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How meditation helps athletes

If you are anything like me,

as an athlete all you want to do is find the way in which you can improve your physical attributes and skills. Yet when it comes to the mind, you think, or thought, that you had the bases covered.

Until an advert or maybe general browsing of the social pipes shows you a video of the enlghtening spectical that meditation could be.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you look at another image of a blissful yogi penetrating their deep psyche while chillin’ on the beaches of Bali.

We’re going to take a look at some athletes and ways in which this mental tool can help you become a better athlete (and person).

The late Kobe Bryant has often been seen on videos talking about how meditation was a huge part of his life.

If you have watched the recent Netflix documentary ‘The Last Dance’ you would have seen coach Phil Jackson talking about introducing mindfulness and meditation sessions to the players, he even brought in George Mumford for the help.

In podcast’s from Raising Your Game I have spoken to many athletes about the power of meditation for the best players and how it allows them to improve their performance, on and off the field.

In my episode with Ameer Abdullah, running back for Minnesota Vikings, he spoke about how he could visualise the runs he would make.

Paul Roos, who famous introduced meditation and yoga to Sydney Swans, said that ‘the best players are always looking to try new things’.

England cricketer Lauren Winfield spoke about how it was so important for keeping her mind right for both before and after games.

Personally, I wish I had brought it into my professional career earlier. Yet there were a few barriers as to why it was hard for me to get into.

Now having been a meditator for the past few years, I’ve really understood the value that it holds in a sporting context.

Side note: my own meditation practice takes a variety of forms. Whether that’s sitting for the practice, breathing practices or spreading mindful moments throughout my day. It’s something I work on often. It’s not perfect. It may never be, and that’s ok.

So here is some of the reasons why I believe taking the time to at the very least try it out will be valuable for your performance and life.

 

1. YOU BECOME PRESENT IN THE MOMENT

I tried to find a way to write that where I didn’t sound holier than thou, like I was quoting Eckhart Tolle or the Dahlia Lama, but it is true.

Quite simply, when you are in the present moment, you aren’t thinking about experiences in the past or possibilities of the future.

This gives you the ability to focus on what is happening right now. So if you are training it could be really focusing on a rep, drill so that you are fully engaged and getting the most out of it.

In competition you could be under pressure and losing your concentration on the task you have ahead of you.

When you anchor yourself to a sensation or object (usually your breath) you can quickly shift away from distractions or thoughts that aren’t helpful for you right then and get back on task.

I refer to this process of meditation as a way of building mental strength, learning to do repetitions of the mind.

 

2. REDUCES STRESS

We could all do with some of this. Let alone those of us lacing up our sports shoes.

Yet reducing stress for an athlete is vital in being able to get the most out of our training and recovery.

We use meditation as a way to reduce cortisol levels or trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, this in turn allows us to enter a far better ‘recovery mode’. By entering this state we can then, both physically and mentally, get the most out of our training and progress.

 

3. ABILITY TO CONCENTRATE ON A TASK

This is where we get into the nitty gritty.

Are you finding it harder and harder to stay on task?

Well you’re just like all of us then. And it’s not your fault. We now have so many distractions coming at us from all sorts of areas. Our devices, our friends, our spouses, our work even our thoughts.

Often the fact that we can’t concentrate on a task leaves us frustrated with ourselves and even a feeling of inadequacy.

So without getting too deep and meaningful, I would like to present a way in which you view meditation and this training of your mind, because that is essentially what it is.

Meditation is training for the mind

Sometimes the reason we can hold off from meditation is because it has a certain sound to it. Or it has a certain type of look.

Depending on the type of meditation that you do, and there are a few. It generally has an anchor point to it (something for you to come back to if you become distracted).

A common frustration is that people have ‘too much going on’ in their mind and meditation doesn’t clear their head.

THIS is the good bit, THIS is where you start to do repetitions of the mind. Bicep curls for the brain.

Every time you get distracted, you come back to that anchor. That’s one rep. Your mind wanders again. Bring it back to the anchor point. Rep number 2. And so on.

Just like the body, the more reps you do, over time you become stronger.

But instead of building physical strength, it’s building mental strength.

 

4. IMPROVES CONFIDENCE, EMOTIONAL CONTROL AND SELF TALK

As I mentioned before, there are a variety of types of meditation. Some use an anchor point, a sensation, some use mantras (a phrase) said over and over, some like meta meditation are a bit more out there in sending out love and kindness.

Which ever you choose they all give the ability to see your thoughts as merely thoughts. You dissolve the idea of your own ‘self’, put the ego to one side and without judgement look at your mind objectively.

This third person perspective gives you the chance to react or perceive your world slightly differently.

This is where you can begin to control your emotions, by becoming aware of the decision you can make, what its impact may be on both you and someone else.

I’m a big fan of affirmations (type of mantra), especially for athletes. It allows you to repeat something personal and emotive to yourself in the attempt to alter the way you either view yourself or a situation. For example it could be repeating ‘I am confident’ with the vision of what that looks like and sounds like. Until it becomes something that you take action upon when the situation demands it.

Similarly, visualisation is a powerful tool. Athletes can be huge visual learners and visualisation of what you want to do in a future performance has been recorded as having a positive impact on performance.

Personally I do it all the time and did throughout my career and I believe it’s a brilliant tool.

As for self talk, something we can all do with swinging into the positive column more often, meditations that involve a positive mantra or focus again will help with strengthening to brains connection to those words and visions.

“We are what we repeatedly do” comes to mind here

If you fill your mind with negativity, negativity will follow. If you fill your mind with positivity, positivity will follow.

At the end of the day, mediation has had a certain look and feel to it. It’s my goal to hopefully give you a few choices in which you can give this helpful…no damn it I’ll say it…essential tool a go.

What’s the worst that could happen? You go back to where you’re at right now. And you’re doing ok but maybe, just maybe this could be the key to unlocking something new.

One last thing, the brilliant thing about meditation is that you can literally do it anywhere, and once you understand that something like mindfulness isn’t something you do just once a day. If you do, that’s great too. It will become more of a lifestyle and even a personality shift, then you know it’s making a difference.

So where to start?

Well here comes the shameless plug.

Why not start with my 10 minute Meditation for Athletes on Youtube, you won’t need to be dressed in robes and sandals.

Or if you’d like to register for the upcoming Sport Yogi app where there will be a range of breathing exercises, mind training and motivational sessions to listen along that would suit me just fine. No but seriously, I designed this app with sports people in mind to help with some of the issues that I was facing as a player myself. So feel free to check it out and get in touch.