I’ve never met a high performance athlete who didn’t cross train. Why do they do it? Because it allows individual skills to be easily isolated and improved. Practicing meditation is the same as a hockey player doing off-ice balance drills. But instead of better balance, you get an improved ability to manage your inner dialogue and to focus your attention. And, those skills can give athletes the edge they need to outperform their competitors.
Let’s use another sport…running. No matter how beautiful your route, at some point you will have a negative thought. Maybe your knee hurts, or you’re thirsty, or you just don’t want to go on anymore. Meditation teaches you to detach from your thoughts. Just watch them come and go without getting involved with them. How helpful would it be to simply notice an uncomfortable sensation in your body without needing to label or judge it?
Meditation also builds your capacity to stay present. Bye bye worries of the past and future. A seasoned meditator can sustain their attention on the sensations in their body, rather than getting caught up with self-doubt. If you’re wondering, “what about focusing on the race strategy?” Touché. Not a bad place for an athlete’s focus to be. But still, athletes need to have the skills to tune out the distractions from competitors and from their own inner critic.
I remember when I first started racing as a sprint kayaker, I looked around a lot and it made me panic to see my competitors closeby. The physiological reactions of panic are no good for maximal physical performance. Once I learned to focus on myself, my race, my body…well that’s when I started winning.
So, to all athletes out there, consider adding meditation to your training plan. You’ll improve your ability to handle negative thoughts, to visualize success, and to simply enjoy every delicious moment of your race.
Coming next How to meditate…yes, it’s really that simple.