An athlete’s guide to meditation

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Let’s be real: meditation is kind of like eating kale.

You know it’s good for you, but it feels like a bit too much effort to do it every day. Still, new research suggests adopting a daily mindfulness practice is worth considering. One study from Rutgers University found that combining thirty minutes of focused meditation (where the participants were required to focus only on their breath and not let their thoughts wander to the past or future), followed by thirty minutes of exercise just twice a week for two months, resulted in fewer negative thoughts and a strengthened ability to deal with problems and let go of past trauma.

And here’s more good news: finding ways to fit meditation into your lifestyle may be easier than you assume. ‘Just because you’re not sitting on a cushion in lotus pose, with chanting gently playing in the background, that doesn’t mean you’re not meditating,’ says Dr. Lisa Lewis, a licensed psychologist in private practice in Boston, MA. ‘I’ve worked with clients who have practiced meditating on their morning train commute, sitting outside their classroom before an exam, on a bench in the change room, after work or before a workout. Whatever works for you is meditation!’

With this, we went to the experts to find out how to meditate IRL.

Three reasons you should meditate

1. Whole-body wellness
Frankel points to research supporting meditation as being able to increase empathy and resilience, improve immune system function and cardiovascular health, and alter the way our brains process stress and effective decision making. Sleep, cognitive function and stress management are all improved with mindfulness practices, adds Lewis.

2. Improved athletic performance
‘Athletes perform their best when they are 100 per cent focused on the skill or game at hand, so mindfulness is extremely important for optimal performance in sport,’ says Lewis. ‘Meditation, just like any other skill, improves with practice, so athletes who deliberately set aside time, even one short period a day, to meditate, are practicing getting mindful.’ Lewis recommends approaching daily mindfulness practice just like you would a workout: each set and rep makes you stronger and builds the necessary muscles to perform your best.

3. Improved relationship with food
If you’re the stress-eating type, or just can’t stop munching when you should, meditation can help, says Lewis. ‘Mindful eating practices may lead to greater enjoyment of food e or avoiding mindless and accidental overeating.’


Your beginner guide

Okay, so you’re ready to make workouts of the mind a part of your weekly fitness routine. Now what?

There are all kinds of opportunities to slip in some meditation, says Lewis, who provided this basic meditation plan:

Start small.
‘Set aside a brief period of time and be sure that when and how long you choose to start a meditation practice is reasonable for you, in light of your busy schedule. Many people begin or end their day with meditation, and you can start at one of these times of day with either a two-, five- or 10-minute period.’

Know your limits.
‘If you have a hard time sitting still, start with two minutes. You can always stretch the time longer, but if you start with a period of time that feels too long it could discourage you and cause you to abandon your practice before you’ve had a chance to reap some benefits.’

Find your sweet spot.
‘Find a place in your home or apartment that is peaceful, where you can sit comfortably for a brief period of time.’

Use an app.
‘There are plenty of guided meditation apps available and many of them have a basic free version that you can download onto your phone or tablet. One of my favourites is Stop, Breathe & Think (stopbreathethink.com), because you can tailor the mediation to your goals and preferences.’

Record your efforts.
‘When you meditate, give yourself some kind of gold star, which might be an exclamation mark in your calendar or a few sentences in a note to yourself about how that day’s meditation went. This will not only encourage your efforts, but it can also serve as a basic journaling activity that might help you to notice improvements in things such as sleep, patience, eating habits and workouts.’

Experiment and see what’s right for you, and then practice.


One-minute gym meditations

You’ve probably heard other gym buffs compare their weight room sessions to meditation  – and they’re not entirely off base. ‘The inhale and exhale while lifting can certainly seem like focused mindfulness, but it’s not quite the same,’ says Jen Comas, personal trainer and yoga teacher from Salt Lake City, Utah. ‘Gym workouts can feel really good for some people; however, meditation is different. It’s an opportunity to close your eyes, focus on your breath and clear your mind without allowing distractions.’

Try the following one-minute meditations, developed exclusively by Toronto-based meditation expert Ashleigh Frankel.

Before you sweat: Close your eyes and bring your attention to each area of your body, beginning with the top of your head. Simply note the sensations that are present. Is there tension? Pain? Tenderness? This practice is very helpful before a workout, as it can alert you to what areas of your body may need rest, a stretch or extra care.

During your workout: Tune in to the rhythm of your routine by bringing your focused attention to an aspect of your workout: your breathing, the reps, the feeling of your feet hitting the trails as you run, the music playing. When your mind wander (which it will because that is what our minds do!), bring your attention back to your focal point, again and again.

Afterwards: Slow down your heart rate between reps or after cardio by inhaling through your nose for a count of four; exhale through your mouth for a count of seven. This triggers your body’s relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and creates clarity of mind. Not only are you restoring your body, but also your mind, so that you are mentally prepared for what’s to come. This is also great to do before bed.