8 Benefits of Meditation on & off the Court
Meditation is a practice that involves sitting still, clearing our minds, and focusing on our breathing. For athletes, it can be a self-care process that allows us to enhance our focus on the present and get rid of distractions including negative thoughts that could interfere with our performance.
Although there are a variety of specific types of meditation, the activity can be divided into two general approaches: guided (with an instructor) or silent (by yourself).
If you are new to mediation, you may prefer guided meditation, which includes more specific types such as mindfulness meditation, zazen (seated meditation), movement meditation, and mantra/transcendental meditation. Mindfulness meditation is one of the most popular types of meditation because you focus on the current situation. It teaches you to slow down your thoughts and to stay in the present.
For goal-driven and results-oriented athletes, meditation may seem like a waste of time that’s for old people. Negative memories or thoughts (“this takes too much time” and “what will my family and friends think”) may occur in your mind during meditation, but the goal is to let them pass. However, meditation is a process that can yield tremendous results.
Here are some that apply best to athletes.
The amygdala is a part of our brain that is involved in emotion regulation. It is best known for processing fear and anger. For example, if you are in a game and can’t seem to hit a shot, you may continue thinking about the missed shots throughout the whole game, making yourself feel worse as a result. Meditation can reduce that fear and anger by calming our amygdala and thinking about the next shot with a clean slate. Wouldn’t you feel better if you could do that?
Additionally, meditation calms our bodies by creating a deep state of relaxation, which in turn allows us to think more clearly. Blood flow increases around our body, increasing oxygen, and making our brains work better, giving us more energy. It relieves tension/stress and that certainly helps us think more positively and sleep better (for better physical recovery). Our memory, decision making, and concentration improve as a result of the above, which translates to better performance on the court.
Due to these benefits of meditation, many athletes use or have used meditation to improve their performance. Some include Stephen Curry, Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant, Carli Lloyd, and the entire Seattle Seahawks, team. Another famous athlete who advocates for meditation is Lebron James, who even meditated during a big game in the playoffs a few years ago.
In the above clip, notice how Lebron is practicing mediation in a timeout with millions of people watching him alongside the noisy atmosphere. Implementing it in short time slots in your day can really be valuable. You can practice mindfulness meditation anytime and anywhere and that’s one of the reasons why it is one of the popular ones.
Lebron is big on mediation and in a 5 video series entitled “Mindfulness with Lebron," he talks about his approach to mediation. They are all 10 minutes or less and I highly recommend you listen to what he has to say. So, if NBA superstars are doing it, why not student-athletes?
Keep in mind that any amount of meditation is better than none. Try 5 minutes per day (less than 1% of your day.) Once you appreciate meditation, increasing the time and frequency will become much easier. There are many free apps and websites to help you on your meditation journey, including Calm, the app that provides master classes taught by world-renowned experts on meditation and many more related self-improvement features. Also, Headspace has how-to guides and guided meditations to help you through the journey. Another great resource is Chopra, which provides articles about meditation and related topics like personal growth. Go check out these resources and truly apply them with a positive vision. As Kobe Bryant said, “You get in the zone and just try to stay here. You don’t think about your surroundings, or what’s going on with the crowd or the team. You’re kind of locked in.”
Check out our podcast with Josh Summers, an experienced meditation instructor, who will provide more information on meditation with a growth mindset.
Piper, Robert. “10 Reasons Why Every Athlete Should Meditate.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 15 Aug. 2013, www.huffpost.com/entry/meditation-athletes_b_3398745.
Presagia. 5 Key Benefits That Meditation Has For Athletic Performance, 11 Jan. 2018, learn.presagiasports.com/blog/5-key-benefits-that-meditation-has-for-athletic-performance.
Headspace. “Getting Goal-Ready: How Mindfulness Can Help You Accomplish Your Goals.” The Orange Dot, The Orange Dot, 31 May 2019, www.headspace.com/blog/2019/05/31/getting-goal-ready/.
Jeffrey A. Hayes, Daphne M. Davis. “What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, 2012, www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.
O'Connor, Bess. “How to Get Kids to Meditate.” Chopra, Chopra, 28 July 2014, chopra.com/articles/how-to-get-kids-to-meditate.
The Good Body. “Top 22 Meditation Statistics Reveal Data and Trends for 2019.” The Good Body, 13 Feb. 2020, www.thegoodbody.com/meditation-statistics/.
Jason Marsh. Greater Good. “Here's How Mindful You Are.” Greater Good, 2011, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/heres_how_mindful_you_are.