The reason that many of us practice a sport – whether it be as an individual or in a team – is to find that sense of relaxation and purpose that many alternatively achieve through meditation.
Personally, I find a clarity and stillness of mind while running that I don’t find anywhere else but the yoga mat. And I believe that for many athletes, the jump from practicing the sport to getting started with meditation is less complicated than you might imagine.
Really, meditation isn’t just for yogis. A regular meditation practice brings a stillness of mind, increased control over the breath, and improved mindfulness about the way your body moves that is ideal for those of us who practice a sport! Let’s go through some helpful tips for bridging the gap from the field to the mat.
1. Start When You’re Tired.
Many athletes tend to be people who are used to constant movement and physical activity, so the prospect of sitting still for an extended period of time can be daunting. So, as you’re starting out with your meditation experience, it’s a good idea to start after practice, when your body is spent and you don’t have to worry about restlessness.
Get clean, change into warm, loose-fitting clothes, and give it a shot. Make it about consciously relaxing your body, one muscle at a time, and focus on a muscle-by-muscle approach before moving your attention inward, to stilling your mind.
2. Embrace the Repetitive Movement.
For many of us, we get into a ‘zone’ when practicing our sport. The repetitive, familiar movement of putting one foot in front of the other, of juggling a soccer ball, of dribbling a basketball, or any other habitual actions of a practiced athlete, are remarkably similar to what goes into getting into a meditative state on the mat.
In our sport, our brains are following engrained neural pathways that we’ve worn down over time to achieve the desired action in the body, so our brains don’t have to work too hard on a conscious level, but still preoccupied enough to keep us from getting distracted by errant or intrusive thoughts about other complex things.
For trying meditation off the field, make your breath the repetitive movement. Simply replace the bodily movement of swinging the golf club or lifting the weight of a dumbell with the slow, even inhale and exhale of your breath. Get into any position that’s comfortable for you to stay in for an extended period of time, and focus just on your breath. The in and the out, the ebb and the flow.
Picture where the breath is moving through your lungs, where the oxygen is traveling through your veins and to your muscles, and let your mind focus on nothing but that. As you continue to practice meditation, this focus on the breath will become second-nature, and you’ll be able to slip into this state with less resistance.
3. Incorporate it Into the Routine.
Many athletes thrive on the routine of the sport, of getting ready in the equipment, of the measured time period of the game, the structure of practice. So, simply try to incorporate meditation into the routine!
Add 15 minutes of relaxation and meditation to the end of your athletic routine. Making it a habit will mean that before you know it, it’ll be feeling more natural and you’ll be getting more out of it. Just like any skill, it takes time, practice, and patience to build up a solid meditation habit.
Meditation can transform anyone’s life, and making it part of a holistic athletic practice is something that can only improve your focus, drive, and control. It makes athletes less prone to frustration– or fatigue-driven errors, and best of all, helps you be more present so you can get the most out of the sport that you love, both physically and emotionally.