Mindful Athletes

Meditation is an essential tool for top-performers across all industries, including professional sports.  Darnell McDonald, a former Chicago Cubs player, is now the mental skills coordinator for the Cubs, teaching players how to meditate and improve their mental game.  George Mumford, the best-selling author of The Mindful Athlete and a psychologist, has taught meditation to some of the most famous athletes in the world, including Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O'Neal, to name just a few.  An aspiring professional basketball player himself, Mumford's dreams were sidelined by injuries which led to drug addiction.  In his recovery, he discovered meditation, and was able to combine his passion for sports with the mental training that meditation provides.

So why is meditation so beneficial?

Just as we know we need consistent physical activity for optimal health, our brains need training to operate in peak performance.  Mindfulness, a type of meditation, teaches us to operate in the present, to not dwell in the past (i.e., don't dwell on the bad play) or worry about hypothetical future-based scenarios.  It teaches us to be non-judgmental, and to foster non-attachment, an attitude that enhances our ability to be resilient when we get outcomes we weren't expecting.  These are great principles to live by for athletes, and for non-athletes alike.  The research is ongoing, but so far, neurological studies show promising results for meditation's ability to lower depression and anxiety, improve focus and concentration, enhance happiness levels and well-being, and increase compassion through loving kindness meditation.  Recently, the American Heart Association became the first professional medical society to issue a statement concerning meditation's benefits, stating it may be effective in reducing heart disease. Even better, it doesn't require any special equipment, clothes or props, and can be done anywhere, anytime. 

So how can you incorporate meditation into your daily routine?  

Much as you hire a personal trainer to work on your fitness goals, work with a trainer for your meditation practice.  It is a skill that needs to be learned then practiced, just like playing tennis or the violin.  Don't get discouraged if you don't pick it up right away.  Like anything else, it takes time.  Stick with it, and remember, there is no right or wrong way to meditate.  You will have thoughts, and that's okay.  Release them into the sky like a balloon and return to your area of focus, whether it be an image, your breath, a sound, or a mantra.  Find a resource to help you learn the best meditation practice for you, and start small.  A consistent practice, even 3 minutes a day for most days, is more beneficial than an hour a month.  There are several free and low-costs meditation apps (we like Aura, buddhify, and Insight Timer) you can try.  Meditation classes are offered at studios popping up all over the country, as well as at many yoga studios.  For those of you who like the personal trainer approach - I certainly do! - there are even meditation teachers who will even come to your home or work through breathe bar.

There is no time like the present to get started!  You'll be glad you did.

Editor's note:  For all the athletes, and non-athletes, looking to be matched with the right personal trainer, who will come to your home or work for a session, check out RightFit Personal Training.  You'll even get a free introductory session to try them out! 

Sylvia Maldonado