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.
The importance of mindfulness and sport meditation
Meditation is a powerful tool, useful both for body and mind.
Numerous researches show how meditation in the sports field speeds up the ability to recover from injuries, improves cognitive and concentration skills and reduces stress and anxiety.
For about 30 years, experts in the field have been studying the beneficial effects of one of the most popular forms of meditation, mindfulness meditation, in those sports where concentration would seem more important, such as golf. In general, scientific research, more than empirical research - which requires very long periods, has correctly evaluated the possible advantages of mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness has scientifically demonstrated its effectiveness in the treatment of specific psychological conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression and chronic pain. In recent years, the focus has been on the psychophysical benefits and therefore also on possible improvements in athletic performance. For many years, we have been trying to understand the real correlation between sports performance and mental clarity: how much the mind affects the results and especially, in the event of a positive outcome, how to improve them.
In 2014, the University of Redland published a scientific study on this subject, titled “Mindfulness and Golf Performance: A Case Study”. The study analysed the relationship between mindfulness meditation, golf and the benefits that the former could bring to golfers. The study by the University of Redland was conducted on a young professional golfer who followed a relaxation course using the techniques of Mindfulness, to assess the impact on scores. However, how can sports disciplines help sports competitiveness? How can mindfulness meditation help a performance-oriented approach to sport?
Mindfulness and Sport: Mens sana in corpore sano
Mens sana in corpore sano: the concept of Wellness proposed by Technogym is a combination of physical activity, balanced diet and positive mental approach. The wellness lifestyle is the synergy between three complementary elements that determine our level of energy: mental approach - the base of the Pyramid, nutrition and movement. Taking care of socio-affective relationships, cultivating constructive passions and hobbies, being positive and motivated in facing daily challenges is the prerequisite for healthy living.
In fact, fitness and more generally any kind of physical activity, if combined with a balanced diet and a positive mental approach to life, are the key components for a healthy lifestyle. This balance has been synthesized in the Pyramid of Wellness, a simple and effective scheme that shows the physical activity requirements necessary to carry out a specific diet.
Wellness Valley has involved all local stakeholders: Public Administrations, schools, universities, the health system, companies and the tourism sector. After 15 years, Wellness Valley is now consolidated reality with more than 70 on-going projects (from activities for the promotion of physical exercise in schools, to wellness tourist packages on the coast of Romagna, to programs with general practitioners for the prescription of physical exercise for certain diseases, to programs of physical activity in parks for the elderly, to name just a few).
Competitiveness in sports increasingly depends on psychological factors
Sports results are pushing athletes to ever-higher standards, forcing them to perform always better. This results in ever-increasing mental and physical pressure. Consequently, psychology in sports must improve and progress, to find new methods and tools to cope with the stress to which athletes are subjected. Sports psychology has long changed its performance-oriented approach, steering toward others that allow new and healthier ways to deal with negative thoughts, fears and mental obstacles.
The classic methods for improving sports performance are based on the assumption that to increase performance, it’s necessary to decrease negative thoughts or mental states. As a result, there is room for those positive mental states that give greater security and self-esteem. Sports psychology has focused on controlling these negative states using techniques such as:
- Goal setting
- Positive self-talk
- Arousal control
In 1993, doctors Gould, Eklund, and Jackson analyzed the approach to competition various athletes adopted during the 1988 Olympics.
Most wrestlers, for example, used strategies to control negative thoughts, block distractions or even positive self-talk.
About 4 athletes out of 10 applied breathing or relaxation techniques, to have more control over their emotions and fears. The same percentage of athletes used visualization techniques.
Mindfulness meditation has spread rapidly in our society, giving considerable benefits to those who practice it, as many scientific studies show.
During the same sporting event, the group of scientists also analyzed the behaviours of US skating athletes, who mainly used Positive self-talk to control anxiety and stress. The results of these studies support the thesis that negative emotions and thoughts, anxiety, anger, fear and stress have a strong impact on athletic performance in different disciplines (e.g. ice skating and fighting). They must therefore be managed in the appropriate way through increasingly refined psychological tools. How can mindfulness help to surpass the classic psychological techniques to reach a positive state of mind?
Mindfulness and sport: neuroplasticity
At the heart of the Mindfulness meditation, there are 3 different conditions that must be respected: the absence of judgment, the here and now and the direct knowledge. These are distant concepts from our Western Culture. Indeed, mindfulness meditation has only now rapidly spread in our society, giving considerable benefits to those who practice it, as many scientific studies show.
"After years of wandering, Buddha settled under the Awakening Tree for one last meditation and became enlightened on dharma" (Coogan, 1998).
For example, a 2008 study by Kee and Wang on a group of 183 university athletes from 23 sports showed that mindfulness groups had an improvement in balance, concentration, control and awareness. To that extent, it is essential to introduce the concept of neuroplasticity, defined as the ability of the brain to modify its functional and physical anatomy in response to repeated activity requests. Researches have shown that mindfulness meditation can induce structural changes in the brain and alter the brain regions activity (Marks, 2008).
Mindfulness and sport like Golf
So far, we have seen how it is necessary to progress psychological techniques in sports to improve performance. In 2014, Jeremy Gomberg from the University of Redlands analyzed a case study. He used himself as the subject of his case study, so to understand the real benefits that mindfulness meditation had on his way of playing.
The starting point was his need to improve when, instead, he felt as if the swing was now at its maximum potential (value judgment) and his mind was always projected to how to become a better player (inability to focus on the here and now). For the sake of the study, Jeremy Gomber described himself as such:
- Male, 21 years old.
- Golf player, who participated in about 30 tournaments.
- Ranked 10th in the third division of the United States.
In the procedure, the young golfer practiced mindfulness techniques every day. Each week he played 3 rounds of 9 holes and wrote a diary on the experience of the game. In it, he collected statistical data and scores of the 9 holes he played.
Obviously, though this research has generated data that have been collected and analysed with the help of statistical tools, it has targeted only one subject. Therefore, the results cannot be universal. The researcher/golfer stated that initially, his aim was to reduce fears and worries, mechanisms that are contrary to this meditative practice.
Of course, says the author of the research, mindfulness is faster than the classic autogenous training, even during the competition. It is a passive approach and, in an environment like that of a golf course, where there are many variables (distance, wind, rain, slope, etc.), using an instrument that works on breath and sensations has proven really effective.