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Your Mental Muscle: Meditation For High Performance

Your Mental Muscle: Meditation for High Performance

Meditation is an extremely valuable skill, both for the athlete and the professional business person. Because of this, these days it is used not only by monks and yogis, but also leaders, executives, and professional athletes.

Brain chemistry in experienced meditators is actually altered, as practitioners are able to ground themselves in the present moment and shut out external noise and distractions. Psychological stress is minimized, and, as a result, abstract physical benefits begin to manifest. Through meditation, a more in-depth awareness of the present moment is developed. Conscious thought converts into conscious action, and thoughts are converted to deeds.

There are many types of meditation. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has shown remarkable results for its practitioners. This type of meditation displays a direct correlation between body and thought (Ambler, n.d.). A mind that is skilled in meditation takes care of the physical body. It has been found that, typically, practitioners make better choices for their bodies, resulting in better eating habits and taking part in more healthful decisions, such as not smoking.

When the untrained mind is presented with obstacles and challenges in everyday life it can experience difficulty and frustration. When confronted with external circumstances that cause agitation, the untrained mind often wants to give up, give in, and throw in the towel, retreating back to a place of safety and low risk (Ambler, C. n.d.). Mindfulness meditation focuses on the space between thoughts, rather than thoughts themselves. This creates a certain “mental muscle,” enabling the practitioner to be better prepared and calm in the face of adversity.

Study of Division I Football Players at the University of Miami

A 2017 study, which was published in The Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, took place at the University of Miami with Division I football players. Past studies in the lab of Dr. Jha had shown that people in high stress situations, including both emotional and physical stress, perform more poorly on tests of concentration and overall happiness. Physical stress and exertion drain the body of energy, just as emotional stress drains mental reserves. The goal of this study was to assess whether or not training them to relax and focus would help them better cope with physical and emotional stress.

At the beginning of the study the athletes were given questionnaires to determine their emotional state, and computerized tests to assess their ability to focus. The athletes were then divided into two groups: one group participated in supervised relaxation techniques, while the other group learned mindfulness meditation. The relaxation techniques taught the players how to intentionally relax their muscles, while listening to calming music. The meditating players practiced focusing on the present moment, and attention to breathing.

The meditation and relaxation sessions, lasting all of twelve minutes per session over the course of four weeks, took place after strength training in the team’s gym. As the week continued, students were encouraged to practice on their own accord.

As the four week trial drew to a close the athletes were tested once more on focus and mood. Overall results showed a large drop in both categories, as the pressures of the intense preseason had taken its toll on the students.

Researches found striking differences in the results of the students who practiced muscle relaxation and mindfulness meditation.The more a student had practiced relaxation techniques the less his mood regressed, while those who had spent enough time on meditating scored best in both focus and mood.

This data clearly demonstrates how mindfulness meditation can be used not only to instill mental resilience, but how it can also affect people’s moods and stress levels in a positive way, ultimately enabling them to live more productive lives.

Athletes Who Practice Meditation

A number of well-known athletes use meditation to help them succeed. Lebron James famously meditated during a time-out during a game in 2012. Derek Jeter stated that his biggest fear in life is not being prepared. Jeter uses meditation to help him cope with this fear, enabling him to always be ready for the next step.

Kobe Bryant is perhaps the most famous athlete to practice meditation. He has been very vocal about how meditation has changed his life for the better, and he’s taken part in countless talks and interviews, advocating for the practice of meditation.

In a recent interview Kobe stated that he meditates every day, typically in the mornings for ten to fifteen minutes. He feels that this prepares him for the rest of the day. In one video, Kobe observed that when he meditates, it allows him to feel like he is in control of his day. “I don’t I feel like I’m chasing the day, rather,” Bryant explained, “I am able to dictate the day. I am set and ready for whatever may come my way,” (Spiritual Legends, 2015).

Perhaps one of the most noteworthy examples of athletes who practice meditation is Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks. Rather than approaching training from an aggressive, no-holds-barred perspective, such coach Bear Bryant who would ban water breaks or Vince Lombardi who would scream and yell at his players, Carroll believed there was a more effective, gentler way.

Carroll’s meditation and relaxation training regime included short, six-minute meditation sessions as well as yoga practice for all players. It is believed by many that these new training tools contributed greatly to the success of the Seattle Seahawks in their 2013 season and their 2014 Super Bowl win.

Helping Others Get Started With Meditation

So how does a psychologist, coach, or manager help others learn about the benefits of mediation, and begin enjoying the benefits of this powerful tool?

According to Pollak, et. al., in a 2014 article in UC Berkley’s Greater Good magazine:

Mindfulness is now the fastest-developing area in mental health… The clinical value of mindfulness interventions has been demonstrated for many psychological difficulties, including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, substance abuse, insomnia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder…

To help skeptical folks engage with a particular practice, try presenting it as an experiment, suggesting that others in similar circumstances have found it to be useful. Depending on the situation, it can be useful to share information from research studies and possibly your personal experience with the practice. We suggest keeping it short, no longer than three to five minutes, and then ask for a status report by asking, “What are you noticing?”

While there is no one “right way” to introduce meditation to an individual or a group, the important thing is the coaches, therapists and managers do introduce it, as its benefits are tremendous and the reasons not to utilize it essentially null.

References
Ambler, C. (n.d.). How meditation gives pro athletes the edge. Retrieved from: https://www.headspace.com/blog/2016/06/08/how-meditation-gives-athletes-the-edge/
Pollak, S., Siegel, R., Pedulla, T. (2014, Sept.). Greater Good. Retrieved from: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/three_ways_bring_mindfulness_therapy

Reynolds, G. (2017). To Train an athlete, add 12 Minutes of meditation to the daily mix. Retrieved from: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/06/21/well/live/to-train-an-athlete-add-12-minutes-of-meditation-to-the-daily-mix.html

Spiritual Legends. (2015, June 4). Kobe Bryant on Oprah. Meditation dictates my day. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucNODrsGdx0

Wisdom 2.0. (2016, Mar. 4). Mastering the mental game, Pete Carroll, Michael Gervais, Jon Kabat-Zinn. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUiCxse8zzA

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