It is often said by elite athletes and coaches that your mind is equally as important as your physical fitness and skill when playing sports. So why do we not put time into training our minds just like we do with our bodies?
Think of it this way: the more you train your mind by meditating or enhancing your mindfulness, the more present you are, and the less likely you are to “accidentally” eat that entire packet of Oreos 🙂 (we've all been there ). Training our minds is beneficial in so many ways as it can cause us to eat better, shed those extra kilos and exercise way more. By meditating we are taking care of the body just like we do through exercise.
So what is mindfulness and meditation?
I don’t know about you but when I first heard the word mindfulness I automatically thought of Buddhist Monks floating above the ground meditating or a yoga instructor sitting beside a lake humming to themselves with their legs crossed. To be honest before I started researching this I presumed that mindfulness was just a fancy word for mediation… but apparently I was wrong!
So what’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation? Well meditation is when you intentionally set aside time to do something that’s good for you. There are all kinds of meditations such as listening to calming music or going to the gym to relieve stress (basically we meditate a lot without actually knowing it!). On the other hand mindfulness is an open-hearted, moment-to-moment, non-judgemental awareness of the world. Mindfulness contributes to both high levels of awareness and acceptance of the present reality. Mindfulness is something we can practice when we're on the bus, when we're waiting in the queue at the shop, or while we're eating. It's not religious, it's simply about paying close attention to the world around you. Just to confuse matters mindfulness and meditation overlap to create mindfulness meditation, which is one of the most popular types of meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is the meditation we all know about. It's when you specifically take time out of you day to get into a comfortable position and intentionally pay attention to whatever is here in the moment (Don't worry, humming is optional). The goal of meditation is to learn to be really present so that if you feel yourself reacting a certain way in a situation (like when someone sees a gap and wont merge into the lane and all you want to do is scream "MERGE" at them!), that you have trained your mind to become so aware of the present that you're then able to take a step back, and literally change your knee-jerk reaction to a calmer and more polite reaction like "that's okay, maybe they'll merge next time...".
Why do athletes participate in mindfulness meditation?
There are so many benefits that come from meditation including helping an individual deal with their fears. This is particularity relevant for athletes. Athletes often having an intense fear before a big competition or game and deal with this fear by avoiding focusing on their performance. However by meditating athletes can notice the fear and learn to accept it. By doing so they can notice the cues of fear and thus are able to re-focus their attention on tasks that they need to perform instead of them dwelling on the fear.
Alternatively mindfulness meditation helps if an athlete has performance anxiety. This is a major challenge for sport psychologists and their athlete clients and is one of the main reasons a lot of great athletes don't make it to the top. Mindfulness meditation has been found to reduce many symptoms associated with anxiety, as the practise helps athletes decrease the occurrence of negative thoughts by just being able to 'let go'. Trust me when I say that all the cool kids do it! Some of the best athletes in the world practise mindfulness mediation every day. Ever heard of Lebron James? If not this is him:
Lebron is an advocate of mindfulness meditation and claims that it is part of the reason why he is one of the best basketballers to have ever graced the NBA. He believes in it so much that he was even seen meditating during a time-out in an actual game in 2012, which was the same year that his team, the Miami Heat, lifted the NBA title. Other famous athletes who meditate include Novak Djokavic and the great Lionel Messi.
Just in case you're still not entirely convinced here are 8 more reasons why athletes partake in mindfulness meditation:
- It helps you focus
- It helps you cope with pain
- It strengthens your immune system
- It stops your mind from ruminating
- It makes you resilient
- It helps with sleep
- Stabilises our emotions
- Can recognise our blind spots
But I’m not an elite athlete…
Meditation is not only used by athletes, or self confessed yogis. It seems like everyone and their dogs (or goats) are rolling out their yoga mats. You also may have noticed that your Instagram feeds are packed with Gandhi quotes or just Susan from the local hairdresser posting about how we need to "be mindful, be here, now.".
Although mindfulness meditation might just look like a trend at the moment, there is really a method to the madness. Mindfulness meditation is used as a key way of relieving stress and anxiety. It can also be really daunting if you haven't exercised in a while and want to start back again. In order to avoid the debate between going to the gym and binge watching Friends on Netflix for the 5th time, use meditation as a way of relaxing your mind and body and to help you look more positively at the benefits of going to the gym even though you're worried or stressed about it. Don't worry, you don't have to do yoga with goats or post inspirational quotes to practise meditation! All you need is 10-15 minutes to yourself and your mind.
So how do I meditate?
All you have to do is add 12 minutes of meditation to your daily routine. I know what your thinking, 12 is really specific... Well studies show that it takes 12 minutes of meditation for our minds to relax completely and in turn reach that stage of mindfulness. If you don't have 12 minutes to spare don't worry! There are lots of different apps and videos out there that have guided meditations that are either under 10 minutes or that you can play when you're going to sleep. If you've never meditated before definitely look up guided meditations that talk you through your meditation and are specific to your individual goals. Three platforms that I found to be amazing are :
Headspace is the leading platform for guided meditation. It started when Andy (the creator) set up a meditation consultancy after he cut his Sports Science degree short to become a Buddhist monk. He began working with politicians, athletes (that sports science background finally came in handy), and business leaders. His clients loved what he practised so much that they requested that Andy created a way that they can listen to his teachings wherever they went. That's when headspace was born. Headspace has so many categories to choose from ranging from everyday meditations to sport, work and even grief. Whats even better about Headspace is the fact that they have linked up with Spotify to make listening even easier. They have also teamed up with Nike as of this year to show just how important mindfulness is for athletes. Keep in mind, mindfulness meditation can be done by anyone regardless of their age! If you have children definitely check out the kids section of this app. The meditations are created based on the child's age and fall under a number of categories. If you child finds it hard to calm down or even sleep this app will revolutionise your daily routines. Check out their website here.
Tone it up
Tone it up is a fitness community set up by 2 women who have a love for health and fitness. Not only do they put up workouts and recipes on their Instagram and website but they focus heavily on mindfulness and mental well-being. For those who don't have a lot of time to spare their mindfulness videos are quick and to the point, averaging up to 8 Minutes. They have so many different categories and even include lunch break meditations for when work isn't your favourite place. Tone it up is a great place to get your mindfulness journey started and what's even better is that all their videos are free! Have a look for yourself here.
Last but not least is our go to fix for everything in life... Youtube. Oh glorious Youtube, I cant't thank you enough for the amount of phone screens you have helped me fix or the amount of conspiracy theories that I am now convinced are true! If you want a quick meditation I would opt for either Headspace and Tone it up, but what Youtube is great for is the long 3+ hour guided meditations that you can listen to when you go to sleep. Trust me if you ever have trouble sleeping these will be your guiding saviour. Here at two of my favourite meditations for when I need that extra bit of help to sleep. Have a look here for a quick before sleep meditation and here for a longer one you can listen to all night.