Meet Dr. Amy Saltzman, and read an excerpt from her new book, “A Still Quiet Place for Athletes: Mindfulness Skills for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and in Life”
Interviewed by Marlena Trafas
an excerpt from “A Still Quiet Place for Athletes”
I like to use the analogy of watching waves when describing how mindfulness can help us deal with intense emotions. Often, strong emotions take us by surprise, like a rogue wave. Mindfulness is our early-warning system. If we’re paying attention, we can see the very first ripples of an emotion. When we notice an emotional wave building, getting bigger and more powerful, we can choose to move to higher ground so the wave doesn’t come crashing down on us.
It is common to feel nervous before a competition [in life], overjoyed after a big win, and heartbroken after serious loss. And with practice you can learn to rest in stillness and quietness and watch as these emotional waves ebb and flow. You can learn to recognize the rapid heart rate and jitteriness before competition as signs that your body is prepared and ready. You can enjoy the post-win high and accept the post-loss low as the temporary experiences that they are.
This doesn’t mean pretending you are calm or fine when you are not. Rather, the suggestion is that you hold the intense experiences of competition [in life] with kindness and curiosity and learn to observe them from the vantage point of your still quiet essence.
Dr. Amy Saltzman is a trained physician and life-long athlete who offers individual and group holistic medical care and mindfulness coaching for children, adolescents, parents, athletes, coaches, teachers, therapists, allied professionals, tech executives and employees. She has written three books and produced two CDS about how people can find their Still Quiet Place and reach pure awareness. While her first mindfulness workshop revealed hard personal truths, Saltzman was ultimately inspired by these revelations. She’s spent her life teaching and training a mindfulness practice and has had a private practice in Menlo Park, CA since 2002.
In the early 1990s, Dr. Saltzman was a frontline force in holistic medicine and brought the field of study to hospitals, clinics, and schools. She is a founding diplomate of the American Board of Holistic Medicine, co-founder and director of the Association for Mindfulness in Education, and a founding member of the Northern California Advisory Committee on Mindfulness. Below, Dr. Saltzman discusses her conception of the Still Quiet Place, the intersection between mindfulness and holistic medicine, and how lessons in sports are also lessons in life.
On your website, the Still Quiet Place is described as “a place of peace and happiness that is alive inside of each person” that anyone can find through mindfulness. How would you differentiate the Still Quiet Place from the common idea of “my happy place”?
Great question. For me, the Still Quiet Place combines connected elements: the palpable physical stillness that occurs between the in-breath and the out-breath and between the out-breath and the in-breath, and a pure awareness that can hold all of human experience—happiness, sadness, anger, fear, jealousy….
Thus, the Still Quiet Place is a place from which we can observe the entirety of our experience. It is not pretending we are happy, or manufacturing happiness. While this may sound esoteric, even young children can rest their attention on breathing, and the stillness between the breaths. When they feel this inner stillness and quietness they can then use the felt experience of the Still Quiet Place to observe their experience.
In short, the Still Quiet Place is a simple accessible way to allow people from three to ninety-three to experience pure awareness.
What are the concrete and abstract parts of someone’s Still Quiet Place?
The concrete part is the brief stillness or pause between the in-breath and the out-breath, and the out-breath and the in-breath. The abstract part is the pure awareness, from which we can observe and respond to both our inner and outer experience.
Your relationship with Ms. Georgina Lindsey seems to be a big influence on your mindfulness practice and medical career. What were your initial reactions and feelings to that first workshop of hers you attended and how has that informed your work with mindfulness newcomers?
Yes, I am grateful that Georgina, my mentor for over thirty years, has been an ongoing catalyst in my evolution. She has extraordinarily precise intuition. Although my ego and personality weren’t thrilled with her profound insight during my first workshop with her—that my core story was “poor me”—my heart knew she was speaking the truth.
When I serve others, I aspire to offer the compassion and rigor I have been so blessed to receive from Georgina. This means being compassionate when people are beating themselves up, and rigorous when people are up to their habitual, inherited shenanigans. (We all have habits of interacting that we learned when we were young that no longer serve us.)
What is the intersection between mindfulness and holistic medicine? Why has there been resistance in the medical field to holistic medicine?
Mindfulness is one element of holistic medicine. Holistic medicine sees the patient as a whole human being within the context of their life, rather than simply a collection of lab values and imaging studies that equal a diagnosis. Holistic medicine encompasses a wide variety of modalities. In my practice, that includes looking at sleep, diet, exercise, self-care, mindfulness, creativity, relationships, sense of purpose, nutritional supplements, bioidentical hormones, and conventional medication when needed.
While there is still some resistance to both holistic medicine and mindfulness, the resistance is much less than it was thirty years ago. Many major medical centers now have departments of integrative or holistic medicine, and most communities now have access to high quality mindfulness instruction. In fact, as both approaches have become more popular, it’s becoming increasingly important for those seeking services to be discerning, and to look for practitioners who have a depth of training. Regarding the remaining resistance, my sense is it’s based in the usual human habits of fear and a desire for control.
Your previous books have been geared towards children and teens. What different approaches did you to take in writing a book specifically for athletes? How has mindfulness shaped your personal journey as an athlete?
While my most recent book is geared toward athletes, in many ways I feel it is my most comprehensive book, and that it applies to people in all walks of life. Hence the lengthy subtitle—Mindfulness Skills for Achieving Peak Performance and Finding Flow in Sport and in Life. The “in life” aspect of the book is equally compelling. So, in addition to the fundamental mindfulness skills covered in the first half of the book, there are chapters on integrity, facing challenges, mistakes, self-compassion, habits of excellence, intentions, being a true teammate (and we all have teams—family teams, teaching teams, business teams, creative teams), and loving the game, whether the game is sport or life.
Gymnastics demands an inherent level of mindfulness. So, although it would be years until I heard the word “mindfulness,” youth gymnastics was my first mindfulness practice. That said, as with so many other people I know, I definitely wish I had had a more formal mindfulness practice when I was competing. I am certain it would have helped me with the ups and downs of being both an ordinary teenager and a competitive athlete. Of course, this is what motivates me to share these skills with those who seek me out.
My intention is to support people in developing skills to find flow while pursuing their passions, in the midst of daily life’s chaos.