The sports training montage is one of the great tropes in movies and TV: the athlete, often alone, shooting three pointers until sunrise, swimming laps to the point of exhaustion, doing pull-ups until hands bleed. Sports take a physical toll on the body, but athletes push themselves because effortful training leads to effortless performance.
We recently wrote about the concept of flow, which is what athletes refer to when they say they’re “in the zone.” It’s an almost unconscious state of movement and energy in which success just seems to build on itself – a golfer no longer thinks about his swing, a tennis player finds herself in the right position without planning. And yes, training the body to be strong and agile enough to stand up to the rigors of sport is important – but so is training the mind to allow the body to reach its full potential.
Meditation is a state of complete bodily relaxation. It’s also a rigorous mental workout when done correctly. The mind naturally wants to wander and take us away from the moment at hand. For an athlete, that means distractions from the crowd, the conditions or the opponent can rattle the nerves and derail performance. Meditation reduces stress hormones in the body by training the brain to center itself and let go of things it cannot control. With an open mindset, athletes can sync their bodies with their minds to move in the same direction.
The best athletes in the world are often said to possess a “clutch gene” that helps them come up big in critical moments during a game. They’re often the players who make “fearless” moves when others might wilt. Even if you’re not playing with a championship on the line, you can be bolder in your own athletic pursuits through meditation. Our brains’ fight or flight areas tell us to perceive situations as fearful, and meditation calms these emotional centers.
No matter your sport or activity of choice, you have to be healthy enough to play. Meditation is able to fundamentally alter your relationship with pain, helping you to recover faster by removing the emotion from it. You’ll have the ability to acknowledge back pain or a sprained ankle without thinking of all the ways having an injury will negatively affect your life. The mental component of pain management is a huge factor in overcoming injury or illness, and learning to not give power to such setbacks gets you back on the field quicker.
Because meditation breeds a deep awareness of the body, athletes can tap into techniques like body scans while engaged in their sport to discover areas of improvement. With awareness comes honesty and the release of self-judgment, so mindful athletes can more transparently assess the state of their games and make adjustments on the fly.
If you’re looking to improve your own athletic performance, you can picture yourself in a classic training montage, pushing your body to the limits. Or, you can try a different kind of training, one that quiets the body and engages the mind to set yourself up for greater success once the lights go on.