve their performance levels, that’s what I want to do,” Nellen said. “I would love to provide a service for all the athletes that have tried other things and they’re ready for something completely different.
“This book, athletes can take it and use it. It’s an athletes’ guide and I’m really specific about the exercises. It’s a hands-on book. I’ve had so much training, I think it’s packed with material. When it comes to using yoga for performance, I have the whole picture and I think many others who work with athletes leave out the details of the mental side.”