Updated: Jan 6, 2019
Although mindfulness has been around for centuries, it's becoming more widespread today. With mindfulness classes available and even apps to help guide you from home, more and more people are practicing mindfulness and enjoying its benefits. Numerous high-level athletes, such as Lebron James, Derek Jeter, Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh, and Kobe Bryant credit mindfulness as an important tool that helped them reach their athletic success. Coaches, such as Pete Carroll and Phil Jackson, use mindfulness as part of their process to get the best out of their athletes and teams. Practicing mindfulness is simple; anyone can do it and you don’t need any fancy equipment or training to enjoy the benefits.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is simply purposeful attention brought to the present moment. Essentially, you are calling an awareness to where you are and what you are doing right now. In today’s world, there is much “noise” and distraction. We tend to always be in a rush, going through the motions to move on to the next task in our daily lives without really paying attention to what we are doing presently. Much of our life is planned and routine, so we live mostly on auto-pilot. We fail to notice what is going on around us and, more importantly, within us. How often do you stop to appreciate the present? If you are like most people, the answer is not very often.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness carries with it numerous benefits, both mental and physical:
Mindfulness reduces stress while promoting relaxation. When we look at the present moment, there is no stress in that moment; nothing is wrong or worrisome. In the present, we are able to leave behind our past dependencies of hurt, sadness, and pain. We can also lose our future projections, eliminating our negative outlooks and fear of the unknown future. Stress causes anxiety, nervousness, and physical flatness, whereas relaxation promotes increased brain function, helps with your ability to focus clearly and stay attentive, and boosts physical responsiveness and performance.
Mindfulness increases your self-awareness. By taking the time to step away from our immediate reactions and examine our thoughts and feelings, we gain a greater sense of the self. We learn patience and non-judgement of others and of ourselves. With this comes self-acceptance and accountability. Self-awareness also strengthens your mind-body connection as the brain is the catalyst to physical performance.
Mindfulness improves your overall health. The brain is the most powerful tool that we possess and can determine our level of health and well-being. A healthy mind is a trained mind that can dictate our ability to deal with injury and illness along with our ability to recover from them. A calm, quiet, and confident mind can overcome a lot, as well as put us in a healthy state of being.
What Mindfulness Can Do for Athletes?
When looking at the above benefits of mindfulness, we can translate these qualities into athletic gains:
Stress will not allow you to perform at your highest level. Whether you are nervous about an upcoming play, worried about the next game, or are experiencing some self-doubt based upon your interpretation of previous performances, these negative connotations inhibit your athletic abilities. But, with an improved emotional response to these outside stressors, you are able to focus solely on the task ahead of you and are prepared to do what it takes to succeed in a confident and positive manner. Your ability to avoid distractions, whether mental (i.e. self-doubt) or physical (i.e. I’m tired and sore), gives you an immediate competitive edge.
With an improved mind-body connection, you are able to understand your performance and what it takes to perform, better. You will understand what your body can take and how far you can push yourself (usually beyond what you previously thought). You can stay “in the zone” for longer periods of time, not letting negative moments detract you from your best. Improved self-awareness breeds confidence in your abilities, thus accelerating your athletic performances.
It is very rare that as an athlete you will not experience some sort of physical set-back. Whether it is a cut or bruise from a dive to a tear or dislocation from a hard collision to playing a game with a common cold, your ability to deal with physical ailments is crucial to your long-term success. Through mindfulness, you have the opportunity to manage discomfort in a more constructive manner, even improving recovery time with positive affirmations. Being in touch with your subconscious brain and changing how you approach physical set-backs will lead you to thrive in your athletic achievement.
How to Practice Mindfulness
There are countless ways to apply mindfulness to your everyday life. Below, I will list two simple techniques that you can start immediately.
Meditation- a place to experience each moment in the present while reserving judgement and allowing one to explore with open curiosity in a warm and kind manner.
1. Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair
If on the floor, gently cross your legs
If on a chair, place feet flat on the ground
2. Sit in an upright, but not stiff, position, resting your arms and hands on your legs
3. Take a couple of deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth
4. Soften your gaze and slightly drop your chin
It is not necessary to close your eyes, but you may if you prefer
5. Feel your body
Feel the arms resting on your legs
Feel the parts of your body that are in contact with the floor or chair
If you prefer, you can do a mental body scan, starting with the top of the head and slowly moving your way down to your toes, feeling every inch of your body
6. Breathe in a calm, normal manner
As you inhale, feel the breath enter your body and fill your lungs
As you exhale, feel the breath leaving your body
7. Focus your mind on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath
During this time, notice any wandering of the mind. Your mind will wander.
Without judgement or harshness, gently bring your attention back to the breath.
8. Start small, with sessions lasting five minutes, gradually working the amount of meditation time up
Mindfulness Pauses- putting separation between us and our everyday reactions
1. Take a moment to stop.
Whatever you are doing in that moment, cease that activity
2. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth
Feel the breath enter your body and then leave
3. Pay attention to your senses in the present moment
Hear the sounds around you
Smell the aromas present
Feel your body
4. Move along to your normal routine
Taking just 30 seconds to complete this routine will make a big impact