4 Reasons Athletes Should Meditate
1. Subconscious Activation (how to get in "The Zone") this is the main reason I started teaching meditation and yoga in sports. I learned that my younger self (competing in gymnastics) would have benefit from meditation and mindset training after I had been exposed to mindfulness during my 200hr and 500hr yoga teacher training certifications. It was apparent to me that this was the missing link, for creating the mental edge I needed. Not only that mental edge against my opponents, but even from my own worst enemy - myself. I learned how staying in the moment and not creating manifestations - big or small were hurting my potential on the competition level. Some athletes with a lot of talent, can not convert the mental game, (the fierce competitiveness that comes with the sport) and meditation improves that subconscious activation or what other experts called "the zone or flow state". The subconscious is a crazily power thing. Training attention through meditation also improves our capacity to process rapidly arriving incoming information. When presented with two new pieces of visual information in very quick succession, we have trouble detecting the second stimulus because the brain's limited attentional resources are still busy processing the first one, a phenomenon called the "attentional blink." Sport athletes who meditate can conquer the most common “blind spots” that tend to make performance challenges seem worse than they actually are. The brain can be trained like a motor skill. Starting with a little as one minute a day can make a difference.
2. Enhanced Endurance - one of the most popular reasons on every athlete’s training routine. By practicing mindfulness meditation, athletic endurance can be enhanced. Most people I have spoken to feel that meditation is a feat in endurance in an of itself. I smile and can agree to some extent, but I love this definition from an article I recently read in Yoga International, "A meditative mind is a concentrated mind- a mind that is not blank; it is one that has become stilled by holding an unbroken, one-pointed focus on a single object for an extended period of time. In short meditation is sustained concentration." Athletes who know how to visualize can accomplish specific goals, combined with proper breathing bio-mechanic exercises to train the body to work harder for a longer period of time. Alternating between blocks of 50 to 90 minutes of intense work and recovery (mindfulness, meditation) breaks of 7 to 20 minutes enables athletes to sustain the physical, cognitive, and emotional energy required for peak performance.
3. Improve Sleep Patterns, Speeds Recovery Time— it has been proven that enough sleep is essential for every human especially athletes. While most athletes find it difficult to sleep on the right time, practicing meditation can help athletes to have enough sleep. The studies also found athletes who meditate experience less respiratory infections and strengthen their immune system compared to those who don’t. In our sleep, we grow. And we grow not just our cognitive and emotional muscles, but our physical ones, too. Studies found athletes who are practicing meditation not only improve sleep habits but their cognitive abilities as well. The best athletes prioritize their sleep just as much as they prioritize their hardest training sessions and their most important competitions. The right sleep allows the body to recover more quickly so it is available to attack with the level of intensity needed for training and competition.
4. Stress Reduction - Due to high pressure and stress sports can give to athletes, finding a way to reduce it is important. Learning the tools to respond to positive and negative stressors in life is key to lowering the stress hormone cortisol. Being relaxed and centered increases the ability to focus, concentrate and clear the mind while in pressure. By consistently practicing meditation, your body will learn how to balance being relaxed in stressful conditions eliminating distractions and focusing only on the game. Mindfulness meditation strengthens the prefrontal cortex, which is part of your brain that lets you choose how to respond to stress. Mindfulness meditation increases gray matter in the command and control center of your brain -the prefrontal cortex. By strengthening our prefrontal cortex, mindfulness allows us to recognize that we are having a stress response rather than being overcome by it. A weak prefrontal cortex gets overpowered by a strong stress response. But a strong prefrontal cortex lets us choose how you want to respond to stress. In 2018, it is also worth mentioning along with stress the popularity of new smoking habit using vaping devices impairs development of the prefrontal cortex in adolescence through age 35. Nicotine and marijuana interferes with natural brain development of the prefrontal cortex in key areas like planning, decision making and judgement. Watch negative habits.
Meditation takes practice, I recommend a daily meditation practice to train your mindful muscle. In addition, taking un-planned, on-the-spot short breaks to meditate can also serve as a value to physically or mentally taxing work.
I will be releasing a guided meditation series this summer in my online library. Sign up for my newsletter now so you will be the first to be notified when it drops. If you are in the Chicagoland area, take a class on meditation and recovery. See my website for more details on group classes and private sessions.
Resources included in this blog taken from many research studies. To read more about this subject and research see Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, Real Happiness, The Power of Meditation by world renowned teacher, Sharon Salzberg, the meditative work in the NBA by C Wilson Meloncelli, Rosecrance Health Institute.