The concept of mindfulness has taken on a mind of its own. The trendy buzzword is getting a lot of buzz in the fields of psychology and education and most recently, the world of sports.
The practice of mindfulness might just be what you need to gain the extra edge you seek. The difference between hitting your goal and missing the target just might be a brief lapse of focus, a lack of confidence, or a bout of nerves. Your chances of success can be improved by practicing mindfulness.
A state of meditation in which you purposefully and intensely focus on what you’re feeling and sensing, devoid of interruption or judgment, is known as mindfulness. Mindfulness encompasses a connection between the mind and the body, moment-to-moment awareness of ourselves and our experiences. It is not a new concept, as one of the core tenets of Buddhism, mindfulness dates back to the fifth century. Breathing methods, guided imagery, and other techniques are employed to relax the body and mind and subsequently result in the reduction of stress.
As an athlete, you spend countless hours training to get your body into peak performance mode. It is often said that sports are 90% mental and 10% physical, so…. how are you training your mind?
Practicing mindfulness stimulates “getting into the zone” and “staying in the moment.” These ideologies keep you away from entering the dark and dangerous realm of the “what if?” scenario. Consequently, you become more able to execute at your best, both psychologically and physically. Mindfulness will keep you present.
The practice of mindfulness has much to offer to all different kinds of athletes. It has proven to be advantageous in the reduction of stress, providing an increased tolerance to pain and intensification of focus. Psychologist, Dr. Kristen Race, author, and founder of Mindful Life, states that by “bringing out attention inward, we also activate the insular cortex of the brain. As a result, we experience a heightened sense of awareness of our body and improve the communication between the body and mind.” According to Dr. Race, “mindfulness helps train the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that creates a calm and alert state of mind, which helps us stay focused, avoid distraction and perform at our best.”
Stress is the enemy of athlete performance. A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology noted that athletes who practice mindfulness show a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone. The practice of mindfulness allows the body to relax and tackle stressful occurrences in a healthier, more confident manner. Additionally, a study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science indicates that mastering the practice of mindfulness can strengthen the immune system by reducing blood pressure and improving cognitive function.
Research conducted by Kent University proves that practicing mindfulness improves pain management. The findings indicated that the injured athletes who incorporated mindfulness in their rehab regiment showed increased tolerance to pain leading to the ability to rehab harder.
Athletes that practice mindfulness gains a competitive edge. An improved level of performance occurs by the connection of the brain and body, thus boosting physical proficiency. Being able to adapt when your performance is not stellar and when your confidence and concentration wanes is a significant reason to add mindfulness to your training process. The development of an athlete occurs both on and off the field. Athletes need to build mental resilience as well as physical resilience.
“There are only so many ways we can continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger,” says Moawad has worked with athletic programs at the University of Alabama and Florida State, as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars and the LA Lakers. “If you change the overall mental mindset, you can see results faster,” says Moawad.
Mindfulness has become popular with elite professional athletes such as Lebron James, Jonny Wilinninson, and Novak Djokovic. Legendary Bulls and Lakers head coach Phil Jackson is credited with pushing mindfulness into the NBA by introducing it to teams he has coached. Jackson brought in in Trevor Moawad, a leading mental conditioning coach to work with the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant who used mindfulness training to remain calm in their most crucial moments. Moawad who was named the “Sports World’s Best Brain Trainer” by Sports Illustrated in 2017 has worked with numerous college and professional athletic programs.
He teaches that “meditation is not trying to go anywhere or do anything. Meditation and being present is just seeing what’s there and letting it speak to you, the goal is to be present to what is.” He adds that “you communicate internally with yourself at about 800 to 1,400 words per minute, so your subconscious has a lot of stimuli that are consistently affecting it.”
The popular app, Headspace, created by the former Buddhist monk, Andy Puddicombe is used by 15 million people worldwide. Headspace for Sport includes activities geared explicitly for athletes. It has been touted for its effectiveness by many NBA players and has built a partnership with Nike.
Athletes in the 21st century are continually pushed to higher and higher standards. Increasing mental and physical pressure results. Additional methods of training are necessary to achieve ultimate performance. Mindfulness offers a means by which an athlete can reach higher heights by a focus on training the whole body, from the head to toe.