Meditation and Sports

In sport, as in life, there are tough moments and then there are those moments of glory that make adversities worthwhile.

In fact, any sportsperson - especially those at the peak of their trade - will readily agree that the bad days far outweigh the good ones. But it is the grind through those rough patches that makes the reward at the end of the struggle satisfying. 

Athletes constantly look for any edge they can get over their contemporaries. At the elite level, the skill sets of athletes are almost on par if not equal. What separates the best from the rest is their temperament (better known as mental conditioning) and their willingness to come out of form slumps and the not so good times through sheer determination and the constant drive that defines champions. 

Over the years, sportspeople have tried many ways to gain even the slightest ascendancy over their competitors – some legitimate and some not so. What is that tangible attribute that can define how and what a sportsperson can do to achieve a semblance of dominance for a prolonged duration?

The answer to this is of course meditation! Meditation Boosts sports performance for sure.

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Why is meditation good for athletes? 

Any form of exercise or physical activity is a form of stress which requires our bodies to respond and get accustomed to, especially when the intensity of the activity is higher than what the body usually experiences. And this is what athletes undergo regularly in their aim for constant improvement. These intense exercises not only lead to stress on the body, but also on the mind. The greater the intensity of exercise, the higher the level of stress on body and mind.  

Studies indicate that assiduous fitness regimens that are part and parcel of the lifestyles of professional athletes require constant attention and a stern focus on continuing to exercise even when the body might think that it is more pleasant to stop, which results in increased stress. 

Athletes, who are on a perpetual growth curve, constantly push through physical barriers of pain, which results in not only recurring doses of stress on the body, but also on the mind, that has to cope with the ever increasing demand placed on it to perform.  

The levels of stress that a modern-day elite athlete experiences is unprecedented, as it not only involves the athlete’s own expectations of themselves, but also that of his teammates, and needless to say, the expectations of the supporters! An athlete has to address all this and then perform to win the day.

These studies conducted the world over highlight how regular meditation leads to reduced stress and brings about a profound positive impact. 

Data from these researches further highlight how meditation helps alleviate emotional and cognitive strains that occur during physical training. While these studies help engender the ameliorations in brain activity through meditation, many athletes themselves have alluded to the benefits of regular meditation for athletes in their careers.  

Can meditation improve sports performance?

Recently, Kumar Sangakarra, former captain of the Sri Lankan cricket team, in an interaction with Ravichandran Ashwin (current Indian cricketer), shared his experience of undergoing the Art of Living workshop. He said that one of the things that stuck with him during the program was ‘to be happy now’, which automatically puts you in a frame of mind that helps you give your best to any given moment. 

Just this simple practice brings your mind completely to the present which is immensely helpful as it becomes easier to focus on the next immediate event in the game rather than dwelling on what has already transpired – whether good or bad.

Read more on how meditation for cricketers can take your game to the next level 

Especially in sports that are played in moments - such as baseball, tennis, golf, cricket, etc – the attention span required of athletes are in independent instants, as compared to those that partake in other sports such as football or hockey, that have a continuous flow of play. 

Just knowing that you have to give your 100% to that moment relieves you from all the other insignificant goings-on in the mind. Regular practice of meditation has been proved to help athletes focus better and also increase game awareness when concentration has to be at its best. 

We have often seen this in sport, when athletes have put in tremendous performances when their team is in a hopeless situation knowing that they have nothing to lose and lifting their teams to clinch unbelievable victories!


Meditation for sports anxiety

Energetic body, calm mind.

Athletes, when they are at their peak fitness, while feeling energetic and enthusiastic at the level of the body, also experience a constant stream of thoughts at the level of the mind.

Practices like Pranayama have a profound impact on our body and mind; it energises the body and calms the mind - which is a very unique combination. This calmness of mind brings about a beta state of awareness and focus that athletes often call ‘the zone’, which enables them to achieve almost superhuman feats!

Such athletes are calm and relaxed in the midst of a tense game situation and can respond better to those circumstances. That is why we feel certain sportsmen are better in high pressure moments as they are calmer in such times and their game awareness increases to bring out the best in them. 

An average human being utilizes only 30% of their lung capacity. Regular practice of Pranayamas such as Bhastrika and other techniques expand the lung capacity, which results in higher output per breath – directly linked to increased fitness. This also helps increase focus and reduces the heart rate, symbolic of a relaxed mind rather than one that is prone to a more slapdash approach to a situation. 

Yogic techniques like Yoga Nidra, where individuals take their attention to different parts of the body while taking deep breaths, lead to relaxation of muscles in those specific body parts, making them more supple and loose, which leads to optimal output.

Athletes often speak about muscle memory that is developed by repeating the same motion over and over again during training sessions – be it going for that 3 pointer in basketball, hitting the cross court backhand winner in tennis or that hook shot for half a dozen of a pace bowler.  

Athletes who regularly meditate, experience a calm and clear state of mind and are able to fall back to this muscle memory, honed over 1000’s of hours of practice, and let their instincts take over, without being inhibited by the trains of thought that the mind usually gets into. 

Athletes who meditate everyday are better equipped to withstand the mental demands that professional sport entails, while also acuminating their mental faculties to make the best of their abilities. 

The practice of meditation is a journey similar to any other athletic quest, and it could stack the odds of success in your favour and help you achieve your dreams while also making you happier in the process. Find below a list of meditations to get you started on a deeply rewarding journey.

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