The Power of Mindset - Meditation as a tool for mindfulness

Blue Elvin athlete in sports bra

What is mindfulness & why should athletes use it

Mindfulness is a state. We use mindfulness to help ground ourselves - in this state we’re better able to deal with emotions. It helps us more rationally respond to our thoughts at any given moment. It requires self-awareness without self-judgment.

Mindfulness can help athletes in two ways:

  1. Increased chance of achieving a ‘flow’ state when training. This is when we’re completely immersed in the task, we lose perception of time, concentrate on the moment, and perform at extremely high levels.

  2. Better able to rationally converse with our negative thoughts during training. This will help us to achieve our training goals longer-term.

Developing mindfulness through meditation

Mindfulness takes practice, but it can be done at almost any time. When you’re going for a walk or listening to music, take time to focus on what you’re thinking and feeling and what’s happening around you. Over time, you’ll learn how to stay in the moment. 

There are various tools we can use to develop mindfulness - meditation has been scientifically proven to be very effective. It’s important to find a style and cadence of meditation that works best for you. As an example, 10-minute breathing sessions three times a week could increase your ability to stay in the present. 

Here are some examples of meditation-based exercises for athletes that we like: 

  1. Body scan exercise - we recommend using MyLife app which will present a body scan based on a physical and mental check-in. Get a flavour for body scan meditation here

  2. Box breathing - this is also great for lung development. Inhale, hold your breath full, exhale completely, and hold your breath empty. You do each of these for the same number of seconds, ideally 4. Repeat this for 10-20 full breathing cycles. 

  3. Breathing meditation - we recommend using MyLife app which will present a breathing meditation based on a physical and mental check-in. Get a flavour for breathing meditation here.

  4. Blocks of unstructured thinking time - set aside time and make sure there is no auditory stimulation. It could be on a walk or a light run.

What the science tells us about meditation

Repeated experiences and stressful events can change the brain - in a positive and negative way. This is known as neural plasticity. Research has shown that mediation is a great tool to change the structure of our brain. Meditation exercises create stronger connectivity between the amygdala and frontal lobes in our brain - helping connect our brain’s rational and irrational responses to emotion. 

Building this connection will stop our amygdala from getting ‘hijacked’ - this is when our brain goes straight into fight or flight mode in response to a threat or stress. Meditation helps us create mind memory, much like muscle memory, which will help us call upon a state of mindfulness in stressful situations. 

This has multiple benefits:

  1. Ability to tolerate pain and reduce the intensity of pain

  2. Reduce cortisol levels during stressful situations 

  3. Reduce the chances of being ‘emotionally hijacked’

  4. Help focus and develop an ability to ignore distractions 

  5. Helps us achieve a flow state - associated with higher performance in training 

  6. Reduce lingering of negative thoughts 

Source: Mindfulness: What Science can prove

Visualisation as a form of meditation 

Visualisation, or mental imagery, is a powerful tool that can help athletes focus on their strengths, build confidence, and improve performance. You can use visualisation during meditation to better direct your relaxed mind towards outcomes you’d like to see. 

You imagine yourself in a specific environment performing a specific task. Ideally, you bring in as many of your senses as possible; look, feel, touch, sound, and smell. 

What science tells us:

  • Start with the ‘why’ or the goal. Ask yourself why you are doing that exercise or activity. Visualisation, when paired with the ‘why’ will be most effective. For example, you want to move pain-free, having that goal front of mind when visualising doing a back squat with the correct form will increase the success rate of you performing that activity. 

  • Visualisation usually performs best in the first person. You can use visualisation in the first or third person. Research has found that the first-person perspective results in a more detailed and realistic visualisation and this is of benefit for behavioural change. 

  • Process over outcome visualisations are proven to be more effective. For example, visualise yourself doing the workout, rather than how you’ll feel after it. 

Mental imagery is most successful when it becomes a habit that you practice every day, but you can also use it before, during, and after training. Spend time during each imagery session mentally practicing and focusing on proper techniques and skills.

Source: Visualisation research paper

Further Reading