Mental focus is paramount to success in any sport or endurance activity. The brain runs the body, not the other way around - and a focused mind can overcome fear, fatigue and failure.
What's great is that the ability to focus responds to practice. This can have general effect, for example, to be more confident. A more specific example would be mental focus to improve an aspect of running stride or swim stroke.
Meditation is the art of focusing 100% of your attention in one area. As a stand alone practice, meditation comes with a plethora of health and performance benefits including increased concentration, decreased anxiety, and a general feeling of happiness.
When training with clients, I'm often asked the question, "How do I meditate"? There are many forms of meditation, some people benefit from sitting cross-legged on a cushion in front of Budda. One of my favourite meditations is to sit at the shore listening to the waves and feeling the wind. Here are 12 tips I've noted from listening to others and from my own experience.
1) Make it a regular practice. Setting aside specific time to be still helps develop a habit. Start with 20 minutes. You could set a timer.
2) Start with the breath. Breathing deep slows the heart rate, relaxes the muscles, focuses the mind and is an ideal way to begin practice.
3) Meditate with Purpose. The art of focusing your attention to a single point is hard work, and you have to be purposefully engaged! You could imagine a point an inch in front of your nose, or use the light of a candle.
4) Notice frustration creep up on you. This is very common at first. “Hey, what am I doing here” or “why do my thoughts just keep revolving in my head”. When this happens, imagine the frustration (or impatience) as a huge weight, like a cannonball. You can hold it as long as you want, but put it down and you can let go of the strain, immediately. The same with worries you can pick them back up anytime, but put them down during your meditation. Free yourself of that weight and you may actually feel lighter.
5) Experiment. A Yogi might sit cross-legged underneath a tree. But any position can work. Try sitting, lying, eyes open, eyes closed, etc. My friend, Lakpa meditates in the passenger seat of the car. An airplane seat is perfect too.
6) Feel your body. Take notice of the body when a meditative state starts to take hold. You could focus on the air moving through your nostrils, or the heat in your hands. I like to listen to my heart beating.
7) Pick a specific spot in your house (or outside) to meditate. I live in Seattle and have several spots throughout the city where I often go to meditate. Some folks like to put candles or spiritual paraphernalia in their meditation space.
8) Read some materials on meditation. A classic book on meditation is Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Kabat Zinn. It is perfect for beginners.
9) Commit to a daily practice. I believe it works best when there is consistency.
10) Take a class. Churches and temples often offer groups or classes. Some psychotherapists offer group instruction. Nalanda West in Seattle is a great resource.
11) Generate moments of awareness during the day. Finding your breath and “being present” during the rest of the day, will enhance the benefits of your meditation (and visa versa).
12) Make sure you won't be disturbed. If you have it in mind that your phone might go off, your kids or partner might interrupt you, it will be difficult to attain a state of deep relaxation.
Meditation is powerful tool for anyone and can be a game-changer for athletes. However, it can be difficult in the beginning. Just as training the body takes time, it's the same with meditation. But even ten minutes each day can result in noticeable health and performance benefits.
Meditate regularly and it's amazing how fatigue, environmental factors, nervousness or even pain can be turned into assets. Imagine the ability to calm nerves before a race, to overcome fear in a mountain storm or to relax in the face of adversity.
Try it today. And if you'd enjoy some support to get started, we can incorporate meditation into group training or personal coaching sessions.
In an upcoming post, I'll share ideas on visualization as another tool for mental focus.