Do you like to push your body to excel? Whether you run, cycle, workout or participate in organized sports, one way to boost your success may surprise you. It’s by embracing stillness.
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Before you hit the pavement or playing field, take a few minutes to get into the zone by cultivating your inner calm.
Building in 10 minutes of meditation each day can help make you a better athlete, says orthopedic surgeon Mark Schickendantz, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Sports Health Center.
He says meditating “helps athletes learn how to become very centered, very grounded and very quiet.”
How does meditation help athletes?
Meditation probably won’t allow you to run faster or hit a ball harder, though it could. It’s more useful for training your mind and body to relax and focus.
Research tells us that meditation also can help reduce stress and pain. In the end, the reason you meditate isn’t as important as the meditation itself, says Dr. Schickendantz.
Overall, it helps you become more centered and grounded, which helps minimize the negative effects of everyday frustrations — like traffic jams or cranky kids.
It also lets you focus on what you’re doing in the moment and not on the distractions you faced that morning or anticipate facing later on. For “weekend warriors” and other non-professional athletes, that focus helps make workouts and activities more productive in the limited time available.
How do you get started?
Dr. Schickendantz says it’s best to find a quiet place when you first start meditation. You may only have a minute or two, but that’s enough to make a start.
“You don’t have to sit in the lotus position, but sit upright and be comfortable,” he says.
Next, you need to focus on something — an object, perhaps. Breathing is the most popular, says Dr. Schickendantz.
“Simply start by taking three deep breaths in through the nose, out through the mouth,” he advises. “Feel your body, feel rooted and then begin to bring attention to one part of your breath.”
He says it’s normal to find that thoughts and emotions distract you — especially at first. “Don’t try to stop them,” he advises. Instead, notice the distractions for what they are and label them as “thinking,” “hearing” or “feeling.”
Perfecting the practice — with practice
Over time, you’ll find that the mental distractions will decrease. You’ll get better at filtering them out and maintaining your inner focus.
You’ll begin to meditate for longer periods (up to about 30 minutes at a time, ideally) and you won’t need your quiet room to keep your focus. Dr. Schickendantz says he often meditates while waiting in long lines or when he’s stuck in traffic.
Continue to integrate meditation into your weekly schedule. Take a few minutes to meditate before you go for a run, jump on your bike or head out with your team.
If you need more help, sign up for a meditation class or workshop. The extra support and guidance can turn even the most skeptical person into a believer, Dr. Schickendantz says. If you prefer to go it alone, but want more guidance and instruction, then, yes, there is an app for that.
Meditation doesn’t magically make life easier or better. But it can help you better cope with what life throws your way and concentrate on the things that are meaningful to you.
You’ll not only feel the benefits of that inner focus on your next run or on the field, but in your everyday life as well.