The benefits of meditation are many and I would encourage everyone to give it a chance.
I try to do some form of meditation every day because it helps control stress and it just plain feels good. I recommend it to anyone, especially those experiencing anxiety, stress, anger, chronic pain or depression. There is no way to know for sure how many of my clients have actually given it a chance, but those who have reported doing so, have typically seen good results.
There are some who do not try it because they see it as too “new age” or not a “masculine” pursuit picture someone sitting in a lotus position by the ocean on a yoga mat chanting “ooomm.” Some certainly do it this way, but I prefer sitting in my easy chair or lying down. Instead of producing sounds on which to focus, I focus on breathing or other relaxing images.
What Does Meditation Actually Look Like?
So, what does giving it a “fair chance” look like? My typical answer is 15 minutes a day for two weeks. If you need to start with five minutes, that is fine. Initial impatience or boredom is fairly common but will subside over time. Look for sensations of calm, warmth and heaviness in the body to develop. Allow thoughts to float away and do nothing with them; just notice sensations and focus on the breath, mantra (word or sound), object, etc. As you practice, the mind will be very calm yet very alert. Long, slow and deep breathing will induce a relaxation in the body and a favorable change in brain waves. The tension melts away.
Practicing meditation will begin to change the brain and lead to improvement in many areas, even when you are not actively meditating. An example of this could be that you find you are better able to ignore distractions in your environment (or your own mind) and focus better on the task at hand. Another example is practitioners who have lowered their blood pressure, not just during meditation, but ongoing. We are often in a state of tension and stress. For some, this “stress response” is chronic and they’re in a constant state of “fight or flight”. Although they may not be in actual physical danger, the body and brain are behaving as if this is so. Meditation produces a “relaxation response” that counters the stress response.
If none of the usual benefits that we hear about with meditation convince you to try a form of it (there are many ways to do it), then one less commonly mentioned benefit may change your mind: it will improve your performance in sports!
Meditation and Sports
I started meditation practice because of my desire to improve in sports (baseball &power lifting). I got involved in the sport of powerlifting (performing the back squat, bench press, deadlift, etc.) at age 14 and got my hands on all the information on training that I could to help me improve. Of all the training routines I ran into, only one mentioned any sort of mental training. His name was Vince Anello and he was one of the best powerlifters in the world. In a book on powerlifting, he explained how he used meditation to calm himself after a day of teaching school and to improve his lifting. The practice involved focusing on breathing and counting down with each breath from 50 to 1. Once a deep relaxation was achieved, Vince would visualize his workouts and upcoming competitions. Visualizing successful performance as clearly as possible when in a deeply relaxed state (mental rehearsal) is a very powerful tool in Sports Psychology. The same technique can be used to alleviate some types of anxiety (this is called covert desensitization).
I began my practice at 15 and essentially copied Vince’s method. Over time I experimented with other methods such as guided imagery, self-hypnosis, and autogenic training. While there is no way to know for sure how much my performance was helped by meditation, I am convinced it played a significant part in attaining two collegiate national titles and national records in the bench press at the teenage and collegiate level. Check out this article for how meditation can make you a better athlete.
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