Meditation for Athletes
Updated: Jun 14, 2019
While preparing last year for the 70.3 in Dun Laoghaire, I paid more attention to the physical training that I did to my mental preparation. And I am not alone in this approach; it is a common theme for many athletes’ training plans. It would be more beneficial to make time within our training plans for some Mindfulness. This could help to counter our brain’s tendency for negativity. The voice inside our head, sowing seeds of doubt.
One aspect of Mindfulness that many athletes practice is Visualisation – picturing in our minds the perfect race. This is a technique of mentally practicing a situation before it actually happens. Thinking through the whole race, and using images in our minds to picture, or visualise, how we would enter the water, begin the swim, get into a really good stroke rhythm. We use this technique as part of our race preparation.
Mindfulness is also useful for reducing the stress that starts to build as a race nears. For this we can turn to meditation and mediation techniques. You may well be tempted to stop reading at this point, but I would urge you to bear with me. Just a little longer at least.
There is a lot written about the benefit of meditation for athletes. Kristin Keim at Headspace offers four reasons why every athlete should meditate – To reduce stress; To improve sleep patterns and aid recovery time; To improve endurance performance and To improve a sense of Self.
There is an interesting article on the Training Peaks site written by Heather Casey,where Heather recommends using a guided meditation video (there are a lot on YouTube) or an App (such as Headspace, Calm, or the one I use, Smiling Mind) and finding a comfortable place to spend 10-20 minutes of uninterrupted time. I have taken to sitting on one of the benches overlooking Greystones South Beach or the Cove early in the mornings. But really the location can be anywhere.
And meditation is not so difficult. You do not need to chant anything, though you can if that helps. You do not need to sit really; but again, it helps in the beginning as you learn the skill of focusing your thoughts on nothing. Focusing all of your concentration on your breathing, on your body, on how it feels to sit on the bench, to place your feet on the ground. And if a thought does drift into your head, a distraction to your meditation? No matter. Just let it slip away, and return to the concentration on your breath or your body.
I said that you do not need to be sitting to meditate. There are techniques for meditating as you stand still, or as you walk around. One such standing mediation that I have just started practicing is Zhan Zhuang – an ancient Chinese form of standing meditation, a sort of static yoga. It is a simple but very effective and potent technique. Zhan Zhuang means "Standing Like a Tree" and it is a fundamental element of the Tao philosophy that gave us Tai Chi, martial arts and spiritual development. It offers many of the benefits of mindfulness training; benefits that can be realised almost immediately. It is a powerful exercise to enhance energy, mental clarity, and internal strength. As a standing meditation technique, it is excellent for enhancing productivity and delievering more energy in anything you attempt. It can also bring on sensations such as numbness, aching, tingling and changes in your body’s temperature.
If you wish to learn more about Zhan Zhuang, I would recommend watching a series of ten YouTube videos by Lam Kam Chuen. Each clip is about 10 minutes long, and introduces you to the various positions and poses. Once you get started, you don’t have to take so long for each practice session; I began my training sessions with 1-2 minute sessions at first, to reduce the onset of any of the initial sensations. This had an added bonus of allowing my body to get used to the various techniques.
And if you wish to read more about Zhan Zhuang, I found an easy-to-read article by Scott Jeffrey, a Life Coach based in USA. Scott lists links at the end of his article for further reading.
I wish you all every success as you prepare for your races. The very best of fortune to you