Silence… an opportunity to sit in your thoughts, reflect on your training, and check in with how you body and mind are feeling. During this time you can start to understand and appreciate all the thoughts and feelings going on in your mind and throughout your body. It is during this time that you can make huge improvements in mental toughness.

Covered in this blog

  1. The science behind meditation for athletes
  2. How flow (or the zone) improves athletic performance
  3. How to get started with meditation
Athlete sitting cross legged and meditating

 

The science of meditation for endurance athletes

Ever since I was introduced to meditation and mindfulness, almost 5 years ago, I have been a huge advocate for its use in improving athletic performance. Including some form of mental fitness training into your overall sports training is becoming increasingly popular. It’s available for free, it’s easy to get started and it is time efficient. If you aren’t spending anytime in this area, you will no doubt see some significant improvements when you start.

While it is still an emerging field being scientifically studied, there have been numerous published and recognised papers that support meditation and mindfulness for athletes. One study conducted in 2017 found that “Increased dispositional mindfulness in competitive athletes (i.e. by practicing mindfulness) may lead to reductions in rumination {the focused attention on the symptoms of one's distress}, as well as an improved capacity to regulate negative emotions. By doing so, athletes may improve their sport-related coping skills, and thereby enhance athletic performance.”

Another study in 2017 by Lorenza S. Colzato & Armin Kibele found that “Long-term engagement in mindfulness meditation has been found to be effective in achieving optimal athletic performance through decreasing the level of anxiety, ruminative thinking, and enhancing the experience of flow.”

Why would you want to improve your experience of flow?

Athletes meditating

 

How flow (or the zone) can improve your athletic performance

“A flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one's sense of time.” Wikipedia.

You may already be familiar with it. Do you ever remember a time, perhaps not even on the bike, when you were at one with the activity you were performing? You might have experienced euphoria or felt untouchable. Maybe you smashed several PB’s, took some KOM’s or even rode faster than you’ve ever done before. This is flow; the point where peak athletic performance meets peak mental performance and it is good!

If you’ve not experienced it, you need to be goal focused and have significant intention before starting the activity (smash a 10 mile personal best for example) and focus on something rhythmic during the activity itself (your breathing or cadence for example).

For an indepth look at how to ‘Get in the Zone’ checkout my podcast with Spokes Mental Fitness Expert Alan Heary.

Athlete meditating near the ocean

 

How to get started with meditation for sports performance

Getting started with meditation for sports performance is actually no different than getting started with regular meditation, but apparently this way works better for search engine optimisation (SEO).

There are a number of ways you can be easily guided into starting a meditative practise. I love apps such as Headspace or Calm, but if you’re not wanting to spend any money just yet, you might try something free like Insight Timer. Start at any time of the day, but with the intention of starting your day with this in the longer term.

Meditation is about you, so there’s no problem if you want to practise sat with crossed legs, on a chair or even laying down. Just try to find somewhere quiet and peaceful where you won’t be disturbed for 10 minutes or so.

Start with some breathing exercises; long deep breaths, maybe pausing at full inhale for a moment or two. If it helps, you could count to four on each part of the breath, four as you inhale, four pause with full lungs, four as you exhale and straight back into inhale again. Do this for some time until you feel more relaxed. If you are quite tense, image yourself letting go as you exhale, relaxing every muscle in your body.

Then you can sit quietly, allowing thoughts to come and go without any judgement. The idea is to be thoughtless, but in practise it is highly unlikely to be achieved when first starting meditating and, from personal experience, my bipolar brain rarely allows me any peace. As thoughts or feelings come and go, simply thank them and relax yourself back into meditation. You could label them thought or feeling and it might help to focus on the breath as you relax.

Meditation is easy to get started

 

Summary

If you aren’t practising any form of meditation or mindfulness you are slowly becoming the minority and are missing out on some incredible benefits, not just in athletic performance, but in general life. For no cost and just ten minutes per day you can have a significantly better quality of life, it’s a no brainer. So sit down, back straight, and shut the **** up.

 

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About The Author: Pav Bryan

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