Meditation 101

Meditation 101

Everything athletes need to know about using meditation to boost performance and recovery, including how exactly to do it.

Anderson Cooper. Kobe Bryant. Oprah.

What do these famous people have in common?

Meditation. Each practices the increasingly popular mind-exercise.

You may have been hearing a lot about how celebrities, athletes, and other high-performing people use meditation to find calm, ease stress, and tap into their better selves. But meditation is an ancient practice that people of all walks of life have been quietly using for centuries.

Archeological evidence of meditation from thousands of years ago has been found in South Asia and India. Around the world, religions adopted the practice as a spiritual activity. From Judaism and Islam to Buddhism and Christianity, you’ll find meditation-esque traditions. Later, when yoga was introduced to the U.S. in the 1960s, it planted the seed of meditation in the mainstream consciousness.

Meditation, at its core, is a mind-body practice ideal for everyone. While different methods and styles of meditation abound, here’s the gist for beginners: It’s about focusing your attention.

Generally, meditation involves these 3 things:

  1. Finding a comfortable position in a quiet location (or reducing distractions)
  2. Focusing on a word, object, or sensation
  3. An open attitude

Meditation can make you feel calm, focused and deliver deep relaxation during performance, among other benefits. It’s been used by more and more athletes to improve performance, well-being, cope with illness, and boost recovery and overall health. Many studies have shown that meditation may also alleviate high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

How? Research suggests that it alters both the brain and the body.

Today, myths about meditation abound. As Light Watkins, a leading meditation expert, mentions in a TEDx Talk, these include believing you don’t have enough time to meditate and that meditation will solve all your problems.

Actually, all you need is a moment and the understanding that meditation is simply a very useful tool in your wellness and athletic training arsenal. (Check out sleep, supplements, and other tools here.)

Other misconceptions include making judgments about a specific meditation practice. Sure, there’s likely a difference between the meditation of a monk in a monastery who has a well-established practice and a stressed-out beginner, but here’s the thing: There’s no Good or Bad Meditator. Simply someone who does!

So, let’s give it a try.

Here are 10 basic steps for athletes to take today to develop a meditation practice:

  • Set aside some time (even a minute!) for a daily practice
  • Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, where you will feel supported and alert
  • Close your eyes, or keep them slightly, lightly open
  • Take a few slow, deep breaths, and settle into stillness
  • Breath calmly and quietly
  • Notice sensations from head to toe, simply taking inventory
  • Select either one sensation (such as the feeling of inhalations at your nostrils) or a mantra (a word, phrase, or even focal point in your mind’s eye), and focus on it
  • Your mind will wander. Accept it, and slowly bring your attention back to your breath, single sensation, or mantra.
  • If your mind wanders again, take note and then gently bring your focus back. Let thoughts and feelings float across your mind like clouds in the sky.
  • When you are done, be it after 60 seconds or 60 minutes, gently bring your awareness back to your body, breath, and surroundings, and then open your eyes.

To build your practice, experiment to find what type or method suits you best.

You can try Transcendental Meditation (a stress-reduction approach that involves focusing on a mantra) and/or go deeper into mindfulness (taking a non-judgmental approach to the present moment). Apps, such as Headspace and Calm, offer guided approaches with a range of dialogue and soundtracks. Or you can use a kitchen timer, a metronome, a singing bowl, a class, or nothing.

The best meditation is any meditation, and your athletic performance will be better for it.