A very pleasant #mindfulmonday to you all! @plantstoplanks here with your latest weekly installment to get you thinking about how you can continue to incorporate more mindful moments into your daily routine. Today I would like to share with you all some ways that meditation or other mindful training can have a positive impact on your athletic endeavors. As a fitness and nutrition coach I obviously believe wholeheartedly in caring for your body through physical activity and quality dietary choices. However, as many of you know, the mind has a huge impact on what our bodies can achieve!
If you follow sports or are an athlete yourself, it probably comes as no surprise that meditation can be a big part of competition preparation. Big names such as NBA coach Phil Jackson and player LeBron James both are reported to be proponents of meditation and other mental forms of training. The entire Seattle Seahawks NFL team joins in on group meditation, and just a few years ago they won the super bowl so it must be doing some good, right? Though these are some all-star examples, even us mere mortal athletes can incorporate meditation to benefit our own endeavors!
I’ll give you an example in my own experience how meditation has helped me in action. A few years ago I did my first Tough Mudder race with a team of other trainers that I work with. In case you’re not sure what that is, think of anywhere from 10-13 miles of mixed terrain running interspersed with 20-plus crazy obstacles (many involving mud). The first year I joined in, I had a good bit of anxiety not knowing what to expect despite lots of solid training leading up to the event. On the first wall that we had to scale I reached up and blanked on how to swing my legs up and over to make it across. With a few bumps along the way I made it through, and actually enjoyed the experience enough to sign up for the next year. There were definitely a few obstacles that were much more mentally scary than they actually were physically challenging, so the following year I decided to incorporate more meditation to help me prepare.
At the time I was using the app Headspace, so about a month before the race I started a series specifically designed for athletic competition. Most of it focused on centering yourself and calming your mind to get through difficult moments. One of the parts of that practice was to incorporate a small hand movement to train your mind to go back to that calm and centered space during the event. I used my right hand to lightly squeeze the pad of skin and muscle inside of my left hand by my thumb. There were a few moments during this second year of the race where that small act helped me step off the safety of a platform and take on the obstacle ahead. The photo below is me swinging across the final obstacle of the race, which was quite intimidating to tackle for the first time. Oh what fun it was to get past the fear and enjoy the freedom of swinging through the air!
My experience is really one of the classic ways that meditation can be used to benefit athletes. Taking time ahead of competition or even practice to calm the mind or visualize success can have tremendous results during the heat of the moment. Just as you practice your sport through weeks, months or even years of training, you can also apply the same type of progression to your mental training to see improvements on that end. This can help if you suffer from pre-competition anxiety, have a hot head during events that gets you tossed from games, or tend to overthink your swing or shot to the point where your mind gets in the way of your physical abilities. That’s one of the beautiful things about a personal mindful practice—you can tweak it to your own needs at any given time to find benefit.
Another form of mindfulness that I enjoy teaching is to really pay attention during your training. When I first started running almost a decade ago I always went out with music to distract me during my run. However, a few years ago I ditched the tunes and found I actually enjoyed my runs more without the music in my ears. I could not only get much more in tune with nature, but I also became much more in tune with they rhythm of my own body. By cutting out distractions you can really get a whole lot more out of your effort. I also like to set my intentions for my run or other workout before I head out, so even before I start taking a moment to think about what I want to get out of it will help me make the most out of my time.
I think it can also be very helpful during strength training. Many people don’t like lifting weights or doing other calisthenic movements, so they just go through the motions. If you really take the time to think about the purpose behind each movement and what muscles you are engaging it can help you get much more out of your workout. I have a few clients who absolutely love to learn about why we are doing the particular movements as it helps them understand how it helps daily activities. From a safety perspective, you are also much less likely to get injured when you are paying attention to form and technique, and also to your body’s signs that may tell you if you need to a break. These are just a few examples, but you can bring that mindful approach to any physical activity from yoga, dance, cycling, or just walking around the neighborhood. Athletics doesn’t always have to be about high intensity, sometimes your intention can be more to create a mental catharsis through physical activity or use movement for flexibility and recovery.
Recovery is indeed another area where many athletes can benefit from a more mindful approach to their routine. We may think about the fuel and fluids we consume to recover, or even how much sleep we get. However, speaking from my own experience (and I know for a fact runners are terrible at this!), we tend to skimp on taking time to slow down during the day to really allow our bodies to deal with the inflammatory impact of hard training. More and more research comes out all the time about how important it is to take the time to recover after your training efforts. If you are constantly on the go and don’t allow proper rest, your body will end up failing either through acute injury or chronic over-training effects like fatigue or illness. Taking time out to meditate is a fantastic way to not only just physically stop for a period of time, but the benefits in relieving stress can be positive for both mind and body.
Many forms of exercise in itself can be meditative. Running, cycling, and of course yoga are all ones that come to mind as ways to be mindful during movement, but there are any number of other activities that lend themselves to quality moments focusing on breathing and being in the present moment. Any form of physical activity can be a great way to work on both the health of the body and of the mind! For the other athletes out there, how do you incorporate meditation into your training routine? How has it impacted your performance in specific events or quality of training? We’d love to hear your stories!
Want to learn a little more about how the group meditation sessions go in the @naturalmedicine discord? Check out updates like this post from our resident meditation leader @bewithbreath after the Wednesday meditation last week.
Just because you are on vacation or have your kiddos with you doesn’t mean you can’t take a little bit of time for a mindful moment! Learn how @consciousangel7 worked meditation into her latest vacation here.
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