The Mindful Athlete: Practice for Peak Performance
In our last post The Mindful Athlete, I talked about how mindfulness is quickly becoming a widely used tool for athletes of all ages. Studies show that mindfulness helps athletes quiet their inner dialogue, avoid distractions and remain task-oriented. all of these benefits lead to a clear-headed athlete, focused on dominating the moment.
Today, I want to discuss some of the techniques that you can use so you can take your game to the next level. Because I am here to tell you that “the ceiling” is NOT the roof.
You can still unlock even more potential than what meets the eye. Before I go through a handful of mindfulness techniques and resources, here are a few real life examples of athletes incorporating mindfulness into their training:
- 2016 World Series Champions, Chicago Cubs:
- 2013 Super Bowl Champions, Seattle Seahawks:
- The “Zen Master”, 11-time NBA Champion coach, Phil Jackson:
- Kobe Bryant speaking about “the zone”, which we discussed as the flow state:
- Various players: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/3347089
That’s a pretty crazy who’s who list of athletes and organizations right there. I promise I’m not some kooky guy that is making this stuff up. I have coached athletes of all ages and skill levels. I have played with and coached guys that have played D1 in a number of sports and went on to the professional ranks. Mindfulness (and meditation) has real-life application for athletes. Here are a handful of techniques you (or your kids/athletes) can incorporate into your daily routine that will help elevate your mental approach and on-field success.
Mindful Breathing: This is a practice that is pretty self-explanatory. Devoting 10 minutes a day to mindful breathing can go a LONG way. You will put 100% focus on your breathing, from the inhale to exhale. Observe each breath without trying to adjust it. It may help to focus on the feeling of the air entering your nose through your nostrils to the rise and fall of your chest. You can find a quiet place to practice this of you can do it at practice or in the on-deck circle. Your eyes can be open or closed. Just focus on the breath. Follow the air as it makes way to your lungs. Place your tongue at the roof of your mouth and inhale through your nose. When exhaling, allow the air to fully escape the lungs via your mouth. The more that you practice mindful breathing, the easier and more effective it becomes (especially in “high stress” situations). You may find that your mind wanders. This is natural. Be aware and try to guide your attention back to your breathing. This is a great practice to try first thing in the morning or prior to practice/competition.
Body Scans: The body scan is another form of mindful meditation. Begin by finding a peaceful spot where you can lay down. The goal is to be aware of each part of your body and connecting with how each body part feels. Do not try and change the feeling or be discouraged by how it feels. The exercise is to simply feel each body part one by one as your travel through the whole body. The body scan helps train your attention. It can train your “mind to be able to move from detailed attention to a wider and more spacious awareness from one moment to another.” Body scans can last from 3-30 minutes and help you sync your mind muscle connection. Guided audio can really help with this exercise.
Internal and External Message Tracking: This is a simple exercise that you can do at any time of the day. Take note of your inner dialogue. What are you saying to yourself? Are you doubting your abilities? Are you beating yourself up over something in the past? Or do you have a positive inner conversation? Do NOT judge. Accept it and refocus. Also track how to speak to others. Do you speak with a negative tone? Positive? Are you self-deprecating? Do you speak with energy? Again, do NOT judge. Simply refocus your attention to the present and move forward. The things you say to family and friends can change the way you think. Therefore, take note of your tone and your emotions. Let them go with hour breath. Then find yourself in the present moment again. Positive dialogue promotes positive action.
Mindful Walking: This is a great practice prior to games. This takes meditation on the move and combines it with a body scan. Before walking, stand still and pay attention to your body. Notice your breathing. Feel the weight of your body sway from one leg to the other. Begin walking around slowly, feeling your feet sink into the ground with each step. Feel the weight go from your heel to the balls of your feet. Breathe normally, fully. Focus softly in front of you. As your mind wanders take notice of the feelings/thoughts/emotions and slowly refocus on your body as it comes in contact with the ground. Let your thoughts go. After a few minutes, freeze. Feel the ground under you. Put your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Inhale deeply through your nose. Exhale through your mouth, emptying your lungs.
These are just a handful of mindfulness exercises that you can use at various times of the day, but especially prior to competition. Experts believe that the more you practice mindfulness, the easier it is to call upon these techniques in high pressure game situations. Thankfully, with today’s technology there are plenty of useful resources at the click of a button. Apps and websites are available to help guide your mindful practice. Here are a few:
3 minute body scan: http://www.elishagoldstein.com/videos/3-minute-body-scan/
5 minute body scan: http://www.elishagoldstein.com/videos/5-minute-body-scan/
UCLA Health’s mindfulness center (guides, scans, etc.): http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations