Meditation to boost performance
You have the fitness plan. You have the nutrition plan– and then there’s the coach, the community – and your training buddies. You’re all equipped for success - but have you ever considered meditation to give you the competitive edge? As anyone who’s ever played sport knows, sometimes the biggest battle is in our heads.
"The mental side of the game is way over 50 percent, probably about 80." – Lebron James
With more and more sports people touting its life-changing benefits, it’s safe to say that meditation has gone mainstream. Not only have researchers found that meditation can improve athletic performance, and increase your pain threshold, just 20 minutes is enough to boost your focus (which can also help you deal with uncertainty and anxiety at home and work).
While it’s important to train the body, it’s also important to train the mind. So why not make meditation part of your daily routine?
Let's look at some of the main benefits of practicing meditation.
Meditation improves Performance
According to the researchers at the Harvard Medical School, meditation improves the function and communication of nerve cells in the brain, which can sharpen attention, memory, creative thinking, and problem solving –vital when it comes to planning your next move on the pitch, or outwitting your opponent on court.
Meditation reduces pain
Meditation engages multiple unique brain mechanisms that attenuate the subjective experience of pain. Fatigue, injury and DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) can derail even the most well planned training programmes, but research suggests that athletes who meditate regularly could be better able to cope by helping to minimise their sensitivity to pain. One study reported that meditators rated pain 57% less unpleasant and 40% less intense, on average, after they went through the meditation training.
Meditation promotes a Positive Mental Attitude
Sport is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. Traditionally, sport psychologists have placed great value on athletes thinking positively about upcoming performances, and it’s clear from studies that those who meditate regularly have more control over how their brains process and recognise negative sensations and thoughts. Meditation can cut back on anxiety by almost 40 per cent – meaning it can help you break away from destructive and unhealthy thoughts that get in the way of you achieving your goals. Research also suggests that when you meditate, you’re able to override the part of the brain that's responsible for the fear mechanism, which releases the stress hormone cortisol.
It strengthens the immune system
Meditation strengthens the immune system because it disrupts the cycle of stress, exhaustion, and depletion that you may experience when you’re stressed or pushing your body to the max, suggests Harvard University.
Researchers also found that regular practice boosts antibodies, which can help prevent illness that could affect your training – essential to help you perform at your best and take on new fitness challenges.
Find it hard to switch off when your head hits the pillow? We know the feeling – and it’s often harder for athletes who after a day’s training session. Luckily mediation is great for quieting the mind and science suggests it may also help treat insomnia. It not only helps us get into a good sleeping pattern, but also means we get higher quality sleep and fall asleep faster. And better sleep means faster recovery, less downtime and improved athletic performance.
Where do I start?
So whether you’re an elite level athlete, or you’re in it for fun and fitness – meditation is a proven game-changer.
It’s a common misconception that meditation takes a long time to master. See it as you would taking up a new sport: like any discipline, the first step is to master the basics.
To help you make meditation a regular part of your training plan, why not start with this mind-calming meditation that will not only keep you present, but will help you to feel a sense of clarity and awareness even once the mediation is over?
Set a timer for 10 minutes and find a comfortable seated position either cross-legged on the ground or on a chair.
Close your eyes and allow the top and lower eyelids to meet in the centre of the eyes.
With the eyes closed, listen to the sounds around you. Listen in all directions, and without pushing any sounds away let the sounds blend, listen to the sounds blend harmoniously together. Stay here for a little while.
Feel the temperature on your skin. Feel your clothes on your skin and if there are smells in the room or outside of the room experience those as well.
As you exhaust the mind of the outside distractions you’ll find that you start to drop into a peaceful state and as you do, start to feel and experience the breath flowing in and out only through the nose. Feel the difference between the inhalation and the exhalation.
As you breathe in, mentally say to yourself, “I am [YOUR FULL NAME].” As you breathe out, mentally state, “I am [YOUR FULL NAME].” Continue this for a few minutes and then go into the next repetition of I AM.
If the mind wanders bring it back to “I AM [YOUR NAME].”
Keep going until the timer beeps.
When you sit down to meditate – even if it’s only for ten minutes – it can dramatically help your performance; so why not give it a go?