Why every athlete should meditate

If you're an athlete you workout. That's what you do. You try to get bigger, faster, more flexible and stronger. It makes sense. If you want to perform at a high level, preparation is essential. Nowadays it seems every time you look there is a new trend or new product promising to enhance your ability to achieve grander and greater goals. Today is no exception. I'm about to put you on to the latest and greatest in athletic performance enhancement. Best of all this little championship tip is free. Begin competing to win and take your game to a whole new level, without your wallet or breaking a sweat. 

So what are great performing athletes doing that you're not? They're consciously working on the body part nearly all of their competition is ignoring. Imagine. The one muscle that controls all others muscles and few athletes have ever tried to condition or develop it in anyway! Game after game and season after season competitors set new goals and make additional sacrifices in their quest for competitive glory. Winners will invest whatever is necessary to gain a competitive advantage, most without ever stopping to consider whether their time, energy and expense is being spent wisely. 

Pareto's principle, the 80/20 rule is the observation that for most things, 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes. For example in business, 80% of your income comes from 20% of your clients. Or 80% of your sales come from 20% of your salesman. WIth athletic performance, this suggests that unless we're working on the right thing (that 20% difference maker) most of our efforts will only have a small influence on our actual performance. The reason more competitors and teams don't achieve higher levels of performance excellence despite their increase in energy and commitment is because they're working on the wrong muscles. Most are putting 100% of their efforts into developing the physical body and powers while neglecting the mental tissues and tendons of their mind. Athletes everywhere are trying to operate increasingly more capable and complicated physical equipment without updating their operating system.  On the other hand top performers have gone all the way. They've realized that training their brain is just as important as training their body. 

So how can you train the mind? First recognize that the mind, like the body, performs many different functions and has many different 'parts.' There are areas that control imagination and creativity as well as emotional sensations such as confidence, anger, fear and rational centers that can be directed towards attention and intention. In order to develop different mental powers, we must perform a variety of mental exercises focused on enhancing that particular mental or emotional skill. However since most people have no experience in mental training we recommend a manageable but meaningful starting practice, meditation, or Dhyana in Sankrit, Zen in Japanese.  

Anyone, anywhere can meditate. In not so many words, meditation is observing. The practice of being. What you watch is not the point. The point is the quality of observation. It is easier to demonstrate then explain. So try it! Take a comfortable position. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Observe the rise and fall of your inhale and exhale. Witness the quality of your respiration. Meditation can be that simple. You are flexing mental muscles by becoming conscious of your inner dialogue. 

Seattle Seahawks Superbowl Champion quarterback Russell Wilson practices meditation regularly during the season in order to cultivate an innovative and aware mindset. The coach with the most championships in NBA history, Phil Jackson has used mindfulness techniques with all his championship winning teams. He says, "As much as we pump iron and we run to build our strength up, we need to build our mental strength up... so we can focus... so we can be in concert with one another." Below is another recognizable face, meditating in the fourth quarter of the biggest game of his career. (Which they won! His first.)

                                      The King Meditating during a timeout in Game 7 of the 2012 NBA Finals

                                      The King Meditating during a timeout in Game 7 of the 2012 NBA Finals

If the best players and coaches practice and encourage meditation how come more athletes aren't doing it? There are any number of reasons, but perhaps its the same reason most people aren't doing it. Because mental training is tough. It requires all kinds of discipline, concentration, attention, creativity, patience and awareness. Tell a Basketball player to dribble a basketball down the court he'll do fine. Tell him to sit a focus on his breath for five minutes and he'll literally lose his mind.

What does it even matter? Because once you've reached a certain level performance isn't about talent. The difference is mental toughness. The great performers are always in the moment. Nothing shakes them emotionally and nothing outside of their control is permitted to distract them from their focus. On or off the field. On the court the crowd is going wild and while most feel the 'pressure' great performers comfortably and reliably knock down their free throws or confidently work the team into scoring position on a two minute drive for the win. Charles Barkley once said "Pressure is something you put in tires." 

Meditation alone will not make you a winner. But it will help you to become more aware. Awareness leads to clarity and clear thoughts inevitably lead to clear movements. There is no better documented way in the history of man or sports to get clear then meditation. Here are some ideas that have helped me and others perform at a consistently high level in the game of life and sport. Keep what you like, discard what you don't but begin to develop your mind muscle and the results will be all you need to stay motivated. 

Exercises:

  • Meditation in its essence is being. For most people that is very challenging so start with sitting comfortably, even in a chair is fine but sit upright and erect. Close the eyes and observe the breath while keeping absolutely still. When the mind wanders from the breath, intentionally bring the focus back to the breath. The purpose is to develop the power of attention. The mind might wander fifty times, but each time continually bring the awareness back to the breath. Continue this for fifteen to twenty minutes until you've developed complete control of the body and of the attention. 
  • Pre game sit with your eyes closed and lay on your back. Completely relax. Start to think of a time when you had your most fun playing the sport you love. Smell the air there. Feel the temperature. See the environment. Remember why you enjoy playing the sport. Then in your mind flash forward through the highlights of your career. The moments your game was on. What was your effort and energy like? How did it feel? See yourself performing at your best. Then begin to bring your awareness to the present moment. The game plan and the effort you intend to give. Then relax. Focus and go to work. The soccer great Pele was known to use this visualization technique before every game. 
  • This one has nothing to do with sports but it has never failed to make me feel intensely powerful and capable. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes and relax completely as your bring your awareness towards your breath. Then using your powers of concentration and imagination begin to see yourself gradually floating from the Earth's surface in a galactic hot air balloon. Create the image in your mind of an aerial view of your position of the Earth. So if you were in Boca Raton Florida, you would imagine you're floating above Boca Raton. Perhaps you began directly above your house and gradually you zoomed out from city to county, to state, to nation until eventually you were on the moon looking back toward Earth. The idea is to offer a new perspective and develop the powers of concentration and attention by creating an increasingly vivid and detailed mental picture. 

Ultimately the goal of meditation is simply mindfulness and awareness for the present. It doesn't need to be fanciful or overdramatic. Just genuine. Whether it is in sport, business, relationship or life practicing mindfulness and meditation is shown to improve performance and satisfaction. 

For more on mindfulness practices and programs visit theHu.co a mindfulness based sports performance agency. 

 

 

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