When our bodies are strong, we can perform well…. right?
Not necessarily – and most athletes will be painfully aware that this isn’t always the case. While being in great physical shape is essential, it’s really only half of what it takes to perform at your best. The mental side of athletic performance is just as important, but unfortunately, it’s often overlooked and many athletes fall short of their potential as a result. As with anything else, improving our mental approach to our sport is all about cultivating an awareness of the present moment, as well as becoming aware of our thought patterns. This is mindfulness, in a nutshell, and it allows us to align with who we really are and live authentically. Through a consistent meditation practice, athletes of all levels can master the art of mindfulness to elevate their performance. Here are 10 ways meditation improves athletic performance.
1. Less stress, more endurance
Athletes are frequently exposed to high levels of physical and mental stress, which are both associated with increased inflammation in the body. Meditation helps reduce emotional stress by quieting the mind and bringing awareness back to our bodies. This decrease in mental stress then frees up energy for the body to recover more efficiently from the physical impact of training. When we become more aware of our bodies, we also become more in-tune with our true capabilities, which leads to increased endurance and enables us to reach new heights in our athletic performance.
2. Better focus = better results
The plasticity of our brains allows us to learn and improve throughout our lives, and many studies are showing that meditation accelerates these positive changes in our neural connectivity. One particular study, published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, found that meditation led to the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for concentration and memory). What this means for athletes, is that meditation can directly improve our ability to learn from our training and apply this information in competition. In short, meditation enables us to stay focused when it counts and get the best possible results.
3. More motivation and satisfaction
The more present we are in each moment, the more likely we are to experience feelings of motivation and satisfaction. This is shown in another study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, which compared the experiences of athletes who meditate regularly, with those who don’t at all. High levels of satisfaction and motivation mean we’ll be more likely to stick to our training plans, go the extra mile, and ultimately perform at our best – all whilst enjoying ourselves!
4. Better sleep = faster recovery
Meditation has been found to improve the length and quality of sleep, as well as overall sleeping patterns. Since our bodies recover and repair while we sleep, developing a meditation practice can result speedier recovery and less downtime. In addition to slower recovery time, poor quality of sleep can also lead to many other negative consequences, such as weight gain, mood disturbance, increased anxiety and depression, poor focus and concentration, and decreased motor control – all of which are especially detrimental to athletes.
5. More presence = more enjoyment = better performance
Athletes often lose touch with the reasons they fell in love with their sport to begin with. In a culture that’s focused on competition and winning, it’s easy to forget about the true meanings of sport. Increased presence on mind helps us get back in touch with the ‘spirit of the game,’ which naturally leads to feelings of joy and passion – and it’s no secret that athletes perform better when they are genuinely enjoying themselves.
6. Reduces self-doubt and self-judgement
Negative thoughts fuel poor performance, and while we may not even realise is – the majority of our thoughts are negative in content. Negative thoughts of self-doubt and judgement hijack us from present moment, which leads to more mistakes and continually worse performance. A consistent mindfulness practice literally changes the brain, by growing new neural pathways that support focus and emotional regulation, while breaking down the pathways that encode negative emotions. Less negative thoughts quite simply equates to fewer mistakes in performance.
7. Allows for effective visualisation
The aim of meditation is not to have no thoughts at all, but rather to cultivate an awareness of our thoughts. During meditation, we watch our thoughts come and go without judgement or reaction, and we begin to notice patterns that may be detrimental to our wellbeing. Most people on earth will have deeply ingrained negative beliefs about themselves. Meditation allows up to recognise that these beliefs are not truths about ourselves, and that we can shift our thoughts to create new beliefs that embrace our high potential and true, unlimited abilities. This gives the athlete an optimal mental state for practicing visualisation techniques – which can have powerful results on performance.
8. Stronger immune system
A study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health found that those who practice meditation experience fewer bouts of cold and flu, as well as a shortened duration and less severe symptoms. As meditation helps the immune system to its job, athletes who commit to a mindfulness practice can avoid missing training sessions and poor performance due to illness.
9. Reduced chance of injury
As mentioned above, mediation brings our awareness into our bodies. Not only does this help to quiet the mind, it also enables the athlete to enhance their awareness of each muscle, joint and limb, which can reduce the chance of injury and prevent further damage to existing injuries.
10. Increased self-confidence
When there’s less commotion going on in our minds, we’re able to locate and connect with our authentic selves. Having a better understanding of who we really are, minus all the noise, enables us to become more self-confident. Not only does meditation allow us to grow as an individual, it also helps us build our athletic identity in alignment with our true selves. The power of genuine feelings of confidence and truly believing in ourselves make meditation a total game-changer.
Mindfulness meditation greatly improves the mind-body connection, which allows athletes of all levels to discover their optimal zone for performance. While it’s no secret that the quickest path to mindfulness is through a regular meditation practice, getting into this habit can be quite a challenge in itself. This is where Muse Headbands can help.
Muse uses electroencephalography (EEG) to track your brain waves as you meditate and alerts you with natural sounds when your mind is becoming too active. It’s ideal for athletes, as it teaches meditation in the style of a game. Learn more about how Muse can help you develop a consistent and effective meditation practice to improve your athletic performance, reduce stress and increase your wellbeing – or book an appointment today.