Most people think of meditation as a way to find calm, and a regular practice can certainly help you foster more of those stress-free moments. But meditation can be a tool in other ways as well, especially for stronger athletic performance. By tapping into meditation basics and using them consistently, you may find it’s easier to focus during your workouts, visualize greater success for hitting milestones and even break through some plateaus.
Training requires a level of physical and mental stress, says Amishi Jha, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami in Florida. But at a certain point, the attention and mental resources required for a higher level of training might sputter out.
In a recent study, Jha and her colleagues gauged whether meditation training would benefit college football players. They found that those athletes who meditated the most showed considerable mental resilience compared to those who didn’t.
Meditation can also help ease some medical conditions that might be interfering with your fitness goals. The National Institutes of Health has noted meditation can be beneficial for issues like muscle and joint pain, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and insomnia.
Fortunately, you don’t need to block out a half hour every morning and sit on a meditation cushion to tap into a meditative state of mind (unless you want to), since there are mini-meditation practices you can do anywhere, anytime.
Here are three techniques to consider to get more meditation into your day:
Deep breathing is often part of a meditation or yoga practice, but some people find that trying to concentrate on breath just brings up more distracting thoughts. This strategy works for many people looking to reset their busy minds.
First, exhale completely, then inhale deeply. On your next exhale, gently place an index finger against your right nostril to close it off. Inhale, then release that nostril and close off the left. Exhale, then inhale, through that side. Repeat for 15 rounds.
Focusing on the technique can help to calm a monkey mind and also prompts deep breathing, which has been shown to engage the parasympathetic nervous system — your body’s natural de-stress response. As that happens, you’ll lose the kind of muscle tension that can hinder athletic performance. Think of it as a warmup for both brain and body.
There are so many sounds around us at all times that it’s natural to filter out the cacophony of noise, from traffic to your furnace kicking in. But when that filter is set at too fine a mesh, it can make us feel disconnected and even challenged when communicating.
Take a listening break instead. Whether you’re in the fresh air or stuck in a meeting, take a deep inhale, exhale and then listen to the sounds around you as if they’re part of a radio show. Inside, you may hear heating vents kicking on, pens clicking or people chatting down the hallway. Outside, it could be the way the wind is passing through the trees or insects buzzing just out of sight.
Active listening as a meditation practice can lead to greater fitness benefits as well, since it helps you to “drop in” to your body and be more aware of your surroundings. That can be a huge advantage when you’re working on something like listening to your breath as you’re running or lifting.
Many times, people hold tension in certain parts of their bodies without being fully aware of that tightness. After time, symptoms like a headache, shoulder pain or pinched neck become a chronic issue. Head off that progression by regularly “checking in” with your body to see where strain might be developing.
As with other mindfulness practices, kick off your mini-meditation with a deep inhale and exhale. Then, begin to feel each part of your body and consciously relax them along the way. For example, start at your toes — bend and flex them, then think of a word that helps the relaxation process like “soften” or “rest.” Continue to your feet, then your ankles and so on.
This technique is especially good to do just before a workout, whether that means your next long run or as you’re taking weights off the rack. You may discover that your hips feel like a cement block or that your lower back is more frozen than you thought. That level of awareness can help you refine and modify your form for greater injury prevention.
As you incorporate these practices more often, you’re likely to find that it becomes easier to get focused during your workouts and to tap into mindful eating techniques as well. That can give you more fuel toward crushing your fitness and weight-loss goals. The best part is that even a little meditation can go a long way.