It is not a new notion that mind and body are connected. Athletes worldwide have always used a focused state of mind to hone their skills and enhance their performance. Yet, not everybody is aware of the influence that mindfulness can have on sports performance. Also how bringing mindfulness into your life can improve both your mental and physical state.
Mindfulness can help athletes fight back anxiety and stress. It also allows them to regain self-confidence, awareness, and focus on the present moment. In turn, this promotes a state of flow and enhances sports performance. Mindful exercises include breath-work, meditation, visualisation, and body scans.
The relationship between mindfulness and sports performance is complicated. But many studies have been conducted on how it can help athletes. Find out all you need to know below.
What Affects Sports Performance?
Committed professional athletes learn about the essential connection between mind and body early. But, mindfulness is not only beneficial for expert athletes. It can make a measurable difference in achieving any personal goals. This could be running 5 miles, learning to do a handstand, or increasing your weight lifting performance.
You don't have to practice sports at a professional level to understand how your mind affects performance. You would have experienced how bad mood, excessive stress, or something else on your mind can cause you to be slower, less motivated, or low on energy.
Furthermore, your mood and state of mind can have a visible and measurable effect on your sports performance. Stress, fear, anxiety, or frustration can impact your ability in many ways. You are unable to channel your energy, cooperate with teammates, and control your breathing. Therefore, training your mind is just as important as training your body, which you can do through mindfulness.
Stress and Anxiety
On a physical level, stress causes our heart rate to increase and the breathing to become erratic. On a mental level, it causes our thoughts to become less logical and overcome by emotion, affecting our ability to focus.
Nonetheless, stress is a normal part of life for athletes and non. Since it is a form of energy, it is essential to embrace the feelings of stress and anxiety, control them, and harness energy from them. Thanks to mindfulness, you can learn how to transform your pre-game nerves into vital energy that can help you succeed.
State of Mind
One of the most influential states of mind for athletes to achieve results is flow. This is because sits at the opposite end of stress, unreliable thoughts, and erratic breathing.
This mind state is not something that always comes naturally. Still, it can genuinely help athletes fully immerse themselves in the current task. They channel energy from the stress, gain self-awareness, and screen out destructive emotions.
A state of flow is a concept developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s, and it is still being studied. This flow state is not unique to sports. Csikszentmihalyi noticed that it could be achieved by people undertaking all kinds of activities. This can be from surgeries to rock climbing.
Yet, this psychological state was always characterised by a feeling of full involvement in the task. You experience enjoyment beyond discomfort, and deep, energised focus.
In the Zone
This state is also referred to as "in the zone" or "on a roll." Athletes in this state achieve heightened self-awareness. They are naturally brought to focus on positive factors such as knowing what they are doing or being in control of the situation.
Achieving a state of flow is not easy, especially the first time. But, athletes who have experienced it once tend to regain this state more easily. If you have never experienced it but wish to use it to chive enhanced athletic performances, mindfulness can help you practice.
What Is the Impact of Mindfulness on Sport Performance?
Mindfulness can be understood as the state of awareness of the present moment and non-judgemental focus. So, when athletes practise mindfulness, they can clearly see the emotions that can affect their performance. These include the fear of losing, social anxiety, and other negative internal stimuli. They can observe these emotions without allowing them to take over or interact with the present moment.
Dispositional mindfulness, trait mindfulness, or DM is the natural ability of a person to remain focused on the present activity or moment. Dispositional mindfulness has also been linked to better emotional processing. It means that athletes can better deal with overcoming emotions and not mentally dwell in irrelevant, past, or future events.
Techniques to Improve Mindfulness for Sports Performance
You can hone dispositional mindfulness through mindfulness-based interventions. Athletes can think of this as training for their cognitive and emotional abilities. Through these interventions, athletes can optimise their mental preparation and enhance readiness.
At the same time, the effects of mindfulness go far beyond psychological improvements. Indeed, by controlling these emotions, you can also see physiological effects such as:
- Decreased heart rate
- Prevention of excessive salivation due to high levels of cortisol
- Reduced pain and discomfort sensitivity
As we are about to see, there are several techniques that athletes can use to increase their mindfulness. But, if you practice your sport professionally there are tailored programs. An example of this is the Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE) training.
Benefits of Mindful Meditation on Sport Performance
So the studies regarding mindfulness and sports performance are very positive. So let's look into the benefits you will see from mindfulness practice. If you are an amateur or professional athlete, mindfulness can help you enhance your self-awareness. It also can help you better understand how your body works, and manage negative emotions
In the video below, you can find a summary of the effects of mindfulness on sports performance:
However, if you wish to know more, keep reading!
Helps Reduce Stress and Focus on the Present
The first and most decisive benefit of mindfulness is its ability to reduce stress. As seen above, stress can have one of the most significant effects on sports performance. It causes some physiological effects, such as increased salivation, higher heart rate, and fatigue.
Of course, studies have found that practising regular exercise can help you manage stress. However, it is also essential to understand how to do the opposite: managing stress to enhance performance. This is especially important when you practice sport at a professional level. For this, mindfulness can be the key.
While it is essential to keep stress levels low. It is also crucial to keep in mind that stress is a part of life. So if you take part in competitions and games, stress can be something you will have to deal with regularly.
Research conducted in 2020 confirms that practising mindfulness can significantly decrease the cortisol levels. These are the stress hormone in the body in subjects who are more at risk of high-stress levels.
Manage Powerful Emotions
However, mindfulness's benefits go far beyond lowering cortisol levels. Indeed, in moments where you can't avoid high-stress levels, mindfulness allows you to control them.
An athlete in big competitions will always have to deal with pre-game anxiety, stress, or frustration. These are usually caused by past or future events. These are possibilities that are often irrelevant and detrimental towards the outcome.
Mindfulness can lower the cortisol levels but also give you a powerful tool that you can use to manage these powerful emotions. Indeed, during mindfulness interventions, you will learn how to identify each feeling, see them as a whole, and cut them out of your area of focus. In turn, this allows you to have a clear vision and focus on the present moment.
Increases Tolerance to Discomfort and Pain
As many expert athletes will know, the main obstacle between them and achieving better results is themselves. Indeed, our minds can play a significant role in our performance and can stop us from giving the best of ourselves. Depending on your mindset, you will unconsciously influence your actions and, therefore, results.
When your mind reaches the state of flow, your tolerance to pain and discomfort is heightened. In turn, this means that you can entirely focus on the action you are undertaking. You don't have to deal with the physical obstacles of fatigue, pain, and muscle soreness.
A 2019 review shows how mindfulness and meditation exercise their analgesic properties. Indeed, the study shows that there are three components or techniques used in mindfulness to help athletes. These include:
- Acceptance of pain
- Attention to pain
Mindfulness can be used as a tool to understand your pain better and control it. So you can keep performing your tasks without allowing your mind to be influenced by such physical sensations.
Alternative studies conducted by the University of Kent have also measured the effects of meditation on pain. They used tools such as the Cold Pressor Test (CPT), Profile of Mood States (POMS), and Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS). They were able to assess and evaluate the athletes' pain tolerance after the mindfulness interventions.
Shortens Recovery Times
Sleep is essential for everybody, but it is necessary for athletes. During sleep, our body has the chance to regain the energy spent during the day and repair the damage of stress and other everyday factors.
Indeed, while we are asleep, the immune system releases cytokines. These proteins allow our bodies to fight trauma, injuries, infections, or inflammation. When we don't sleep enough, our lives during the day can also be affected by higher levels of stress and difficulty concentrating.
In turn, increased stress levels can lead to lower sleep quality—a circle that can keep repeating itself. Some of the consequences of this issue include:
- Mood swings and disorders
- Difficulty to focus and concentrate
- Increased stress and anxiety
- Reduced coordination and movement control
- Weight gain
Bringing mindfulness into your daily life can help you better manage your stress levels and fatigue during waking hours. In turn, it can help you improve the quality of your sleep and promote recovery. This is particularly important for those athletes that often have to deal with injuries.
Mindfulness can supply individuals with the necessary tools needed to fall asleep faster. A study by the Sleep Foundation looked at how mindfulness improved awareness, focus and relaxation. It also reduce the effects of sleep disorders such as insomnia.
Improves Health and Strengthens the Immune System
Mindfulness can improve your immune system by keeping stress at bay and promoting restorative sleep. Indeed, stress has been seen to be responsible for a weakened immune system and increased inflammation.
Mindful meditation and movements allow you to calm down and reduce the effects of stress. This is everything your immune system needs to promote recovery and protection.
Can mindfulness meditation help reduce blood pressure and improve cognitive function? A study conducted in 2012 showed some very positive results. So, incorporating mindfulness into your life can help you see results while practising sport and beyond.
Another study conducted in 2016 also shows that meditation can help you fight the signs of ageing, protecting cells' health. While, of course, ageing might show on the skin, hair, and physical traits, it can also affect your sports performance. Meditation and mindfulness can counterbalance these effects. It allows you to continue to feel stronger, healthy, and energised.
Helps Increase Self-Awareness and Enhance Endurance
One of the greatest benefits of mindfulness is that it allows you to bring your attention towards yourself. This increases your self-awareness and self-confidence. Mindfulness interventions such as meditations and body scans are very useful. They allow you to start to understand how your body reacts to stimuli and the areas needing more work.
In sports, one of the most critical abilities to is control. You will need to have control over your breathing, movements, and thoughts when you only have a few seconds to make a game-changing decision
Aside from mental awareness, mindfulness is also useful to understand your muscles' real potential. Through mindfulness, you will be encouraged to bring your attention to every movement. So you truly understanding the consequences of each action.
How to Practice Mindfulness for Sport Performance
There are several ways to practice mindfulness. The ones below are only mindfulness interventions that you can integrate as part of your athletic training. For example, you might decide to start your workout with a 10-minute meditation practice or body scan.
However, the end goal of these interventions is to encourage dispositional mindfulness. You want to remain focused on your task, finding full absorption in the movement and enjoyment in your actions.
There are many advantages of incorporating dispositional mindfulness into your athletic performance. You will find it easy to focus on the movements to achieve a specific result.
Additionally, mindfulness allows you to screen out emotions that can be detrimental or irrelevant. So, you won't find yourself thinking about what would happen if you lost the game or whether a personal relationship will finally heal. Instead, you will be entirely focused on the positive outcome of your efforts, knowing that you will accomplish exactly what you wish to.
Without doubt, fear, frustration, or stress, you can enhance your performance. Some of the ways to bring mindfulness into your life include:
Meditation is unique for every practitioner. But generally, you will focus on your breathing and thoughts while seated comfortably.
You can either walk or practice movements such as yoga asanas. They allow you to get in turn with your muscles and hidden possibilities of your body.
Pranayama is one aspect of yoga that teaches you how to control your breathing and harness your breath's power.
If you wish to tune in with your body, a body scan can help you understand where you feel pain and how to control your sensation. It can also help you better cope with the consequences of an injury.
Progressive muscle relaxation
This technique can help you fight chronic pain, stress, and anxiety. When practising this technique, you will be contracting and releasing each muscle at a time.
Visualisation is a great technique to use before a game or competition. It allows you to visualise precisely the result you want. However, don't forget to go beyond a medal. You will also need to visualise yourself remaining calm and being in control of the situation.
There is an endless choice of mindfulness techniques and options that you can opt for. Each person reacts differently to these techniques. So you should feel encouraged to try different ones and find the one that works best for your needs.
Expert athletes have been exploring the relationship between their minds and bodies early in their careers. If you are an amateur or taking your first steps in the world of mindfulness, this practice can help you hone your skills and achieve better results.
Mindfulness can enhance sports performance by reducing stress levels. It grants you more control over your movements. It also improves endurance and speedy recovery from sports injuries. When combined, these factors allow you to operate in a body and mind at the top of their potentials!