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Improve Your Athletic Performance Using Meditation

Updated on January 21, 2016
Dr John OConnor profile image

Dr. John O’Connor PhD, is a psychological therapist with thirty-four years of experience.he has worked with almost every issue known to man.

Meditation has been proven to decrease anxiety, which can improve athletic performance.

How Meditation Can Quiet Your Mind Chatter and Boost Your Athletic Performance

Constant mind chatter disturbs your tranquility and interferes with your training and mental game. In my clinical experience in working with athletes, unproductive mind chatter can throw an athlete’s game. While therapy is really the best option to examine thoughts and the emotions attached to them, athletes can improve their chances of maintaining calm by practicing meditation.

Mind chatter can interfere with athletic performance.

What Is Mind Chatter?

Mind chatter can be defined as the thoughts running amok in a person’s head. We all have a voice in our head, and based upon a person’s life experience, that voice responds to different verbal cues, situations, and experiences based upon those past experiences.

Sometimes the script your mind’s voice has is a positive one, such as statements that will encourage you to do better and believe in your own abilities. Sometimes the responses to myriads of cues are negative, reflecting and reinforcing your fears, trauma, doubts, and pain.

Depending on which side of the road you are on your mind chatter can help you through a tough situation or shut you down. When your mind is overrun with negative chatter, this can affect your athletic performance. For some it can be very distracting because the mind is too busy with mind chatter.

How Does Mind Chatter Affect Your Mental Game and Training?

Mind chatter is always connected to some kind of emotion. Positive mind chatter will usually not interfere with your mental game because the emotions connected with those thoughts are generally positive.

Usually, it’s the negative mind chatter that cause problems for athletes, because those are associated with fears, anxieties, self-doubt, and other negative emotions that can interfere with an athlete’s performance.

Some examples of emotions are:

  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Frustration
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Pessimism
  • Doubt
  • Resentment
  • Worry
  • Jealousy

Negative mind chatter always occurs with negative emotions. While mind chatter of any type can be distracting, such as having racing thoughts while being excited, it’s the negative mind chatter that can dissipate your focus and degrade your mental game when you need it the most. Depending on what the mind chatter is telling you or saying to you, eight weeks of hard training could be gone in an instant.

Meditation has "residual effects" on the brain's ability to process emotions.

The Effectiveness of Mindfulness and Meditation

Many people make claims on how to calm and eliminate mind chatter, such as, repeat positive statements over and over again to yourself, and you will somehow magically attract positive outcomes in your life.

Not only is this ineffective for pinpointing the problem, but also, I have found this to be patently false. While seeing a therapist is the most effective way to examine thoughts and feelings, meditation is an effective way to calm the racing thoughts that interfere with athletic performance.

This takes time, and it is a constant learning process. Just like your physical work, training your mind should be an integral part of your routine.

In my practice, I have found meditation to be a great tool to help athletes remain calm and focused. The breathing and focusing on how the body feels, which has been coined as mindfulness, helps calm the mind.

Meditation and mindfulness have been increasingly used in the psychological and medical field as an anxiety and stress management technique in the last ten years.[1] Here are some reasons why:

  • Meditation has been shown to improve health problems, such as high blood pressure.[2]
  • Meditation is correlated with improvement of cognitive processes, such as focus, problem solving, and memory.[3]
  • After a study using brain images, it was found that meditation not only affects the way people process emotions during meditative sessions, but also after meditative sessions indicating that meditation has “residual effects” on the way the brain processes emotions.[4] There was a decrease in activity in the amygdala, which is the center for the body’s stress response.
  • Mindfulness training was also found to decrease the body’s stress response, and have the same effects on the right amygdala as meditation sessions, as well as having residual effects after using mindfulness after a two month course of training sessions.[5]
  • Basically, different forms of meditation have been found to have the same positive effects on emotional processing. People remain calmer because of the decrease in the stress response.[6]

The takeaway from the growing research evidence is that meditation, mindfulness meditation, and other forms of meditation certainly are effective for decreasing stress because it directly affects the center for the body’s stress response. Also, regardless of the different types of meditation, each form is effective in helping people managing stress and processing emotions.


[1] https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm

[2] https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm

[3] https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/pst-48-2-198.pdf

[4] http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/11/meditations-positive-residual-effects/

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3485650/

[6] http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/11/meditations-positive-residual-effects/

Mindfulness and breathing are effective for both beginning and advanced students of meditation.

Meditation Technique

I use these techniques to help even my most resistant clients learn how to meditate, although people who have been meditating for a while can use these techniques as well.

Most of the resistance people experience with meditation has to do with their self-perceptions and their impressions of what people do during meditation.

Many people are not aware of the fact that usually, you don’t have to try and block out distractions or sit and try and clear your mind for an hour. People then think that they won’t be able to practice meditation because they can’t sit still for an hour and keep a clear mind and block out distractions.

This is a misconception. In many meditations, exercises are built into the sessions so you actually keep quite busy.

Moreover, if you do have distracting thoughts or are distracted by outside sources, you simply train yourself to turn your attention back to what you are doing in your meditation session.

First, you will focus on being in the moment, or increase your mindfulness. If you find you need to practice this first, then you can practice being mindful without going into meditation, and you can still experience benefits from practicing mindfulness. Move onto the meditation when you feel comfortable.

Being Mindful

1) Sit comfortably on a chair or on the floor. Traditionally, people would sit in the lotus position and put their hands on top of their lap, palms face up. However, you can perform meditation in any comfortable chair.

2) Breathe in and out naturally, concentrating on how it feels to draw in a breath and let it out.

3) Beginning at your head, scan your body. Notice if your muscles are tense. If they are, then feel them releasing and relaxing. When you get to your fingers, wiggle your fingers and enjoy the sensation. Then wiggle your toes and enjoy feeling how nice that feels.

Begin Meditative Breathing

1) Now you can begin your meditative breathing. Draw in a breath through your nose for a count of four. Imagine you are breathing in pure, white light as your draw your breath in. Visualize this white light being distributed via the bloodstream throughout your body, lighting up your muscles, bones, and organs. See the white light travel through the lungs, entering the blood stream, and traveling to every part of your body, nourishing it to every cell, every atom, and every electron in the body. Note how pleasurable this energy feels.

2) Hold your breath for a count of four.

3) Now breathe out through your mouth for a count of four. As you exhale, visualize any stress, anxiety, fears, or other negative emotions being released through your mouth. Use muddy colors, such as gray, brown, or black to visualize the release of negative emotions.

4) Your breathing session can last for approximately twenty minutes. You can adjust your breathing session for as long or as short as you need it to be.

That’s it! Breathing is an effective meditative exercise to help calm the body and mind. Buddhist monks have been practicing breathing exercises for a couple of thousand years. Meditative breathing exercises are very effective in getting that mind chatter to quiet down, and can have longer lasting effects throughout your day.

Successful mind training is like training your body - it takes practice!

Keep Practicing

The mindfulness and meditative techniques are cut to the heart of your unproductive mind chatter. Keep practicing these techniques to train your brain as part of your athletic training routine, and you could experience better focus and handle stress better.

However, if you feel like you are having a lot of trouble gaining ground on your racing thoughts, or if your mind chatter is interfering with completing these exercises, consider therapy as an option to help you achieve your athletic and personal goals.

Takeaways

  • Mind chatter refers to racing thoughts that interfere with athletic performance.
  • Meditation and mindfulness has a growing body of research supporting its effectiveness for a host of health and emotional issues.
  • Regular practice of meditative breathing and mindfulness can help calm the mind and body.


Which Meditation Do You Use to Help Your Athletic Performance?

Which types of meditations do you practice?

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Have you tried meditation in the past?

What is your experience with meditation? Have you tried using meditation to help your athletic performance?

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