Taking time to prioritize our mental health is important to our lives inside and outside of sport, especially as athletes. Meditation, a mindfulness exercise that works to heighten one’s state of awareness and focused attention, is one way that we can make our mental health a priority and improve performance. “Meditation helps develop the ability to be more mindful and present,” says sports psychologist Michelle Cleere, PhD. It can also improve performance. “Athletes who engage in regular meditation exercises help their body recover quicker from training, injury, and reduce levels of cortisol in the body,” explains sports psychologist Dr. Sonali Wason, PsyD.
So, how do we make meditation a part of our routines? We asked Wason and Cleere for their tips.
1. Be open to different types of meditation
There are many different types of meditation, such as concentrative meditation and mindfulness meditation. While concentrative meditation involves focusing on sensory sparks to stay present and focused, mindfulness meditation is about using exercises that help you be more open, aware, and accepting of thoughts and emotions to be more engaged with the present. It can also be self-guided or done with the aid of a program. One is not better than another, so it’s important to be open to trying different ways of meditating.
2. Start small
Quality is more important than quantity, so start small with two to five minutes, and gradually increase to longer periods.
3. Set a schedule
Find the time of day that works best, whether that is in the morning, before practice, or before bed, and add it to your daily schedule. It’s recommended to engage in meditation practices at the same time every day.
4. Stay consistent
Habits are formed with repetition, so consistency is key. It’s okay to miss a day every now and then. What’s more important is that you jump back into your routine the next day.
“There’s the right meditation for you and the right meditation for me, and it’s about figuring out what that is.”
5. Find the right space
It should be quiet, comfortable, and somewhere you can avoid being interrupted for the length of your mediation.
6. Eliminate distractions
Calm, instrumental music is okay, but turn off your phone and the TV.
7. Focus on your breathing
Practice diaphragm breathing by inhaling deeply through your nose so that your lungs fill completely and you feel your belly expand. Then exhale through your nose, and feel your belly contract.
8. Notice your thoughts
It’s okay if your thoughts wander. “The purpose of meditation is not to clear your mind or turn off your thoughts or feelings but to observe them without judgment,” says Wason.
9. Remember that it takes practice
Don’t expect perfection. Meditation is a skill that takes practice and that can be developed.
10. Find what works for you
Meditation is not one size fits all. “There’s the right meditation for you and the right meditation for me, and it’s about figuring out what that is,” says Cleere.