You’re already a dedicated, disciplined fitness guru. You do everything right. You’re scientific about your diet; you rest your body and your mind adequately; you have a carefully thought-out training routine; you look after your mind so that it supports your body. Yet somehow you’re just not performing as well as you know you can.
Let’s recap: you’ve paid attention to your diet, to your training, to your sleep regime. You work diligently with your body and with your mind. But what about your spirit? Sports heroes and corporate leaders alike advocate the power of meditation to help you reach your full potential.
Take the words of the late Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder, to his biographer: “If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things – that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more.” Jobs found that meditation helped him to concentrate and also enhanced his intuition, both useful traits in business.
Many Olympic athletes practice meditation to improve their performance. Korean archers and shooters used it to help them concentrate more intently and so win medals at this year’s Olympic Games. The athletes and their coaches say that success is not only about physical training but also psychological training, and that meditation is an important component of this. Swimmers, gymnasts, weightlifters and runners all use meditation to visualise their movements and perfect their performance, while team-sports athletes such as the Indian hockey team, are known to practice group meditation and visualisation to improve their performance.
A closer look at meditation:
Meditation can be described as the process by which the practitioner focuses the mind, so cultivating a steady, constant, calm awareness. In this state, known as ‘Dhyana’ in yoga, we are not distracted by our thoughts and physical sensations. Instead we are mindfully aware of them and able to observe them in a detached way.
Imagine now, that you are in a peaceful state of mindful awareness, and you’re fully in control. You’re not a slave to your mental state but instead have the ability to see your thoughts and experience your body without becoming entangled in it. You are a therapist to yourself, able to observe and advise. Now take this skill to your training. Those barriers you’ve been experiencing and simply haven’t been able to understand become clear and you can overcome them more easily. You realise that your ability to achieve is not only about will-power and discipline, it’s also about simply allowing yourself to achieve more by removing your mental barriers.
How meditation can boost your training:
Meditation offers a multitude of benefits, but a few points can be highlighted:
- Visualisation: our minds have an amazing ability to create pictures of reality, some of which can be very limiting. Through meditation we can reconstruct our views on reality and reduce our anxiety and stress. With these barriers removed, we are free to achieve much more.
- Concentration:research has shown that people who practice meditation regularly have better concentration skills than those who don’t. With better concentration skills we can achieve more, faster.
- Presence: being fully present is critical for sports such as weightlifting. Beyond brute power, this sport requires intense concentration. Given that some athletes lift up to three times their own weight, there is no room for error. Weightlifters therefore need to be 100% present for that second or two in which the lift is made. Many weightlifters use meditation to help them achieve this extreme focus.
- Awareness: we live our lives focused on the external world and seldom, if ever, do we pay attention to our internal state. So when we find we’re not performing as well as we usually do, it could be that we’re not aware of an injury. By practising meditation, we develop an awareness of our internal state that helps us detect problems in our physical bodies.
A simple meditation:
It sounds easy: you simply sit quietly and observe your mind and body. But practitioners find that the mind is restless and difficult to tame and it takes practice to learn not to react to every fleeting thought and brief sensation.
Here is a simple sitting meditation to start you on your path of mindful awareness:
- Choose a quiet place and time of day when you won’t be disturbed.
- Sit upright on the floor or in a chair. Make sure you’re comfortable – don’t wear restrictive clothing and make sure you’re not too hot or too cold.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to help you relax. Then breathe normally through your nose.
- Become aware of each inhalation and each exhalation. Slowly start breathing into your abdomen, using your diaphragm rather than your lungs. If this is too difficult, you can simply breathe as normal.
- Focus all your attention on your breathing and allow yourself to become completely immersed in your breathing, every inhalation and every exhalation. Nothing else should interfere with this focus on the breath.
- If you are distracted by your thoughts or physical sensations, gently bring your attention back your breathing. If necessary, make small adjustments to ensure you’re comfortable once again.
- When you’ve achieved a stable focused state, turn your attention inwards and observe the stillness within. If you become distracted, once again focus on your breathing and then slowly turn your attention back towards the stillness.
- You may find it difficult to maintain stillness for long at first, but with practice you will become more adept at it.
- Practice this meditation once a day for 20 minutes to begin with. As you become more proficient, you can add a second session to your day so that you’re meditating once in the morning and once in the evening. Later you can also increase the length of each session.
The science behind meditation
While to some people meditation is simply a belief system, scientists are finding evidence to support the theories about the benefits of meditation. Richard Davidson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, has found that meditation can strengthen the brain. He says the process is similar to that of training and strengthening your muscles and that with regular practise, meditation can strengthen the brain circuits that affect concentration and empathy.
In another study, Pennsylvania-based researcher Andrew Newberg scanned the brains of some experienced meditators. He found that the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for attention, became highly activated during meditation, while the superior parietal lobe, responsible for orientation in time and space, became dark. Newberg believes this explains the intense concentration that meditators are able to cultivate, and the feelings of transcendence that many meditators describe.
While formal research on meditation and its benefits is still limited, those who practice meditation don’t need science to be convinced – the results speak for themselves.
So, while you’re sitting there, why not close your eyes and meditate! As you experience first-hand the benefits of meditation, you’ll be eager to pass this on to your clients and help them achieve their full potential, not only in their training, but in their lives overall.
This article was published in the second edition of AusFitPro – a new magazine tailored to professionals in the fitness industry. Kula Yoga Director Kacey Bennett has been appointed as the Mind, Body & Soul contributor for the magazine.
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Kula Yoga has a beautiful hot yoga studio in Hawthorn, Melbourne. Kula offers ‘Hot Yoga’ classes for detoxification, dynamic vinyasa ‘Flow Yoga’ as well as a gentle ‘Light Yoga’ option. Beginners through to advanced students are welcome to all classes. Kula also provides Melbourne workplaces with group corporate yoga programs to build employee health, fitness and wellbeing. Kula Yoga offers staff a unique yoga experience to strengthen their minds and bodies. Find out more about our beneficial group yoga programs on our website www.kulayoga.com.au.