Meditation and Athletes
Meditation is the new tool in the kitbag of sports psychology, but can a mantra improve sports performance or in simple words why meditation is a must for athletes? So let’s explore how inner bliss could help propel athletes across the finish line in record time!
The goal of every athlete is to perform at their best, at just the right moment in time. This optimal performance is called functional athletic behavior (FAB) and requires not only physical skills but acute mental focus.
Negative thoughts, distraction, lethargy, along physical ailments, can impact FAB. Therefore, sports psychologists have long recommended using mental strategies to gain an edge in competition.
Historically, athletes used such skills as visualization or imagery, self-talk, goal setting, suppression, distraction, and arousal regulation. Psychological skills training (PST) promotes awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations, to gain control over them. Mindfulness (Meditation) fosters a similar awareness.
What is mindfulness (Meditation)
Research conducted since 1985 proves mindfulness lowers stress, decreases anxiety, and produces lasting physical changes in the brain.
Mindfulness(Meditation)can be defined as fully present attention to everything experienced at the moment (physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and perceptually), however, the focus is to accept each aspect of the experience with compassion.
It sounds crazy to think that one could become a better athlete by simply sitting closing one’s eyes and doing nothing. But the fact is, it is possible. Meditation is one the most powerful yet most underutilized methods to not only relieve stress, anxiety and restore health in athletes but also help them deal with the ever-changing environment in competition.
It is shown to have several benefits including psychological, neurological, physiological, health, and sport outcomes. Energy is a key ingredient to success in sports. Food, breath, restful sleep, and meditation are the four sources of energy. The amount of energy gained from sleep with 20 minutes of meditation is equal to 8 hours of deep sleep according to one of the thousands of studies that have shown the effectiveness of meditation.
You don’t need a candlelit yoga studio or an NBA locker room, just find a quiet, comfortable place where you can sit upright and be comfortable.Choose something to focus on say it’s ; your breath, a mantra, or an object. “Feel your feet on the floor, connecting to the earth, and take three deep cleansing breaths, inhaling through your nose and out through your mouth. “
Outside thoughts, like you are looming To Do list, are bound to arise. Not only is that perfectly OK…it’s the point of meditating. “Mind-wandering isn’t bad”.” Don’t judge it”. Just recognize it, label it – ” Whoops, my mind is wandering”- and bring yourself back to the meditation. This continual re centering is what builds mindfulness muscles, keeping you better filter out stress and distractions and respond to life in a calmer, less- judgmental manner.
Types of mindfulness training
Many approaches to mindfulness training exist but they are often divided into two main types –
• Focused Attention Meditation (FAM)
In this type, the participant focuses on a specific object or action, like breathing. When a sport requires a laser focus on a sequential and predictable talk, such as hitting a golf ball, FAM may enhance that focus and enable the athlete to eliminate distractions.
• Open Monitoring Meditation (OMM)
In this type, the athlete monitors all external and internal input but remains open and nonreactive. In sports, such as football where the circumstances are constantly changing, OMM may help the athlete process multiple types of input and choose a correct response.
Reasons every athlete must meditate
A mind that is not under control in a mind that makes mistakes – mistakes that could prevent you from winning. A high level of stress decreases your ability to maintain focus and concentration. Of course, stress can be a helpful tool when used correctly, but when it’s not, it can not only impact your performance but your life too. As a clinical. the psychologist I have worked with a vast array of elite, professional, and amateur athletes. Despite their differences in level or sport, they all face similar challenges – anxiety, depression, stress, inability to maintain focus, sleep difficulties, life balance, confidence, and the list has many more that goes on. So when my clients (athletes) need to step up but are having trouble with the mental wherewithal, one of the key techniques I rely on to change their thoughts and behaviors is meditation.
So here is the answer to the big question of why meditation is a must for athletes –
• Stress Reduction
Stress reduction is vital for optimal performance. Racing and competing when under stress has been proven to negatively impact athletic performance. The results of meditation are associated with reduced stress levels in addition to decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Being relaxed and centered increases the ability to remain calm under pressure and also improves focus and concentration. By consistently practicing meditation, your body will learn how to relax in stressful situations, building self-confidence and ultimately achieving a more positive mindset.
• You’ll Live More in the Moment
Thanks to modern day addictions like smartphones and social media, along with the tendency to over-analyze our words and actions, many of us negIect to tune into our thoughts and emotions, causing “us to miss out on everyday moments, big or small, and disconnecting us from our bodies”.
For athletes, losing focus can mean the difference between a huge win or loss; for you, the stakes range from sad (your little one feels ignored when you appear to choose your tablet over her) to sick (constant rumination triggers the body’s stress response, which is linked with an exhaustive laundry list of illnesses) to devastating (a texting- while-driving car accident).
• Helps to Focus
When you effectively train yourself to control your attention and place it on task-relevant items, you will find that your capacity to focus will increase, in-game engagement will be higher, and you will be much more effective and resulting in what you do.
• More Easily Cope with Pain
Relief comes by “treating pain just like an unwelcome thought ; You identify it, label it – “There’s that pain again” – and let it go, accepting it as something that just happens to be a part of your life right now.” It’s not easy, but it can work if you trust over yourself which comes from meditation.
Research showed a single 10 minute meditation session could feasibly replace painkillers, boosting pain tolerance and reducing pain-related anxiety.
• Improved Sleep Patterns and Speeding Recovery Time
Sleep is imperative to all human beings, especially athletes. Athletes who are not able to get enough sleep will experience several negative effects including – weight gain, mood disturbance, increased anxiety/depression, inability to maintain focus, and decreased motor control. Athletes who consistently practice meditation can help their body to recover quicker from training, racing, and even injury. While physical training is good, it also places high levels of stress on the body, including muscle fiber tears. In addition, meditation boosts the immune system, preventing illness that can hinder athletes’ training or performance.
• Enhanced Endurance
This might be one of the most popular reasons to include meditation in athletes’ training routines. By practicing meditation that utilizes visualizations, athletic endurance can be enhanced. Athletes who visualize accomplishing specific objectives/goals, combined with the regular practice of breathing exercises can train the body to work harder and for a longer period in training and competition.
• Become More Chilled Person
Whether you are an injured Olympian coping with an injury or a parent attempting to keep cool during a toddler temper tantrum, meditation can help you respond to life in a calm, mindful, less judgemental way. The practice also elicits multiple calm-inducing health effects, such as decreased heart rate and blood pressure and reduced stress hormone production.
• Helps Deal with Fear
Fears can hijack our minds. Meditation has been shown to help calm the amygdala – the fear center of the brain, even when not meditating. The simple act of having a daily practice of meditation enables our minds to effectively deal with the fears of life.
• Reduces the Mind from Ruminating
Human beings have the propensity to run obsessive thoughts through our minds. Meditation reduces this rumination and essentially helps an athlete to be aware of thoughts without attachment creating the option to reset their minds and focus on the present.
• Improved Sense of Identity, Self and the Body
Meditation in sport can help athletes conquer those common “blind spots” that tend to make performance challenges seem worse than they are. These blind spots negatively impact performance and meditation helps you recognize your blind spots. This serves to build your athletic identity, self-confidence and improve performance. The meditator learns to enhance awareness of each muscle, which can help pinpoint an injury and prevent further damage.
• Relationships will Grow
Meditation makes you a much more better person in terms of your personal and professional relationships. Meditation makes you understand that both personal and professional life needs their own space and your liabilities towards both sides are equally important. Meditation makes you grow more strong bonds with your family members such as your parents, spouse, children, brother’s, sister’s and off course your friends and other side your professional connects like your teammates, coaches, opponents, and helpers.
Finally, meditation in sport can greatly improve the mind-body connection, allowing athletes to discover their optimal zone of performance. The practice of meditation is a journey similar to that of any athletic pursuit and it could offer that small percentage needed to make you a better athlete and a happier human being.
For more informative articles on psychological issues and other health related issues, please visit our website www.santripty.com and also feel free to consult.