As athletes, we train our bodies for hours each week seeking a competitive edge—but we often neglect our minds. Meditation, in the simplest of terms, is one approach to training your brain. Living more mindfully in our fast-paced society can help you with everything from performing better during training and racing to simply decompressing with greater relaxation for improved recovery.
My journey with meditation began years ago while I was in yoga teacher training. Unsure of what to expect in my own meditation practice I began by using apps like Headspace to help guide me. Through practicing guided meditation I learned how to accept the idea of simply slowing down to open more space for mindfulness. Soon I began to meditate more without guidance; just embracing the quiet space and abandoning my expectations.
My next step was listening to that same quiet while training for my next Ironman race without music. The simple act of training with only the music of nature and my inner voice became a greater force than any music ever had. I began to find peace with exercise, seeing it as a gift of opportunity rather than a task of necessity. I found harmony with the subtle nuances of my run form that could easily have gone unnoticed if I had been distracted by music. Meditation became a space I could go to at any time, anywhere.
Benefits of Meditation
Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, an affiliate of Harvard University, reports that meditation induces a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body collectively referred to as the “relaxation response.” The relaxation response includes changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry.
The power of the brain is magical if we are able to harness it! Below are some of the documented benefits of meditation.
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased focus and clarity
- Lower heart rate
- Slower respiratory rate
- Decrease anxiety
- Lower blood cortisol levels
- More feelings of well-being
- Decrease stress
- Deeper relaxation and improved sleep quality
Sharing Meditation With Others
In 2016 I started sharing simple meditation suggestions with our coached athletes at Peak State Fit. Many athletes had never tried meditating at all. So we started off much like I started, by using guided meditation apps. Guided meditations can be selected for a desired length and category, such as relaxation, focus, stress relief, sport, visualization, etc. Our athletes were pleasantly surprised by how beneficial the time spent in mindful practice had been, and now it is an integral part of our team’s routine.
Through meditation, we can actually rewire our brains to enhance positive traits like focus and decisionmaking while diminishing the less positive ones like fear and stress. Meditation isn’t about changing your personality or turning off certain thoughts. It’s about practicing awareness and listening to your interval voice. You’re learning to observe emotions without judgment to have a better understanding of self and those around you through acceptance.
The benefits of meditation come with practice, just like anything new. I suggest starting out using a guided meditation video or app that is relatively short in duration. 10-20 minutes is a great place to start.There’s no perfection in meditation practice, but just like any exercise, frequency and consistency are key! Find a comfortable place to sit undistracted with optional soothing surroundings, like a candle or diffuser. Make your meditation space a place truly welcoming to return to frequently as you grow in your practice.
Just like anything new, it may take time to embrace the unknown of your quiet mind. You may have sessions that you simply don’t feel connected or grounded. Keep showing up with an open heart and peace will fill those unknown spaces with abundance.