With claims of having the power to improve sleep, achieve goals, develop concentration, aid in disease prevention, and manage stress and anxiety (to name a few), the benefits of meditation are proven time and time again in various aspects health and wellness.
But did you know that meditation can also help athletes and coaches perform better?!
In this blog, we’ll talk all about meditation and discuss how it can help your athletes (and you) achieve your goals on (and off) the field. We will leave you with a 5-day meditation challenge at the end for you and your team.
We'll start by talking about what brings most people to meditation in the first place: STRESS.
We are wired for stress.
It’s time we all face the reality: Stress is unavoidable. Like fear, stress is a necessary element of survival. Our brains are wired to pay attention to stress because it’s how we recognize (and thereby avoid) danger. Historically, we experienced stress when our lives were at stake (i.e. a saber-toothed tiger was charging one of our family members). Stress signaled alarm bells that allowed us to access our most animalistic survival instincts to keep us alive. Stress, in other words, is part of our fight-or-flight response. Without it, we’d be dinner.
“Stress should be a powerful driving force, not an obstacle."
-Bill Phillips, American Author, Body for Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength.
These days, people refer to “stress” as a bad thing. You hear it all the time: Stress-free this, stress-free that. As a society, we spend time and money trying to eliminate it from our lives; though massages, day spas, candles, yoga, vacations, and other creature comforts that make life a little bit easier.
An easier life is appealing, but does that necessarily translate to “stress-free”? Not necessarily.
Stress can be bad, but ultimately it’s necessary. Why? Because, without enough of it, our bodies (and minds) turn to mush. Ironically, a complete lack of stress in a person’s environment actually causes the brain to create stresses of its own; namely boredom, anxiety, tiredness, and un-productivity.
What does that really mean? Stress keeps us going.
That said, being over-stressed is just as bad as having too little stress. In these situations, you need to find ways to cope; otherwise, you risk diminishing returns and (ultimately) burnout.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the evolutionary path, the human brain stopped discerning between REAL danger and FAKE danger. Real danger has the potential for bodily harm, injury, pain, or loss, while fake danger is purely psychological.
We’re talking about sports here, not saber-tooth tigers.
What's the difference?
Most of our days are full of fake dangers, which can cause us to experience a fight-or-flight response. During such a response, the body releases hormones that increase your heart rate and add more stress to your system.
As an athlete, you are under a lot of stress, physically, and mentally. But even for those of us who are used to high-stress situations, we all have a breaking point when additional pressure leads to decreased performance.
Improving your game, achieving your goals, and pushing to the next level as an athlete or coach is much more difficult if you're carrying the weight of excess stress, so the first step when starting meditation is often practicing it to help you deal with stress.
In fact, meditation is used by almost all top performing athletes (and people) to manage stress, decrease anxiety, and get better sleep.
The word, "meditation' means to think deeply about something. The practice of meditation involves looking inward, focusing, relaxing, and drawing awareness.
Meditation can be practiced in many different ways, most often as either a way to quiet the mind or to spend concentrated time focusing energy toward just one thing. With slight alterations in the ritual of practice, meditation can be used for affirmation, contemplation, prayer, breathing exercises, and relaxation.
Meditation counteracts your stress response.
Meditation weakens your invalid neural connection, which means you aren’t drawn to feel danger at every little, unfamiliar thing. This is a REALLY good benefit for a few reasons:
"Taking time out of each day to relax and renew is essential to living well." -Judith Hanson Lasater, American Yoga Instructor.
Take some time to slow your body and mind down. Give it time to repair, rest, and digest the activity of the day. If you do, I can guarantee you’ll feel better prepared to respond appropriately and energetically when stress comes your way.
If you've never meditated before or are new to the practice of meditation, here is a quick guide to help you get started today.
1. Disconnect from the world. Turn your phone off/close your door/create space for yourself.
2. Get comfortable. (But not so comfortable you'll fall asleep). Sit up against a wall and rest your head and/or sit on a yoga mat or padded surface.
3. Breathe comfortably. Breathe in through your nose and out of your mouth at an even pace. Try to relax your belly, neck, and face muscles and breathe 3 dimensionally into your core.
4. Let go. Let your thoughts enter your mind, let them go, without judgement. Whenever you notice your mind wandering, bring your attention back to your breath.
Meditation is truly a practice and the more practice you get, the more impactful meditation will become, and the easier it will be to get into the right headspace. This 5-day meditation challenge is designed jumpstart your journey with meditation and to get you into the habit.
Each day begins with a different prompt.
Day 1: Deep Breathing. Set a timer for 10 minutes and sit still. One of the first physical responses we have to stress is shallow breathing. Reverse your stress and send signals to your body that you're safe by counting 100 deep belly breaths. Place your palm over your belly button and focus on filling your diaphragm with air and releasing tension in your shoulders, lungs, and body.
Day 2: Letting Go. Set a timer for 10 minutes and sit still. Breathe comfortably, and acknowledge the thoughts that come in and out of your mind. As new thoughts enter, hear them then let them go with an exhale.
Day 3: Brain Dump. Grab a pen and paper and set a timer for 10 minutes. During these 10 minutes, freewrite everything that's on your mind. Worries, to-dos, people that come to mind. Don't worry about spelling or grammar, just get everything out. Don't let your pen stop moving. If you get stuck, just repeat, "What I really mean is..." until the thoughts flow again.
Day 4: Gratitude. Set a timer for 10 minutes and sit still. Breathe comfortably and begin listing (or picturing) the things you're grateful for in your mind, one at a time.
Day 5: Labeling. Grab a pen and paper and set a timer for 10 minutes. As you sit quietly, notice what's drawing your attention - Is it sound from outside, is in imagery in your mind, is it a worry? As distractions come in and out, note what they're about, label them (see/hear/feel). Follow this process for the entirety of your practice.
If you choose to take our 5-day meditation challenge, you may notice some of the following benefits right away:
Over time, you may notice big changes like:
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by including meditation in your daily life.
So join us, won't you? And get your team onboard by starting your own meditation practice. It's a new year; what better time to commit to your own health and wellbeing and help your athletes do the same.
Take our 5-Day meditation challenge and start your journey today.