Meditation for Athletes
The majority of medicine, therapy, rehabilitation, training methods, etc, focus on physical health. While we still intend on touching on that subject in this article, we also want to highlight the benefits of practicing healthy mental habits for increasing sports performance. While we have seen great outcomes with yoga, it’s become such a popular practice that we don’t really consider it an alternative method. Instead, we will place the majority of the focus of this article on meditation, as this is considered to be more complimentary.
Meditation has been practiced for at least three thousand years according to written records, but it is likely much more ancient than that. We won’t dive into the history much more than that, as it tends to lose a focus on the evidence-based benefits that we see with modern meditation. For example, it is said that with meditation the cells in your body are filled with “prana”, a form of energy, that in turn results in an increased state of happiness. Not sure how to quantify “prana”, so we will instead just focus on what we can easily see/feel/understand.
Mental Benefits of Meditation
This is the main reason we wanted to briefly discuss meditation. Nowadays, competitive sports, especially at the elite level, can be extremely stressful on their own. Factor in other constant stress, such as that resulting from work, financial stress, mental stress resulting from a physical injury, family issues, and the ever-increasing pace of today’s lifestyles, and you have a recipe for mental cloudiness.
Many athletes admit that they have trouble focusing as clearly as they would like during competition. Usually resulting from nervousness or low confidence, it is not uncommon to hear an athlete become upset with themselves for not being able to achieve in competition what they would normally be able to achieve during practice.
Depending on how much of a problem this is for you, and how much of your sport relies on mental clarity, it could be worth setting aside a little bit of time each week to meditate. Yoga can offer many similar benefits, but is also more physically demanding, which may not be ideal for your training regime or if you are currently rehabilitating. Moreover, it is more likely that yoga is already a part of your training, rather than meditation.
Mental benefits of meditation include the following:
- Decreased anxiety
- Increased happiness
- Increased ability to relax
- A feeling of enhanced mental clarity
There are actually many other reported mental benefits of meditation, but we remain skeptical of some of them, for instance increased intuition and creativity. We are not saying that this is false information, it’s just a little more difficult to find information on this.
Physical Benefits of Meditation
There are definitely some physical benefits of meditation which may or may not affect performance. Moreover, it’s difficult to determine if these are direct benefits of meditation (i.e. the act of meditating directly lowers blood pressure), or if they are secondary effects (i.e. the act of meditating directly lowers mental anxiety, which in turn lowers blood pressure). Nevertheless, here are the more commonly reported physical benefits:
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower levels of tension-related pain (e.g. headaches)
- Increased serotonin production (could also be considered a mental benefit as it increases mood)
- Improved immune system
Meditation can definitely help athletes increase their performance primarily through an increased ability to focus and think clearly. There are also physical benefits that may help an athlete gain an edge. In our opinion, meditation may be worth considering if you feel you definitely have problems with focus and mental clarity at times during competition, or if you are simply really stressed out. However, it may not be practical for every athlete as time is a valuable commodity. in any case, browse around and learn more about it, and who knows, maybe it will give you the edge you need to succeed!