Mindfulness & Meditation for Performance

“Give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are.”- Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment. It is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling right now, without interpretation or judgment.

Mindfulness can take two forms: structured and unstructured. Structured can look like using a guided meditation through an app or recording to help you stay present. Unstructured can look like taking time to observe the world around you the next time you’re walking somewhere or waiting in line—paying attention to your breath and acknowledging how your body is feeling.

Mindfulness teaches us to respond wisely to situations rather than acting blindly by being able to know what's happening in your mind and not get carried away by it.

We can't control everything that happens, but we can change our experience of those things. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of ‘Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction’ wrote that:

“Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.”

So, take a break from speculating about the future and sifting over the past and put the full weight of your attention into the moment you're in. Be fully engaged with whatever you’re doing right now. Mindfulness practice can help improve your well-being by decreasing stress and sadness and increasing focus and happiness. Mindfulness meditation practice is one way to truly experience the current moment and integrate that awareness into your everyday life through its three components:

  1. Intention – What you hope to get from practicing mindfulness.
    For example, you may want stress reduction or greater emotional balance. The strength of your intention helps to motivate your practice and shapes the quality of your mindful awareness.
  2. Attention – Mindfulness is about paying attention to your inner or outer experience without judging that experience. Your mindful attention is mainly developed through practice. More consistent practice will lead to consistent results and improvements.
  3. Attitude – Mindfulness involves paying attention to certain attitudes such as curiosity, acceptance, and kindness. Mindfulness is less about changing the mind and more about changing our perspective.

And if better mental well-being isn't enough of a reason to try mindfulness and meditation, research has found that the use of mindfulness techniques can help improve physical health as well by relieving stress, treating heart disease, lowering blood pressure, reducing chronic pain, improving sleep, and alleviating gastrointestinal difficulties.1,2

So, how to get started? Well, meditation is a skill like any other—and when you're learning a new skill, it's always great to have a coach. I had no idea how to start my journey into mindfulness and meditation, but my mental performance consultant (MPC) recommended the meditation app Headspace. It's free to download in the app store with the option to purchase the premium membership to access more features. He suggested I try a couple of the guided meditations on the app to get started—and I loved it. I ended up getting the annual membership with courses specifically for athletes! There are daily courses for focusing on various aspects of sports like concentration, motivation, and recovery to name a few. The course is designed for athletes to incorporate mindfulness practices into their training regimes.

There are many other options for meditation apps, so you can find the one that works best for you if you need a more structured form of mediation. I found that meditation is about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. I treat meditation like my mental training, and I schedule time to practice it during the week like I do in the weight room or on the mats.

 When I first started, my intention was to decrease competition anxiety. The message I heard most frequently (that was not what I expected going into the process) was that you’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings; rather you’re learning to observe them without judgment and eventually better understand them. There's also no such thing as perfect meditation. I learned to let go of trying to be the best and embraced the idea that the journey is more important than the destination.

I started with structured guided meditations in the app, became able to practice the skills at tournaments, and eventually learned to be focused on what I'm feeling and thinking in the moment without judging those thoughts and feelings—now practicing unstructured mediation!

If you're interested in learning more about how to begin your own meditation practice, or want to learn more about Headspace, I've linked an article with a video here.

QUICK MEDITATION

"To know the mind is to know oneself. To know oneself is to discover a place of quiet confidence within. To know this confidence is to be able to fearlessly express our potential in life. It is not a confidence born of thinking, it is more a place which is beyond doubt, and when we rest in that place, we start to get a sense that anything is possible. Finding and understanding that quiet confidence within is the starting point to being able to genuinely fulfill our potential no matter who we are, what we have, or where we're from."

Wherever you are right now, find a comfortable seated position and begin to notice your breath. Notice whether your breath is short or long, shallow or deep, and feel the lungs expand on the inhale and shrink as you exhale.

Notice as your chest and belly rise and fall with every breath. You can even count the breath - inhale one - exhale two - inhale three - exhale four. Notice if you become distracted and return your focus to the breath.

Your consciousness is like a flowing stream. You are sitting on the river bank, observing it. Each thought that pops up is a leaf floating by on the water. See the leaf and acknowledge it, and then let the current of the stream carry the leaf away with it - inhale one - exhale two - inhale three - exhale four. Notice how your body feels while you are sitting there.

Feel the weight of your body on the chair, your feet on the floor, and your arms on your legs. Feel whether the weight is even or if you are leaning to one side. Beginning with the top of your head, scan down your body and notice any tension or tightness you feel.

Notice if you are sore anywhere in your muscles or your joints. Feel the temperature of the room. Are you warm or cold? Then shift your attention outward. Listen to the sounds around you. Not fixating on any one sound, just having soft focus of the ambient noise. Notice how you are feeling now.

Usually this would be done with your eyes closed and listening to an auditory script to help facilitate relaxation, but hopefully this gives you a glimpse into what being mindful and present in the moment feels like. So, here’s to discovering our quiet confidence and fearlessly expressing our potential!

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1 Behan, C. (2020). The benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices during times of crisis such as COVID-19. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 37(4), 256-258. doi:10.1017/ipm.2020.38

2 Macinko, J., & Upchurch, D. M. (2019). Factors associated with the use of meditation, U.S. adults 2017. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 25(9), 920-927. doi:10.1089/acm.2019.0206