AS FAR AS mental skills techniques go, there are few more powerful than meditation.
I see meditation as being as important for an athlete as engine oil is for a high-performance engine.
Think of it in the following ways:
- Engine oil lubricates moving parts, preventing them from rubbing together and creating friction, therefore protecting them from excessive wear – Meditation protects the mind by reducing negative conflictive thinking.
- By reducing friction, engine oil allows the moving parts to work more smoothly and efficiently together – Mediation helps develop psychological awareness and clearer skills-based decision-making.
- The higher the grade of oil, the better the performance – With meditation, the more regular the practice, the higher the performance.
While there are many other benefits to meditation, including pain reduction and a healthier immune system – some core central benefits are increased focus and discipline.
I was introduced to meditation in 1993, it is very important part of any success I have had as a sportsman, a coach but also as a person.
“I learned how to have more control over my thoughts and concentrating a lot was important (for performance). All of a sudden I became a much better player because I wasn’t getting distracted and my confidence wasn’t taking big hits.
“I was a lot more consistent in my thought process, a lot more consistent in where my energy had to go and much more consistent therefore in my performances.”
Justin Langer – ex professional cricketer and coach.
When introducing meditation to athletes or teams, I always let them know that there is not one specific way to mediate. In fact, there are lots.
Many people first experience meditation in a free class or weekend workshop, where an instructor may say ‘slow your breathing’, ’clear your mind’ or ‘ be at peace’.
Instructions like these can be frustrating and can initially put people off. Clearing your mind or being at peace is not easy to do, especially when our minds are very active.
Even breathing is not that straightforward if stress chemicals are active, or if the person feels very self-conscious sitting in a group.
Many people also try meditation at home but still find it difficult, being plagued by the many thoughts that randomly bombard our minds.
If this is you – don’t worry.
Two things: One, you are not alone and two, we all know how to meditate naturally!
All we need to do is to bring a bit more awareness and structure to it, and it becomes a very useful mental skill.
The process of clearing one’s mind is not instant, but can be learned through technique and practice.
To be ‘at peace’ can be a little misleading. Usually what is being referred to here is being very present and in the moment, as opposed to being about ‘peace’ as we might know it.
A very obvious example of natural meditation is simply experiencing weather – appreciating the quietness of snow, the sound of rain or the smell of a breeze.
Or the simple act of sunbathing – sitting or lying and just listening, feeling the heat on your body and being semi-conscious of the noises around you.
Listening to music is another good example of meditation – being so absorbed in the music that time means nothing.
At the heart of meditation is the ability to be either very relaxed and at ease, or very focused on something (a thought, feelings, physical sensations, external noises, an object).
Make it Simple
In its simplest form, meditation is a process of going in (internal focus) or going out (external focus), or a combination of both.
For athletes, the most successful type of meditation is a structured meditation which can be practised and trained over time.
This can also be booked into a hectic schedule. Experience shows that booking it in makes it happen. Not booking it in usually means it gets forgotten about.
A key to consistent performance success is the ability to habit form.
Initially, this means practising daily for just a few minutes. This can easily be achieved by setting a phone or watch alarm.
Many mediations start with focusing on breathing, but what is often missed out is the important phrase “I am”.
This phrase allows the mind and body to be more located in place and time, anchoring it more to the exercise.
So that means actually saying “I am breathing in… I am breathing out” in one’s mind while doing so.
This phrase needs to be repeated regularly with each breath and especially if the mind (thoughts) go elsewhere. This exercise is building discipline of mind.
Another of the beauties of this exercise is that it builds focus. Both discipline and focus are highly sought after for sporting success.
A combination is to focus on discipline through meditation.
To do this, begin as always with the phrase “I am breathing in… I am breathing out” and repeat this for a number of minutes.
Good discipline here is to use a stopwatch to set the length of time you wish to repeat this phrase.
Then begin to repeat the word ‘Discipline’ in your mind. If the mind begins to wander, bring it back to the word ‘Discipline’.
Over time and with practice, the mind will attach the habit connected to this word, anchoring it to this physical state and focusing the mind whenever the word is repeated in the mind.
If there are then external distractions (like various noises), it is easily brought back to this sense of focus by simply thinking the word ‘Discipline’.
This is an easily learned and powerful mental skill that anyone can initiate and practice themselves.
Results will come through daily focus. Enjoy.
Jason Brennan is an international mental skills coach who has worked with the Hurricanes, the Wellington Lions, the NZ White Ferns and many other professional and amateur sports teams, as well as a wide range of businesses and non-sporting clients.
If you want to know to share a comment with Jason, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out more of Jason’s columns here.
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