7 benefits of mindfulness meditation for sports enthusiasts

In recent years, meditation practices have helped enthusiasts to get the most out of their daily lives.  More and more people who want to reduce stress and promote their overall health are doing so through meditation. In addition, researchers are becoming increasingly interested in the benefits that meditative practice brings by trying to integrate it into medicine. Fitness, body and mind will be some of the topics discussed at the Global Wellness Summit 2018, the global wellness event taking place for the first time in Italy, at Technogym Village in Cesena. The summit delegates will discuss future trends and new business opportunities in the global wellness market and will take part in numerous sessions dedicated to the most typically Italian aspects of wellness, such as food, art, design and fashion.

What is mindfulness meditation?

Meditation is a discipline where the individual trains the mind and leads it to a state of awareness. The term meditation comes from the word of the traditional Indian Sanskrit word dhyana, which means attention and contemplation. It includes a wide variety of activities related or not to spirituality and religion, with the aim of promoting relaxation, rebalancing inner energy and developing compassion, love, patience, generosity and clemency.
Mindfulness meditation focuses on breathing. It is practiced in a sitting position with legs crossed on a pillow or chair, eyes closed and back straight. At the beginning, it is better to start by practicing it for 10 minutes each day, so that the attention to the breath becomes easier with the practice.
Mindful meditation, thanks to the scientific evidence that has emerged in recent years, has proved useful for those who do sport. As many athletes have long understood, the real opponent - even if it may seem a bit mystical - is within ourselves. You can’t overlook the benefits that this kind of meditation offers to those who practice sport and that allows us to come to terms with our strongest rival: us. Mindfulness is valid for any kind of athletic discipline (from fitness to golf, from body building to skiing), even if the volume of studies and research is still limited, there are already a number of benefits that show how it can improve sports performance.

Introduction to Mindfulness

Being aware, focused and with a mind focused on the present often makes the difference between victory and defeat, between achieving the set result and sporting failure. Failure to achieve one's goals often occurs due to loss of concentration. According to the dictates of mindfulness meditation, the secret to achieving your goals is to stay focused in the present. Without thinking before or after, we tend to give our best just when we are in a form of meditation called competitive trance in which we act but we are at the same time spectators of our actions.
Mindfulness, if implemented efficiently, provides the athlete with a practical methodology and shown to focus and ignore all thoughts, ideas and fears that distract from the here and now. There are many athletes who practice it in the world, among them:

  • LeBron James (Basketball)
  • Novak Djokovic (Tennis)
  • Kobe Bryant (Basketball)
  • Derek Jeter (Baseball)
  • Misty May-Trainor and Kerri Walsh (Beach Volley)
  • Ricky Williams (American Football)
  • Jonny Wilkinson (Rugby)

It is also important to note how heterogeneous the disciplines are, demonstrating the effectiveness of meditation and the importance of being concentrated, regardless of the discipline to be supported.

7 benefits of mindfulness meditation

What are the advantages of practicing mindfulness meditation? Let's look at some of the main benefits of practicing mindfulness:
1. Reduces stress
Those who practice sports, not only at a competitive level but also at an amateur level, know that one of the worst enemies is stress. Not only the stress that accumulates during physical activity, for example in the pre-race or in the most intense periods of training, but also everything that invests us during the day. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that allows the reduction of stress, it has been shown that competing or competing under stress has a clear negative impact on athletic performance.

A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology shows that in athletes who practice meditation there is a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone. Practicing mindfulness constantly allows the body to learn to relax and manage stressful moments in a healthier way. In addition, it helps to create a more positive and proactive mental approach to difficulties and problems, which is also useful for improving sports performance.

2. Increases tolerance to pain (even for those who have suffered an injury)
A study by the Kent University shows that meditation improves pain management: injured athletes increased the tolerance threshold thanks to the practice of Mindfulness. The research was carried out on a sample of 20 professional athletes (14 males, 6 females), between the ages of 21 and 36 who had suffered serious injuries (with a minimum of 3 months of prognosis).

They were divided into two groups, both following the normal path of physiotherapy, and one of these held sessions of one and a half hours a week (for a total of 2 months), practicing mindfulness.

Various tools were used:

These measuring instruments showed that pain tolerance was increased in subjects who were part of the group practicing mindfulness meditation.

3. Strengthens the immune system
As said, stress is a real enemy for every athlete which, in addition, weakens the immune system and a sports person can’t afford to fall ill especially during periods of intense training or competition.

Many studies have shown that meditation, in addition to reducing stress, also leads to an improvement of the immune system.

In particular, research published in the scientific journal Perspectives on Psychological Science indicates that mindfulness meditation:

  • Strengthens the immune system.
  • Reduces blood pressure.
  • Improves cognitive function.

Even though we are only at the beginning of a broader path of mindfulness research and investigation, it is clear that meditation offers undeniable advantages, which can be achieved even with a limited amount of practice per day.

4. Helps you concentrate
Great athletes are aware of the importance of the mind in all sports, especially where the mental condition is focused in sports such as golf or tennis and is a fundamental part of play. You have to stay absolutely focused, even more so when you are about to make the point of victory, or when you are a few metres from the finish line. Distractions such as thinking of the opponents will only hurt your performance. Who has never heard of the "fear of winning" or "tennis player's arm"? It is a mechanism that pushes the sportsman to self-sabotage, and meditation is always able to defuse it helping the player’s concentration. Everyone can improve thanks to the mindfulness that focuses on the present moment, pushing every player to give their best.
5. Improves sleep and recovery times
Sleeping is a necessity for everyone, sportsmen and women alike. A study published in the Journal of Sleep has revealed several problems related to athletes with sleep issues:

Mood disorders.

Inability to concentrate.

Increased anxiety.

Reduced motor control.

Weight gain.

On the contrary, it has been seen that athletes who practice meditation with constancy, have a higher quality of sleep and find it easier to fall asleep. There was also a decrease in recovery times, a strengthening of the immune system.

6. Improves endurance
Practicing mindfulness also has important results on the human body: athletes who visualize the achievement of a specific goal through meditation (typically in mindfulness it is about breathing exercises) can train the body to work longer, thus improving the resistance to fatigue.

And training means trying and failing, repeatedly, and often to make things worse are the negative thoughts that break down the morale and introduce a pattern of negativity in the athlete’s mind.

Mindfulness meditation helps to break away from destructive and unhealthy thoughts that do not allow the athlete to achieve the goals set.

I HAVE FAILED OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN IN MY LIFE. AND THAT'S WHY I'M SUCCEED. MICHAEL JORDAN

7. Makes you aware of yourself and your body
With increased awareness athletes can identify and conquer those areas of shadow that put them in difficult, mental and emotional states that are latent and affect the outcome of various challenges, making them seem even more challenging than they really are.

Thanks to mindfulness meditation you have a greater awareness of yourself, with limits, strengths, fears and qualities that are the basis for building a 'healthy identity”: a good self-esteem starts from these elements. In addition, meditation increases the awareness of each muscle and muscle fibre allowing you to understand your body, thus avoiding unnecessary injury but also helping to train within the right limits.

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