December 11, 2019. By Lori Patterson:
I recently took a six-week class to learn meditation for sports. As you may recall from my previous writings, I am an avid runner with many of my routines including long distances and marathon training. Meditation during athletic activities helps to be mindful of the present and listen to your body, while accepting any limitations or pains and sometimes breathing through them (to be explained later!). Meditation comes in many forms, which is helpful to know if you are just beginning this practice or would simply like to incorporate quick relaxation or mindfulness techniques throughout your day.
Meditation as a prolonged and effortless concentration and can offer a mental escape and the ability to regulate emotions. It can be done in for just a few minutes or built up to lengthier periods over time for increased benefits. In short, it is mindful awareness and mindful acceptance.
While we know and recognize that meditation can be beneficial for health and relaxation over time, just by giving ourselves a small mental break has immediate advantages as well. These can include:
- A positive change our mood and outlook,
- Calmed nerves and temperament
- Lowered blood pressure and increased endorphins.
Just a few minutes a day is believed to be useful. If you are thinking of starting a meditation routine, this is a good way to get in the habit.
When beginning, it is usually difficult to “focus” on meditating; with demanding schedules and stretched priorities, the simple act of clearing your mind is unfortunately not so simple. During my class, I learned that meditating can also be mind-full and doesn’t have to be mindless or the clearing of your mind. It is awareness and acceptance. Since the focus is on being present, you can do this very easily each morning as you pour a cup of coffee or during your commute. The idea is to recognize the sights, sounds and smells around you. Take time to notice your surroundings, and maybe even be grateful. Another example of quick meditation is just sitting with your pets. Often, they ease stress just by their presence, and spending time just holding them or watching them can be a form of mediation…of being present and mindful.
One key to success with meditation is finding the right time and place for your practice. You cannot expect to meditate in the chaos of your family getting ready for dinner or bedtime or with noise and disruptions. Some people may find it best to start in the morning or at the end of the day and with this option, a good way to begin is by simply checking in with your body- a mental body scan. All you need to do is relax and mentally bring awareness to your body from head to toe…beware though, you may fall asleep and that is expected as you begin. Also, keep in mind that losing focus while meditating is common, and when your mind begins to stray, just pull yourself back and start again without applying judgement or guilt to yourself. It may be frustrating, but much like physical strength and endurance, it takes time to build these powers for the mind. It takes repetition and effort to focus and re-focus to succeed.
Another option to help with meditation, regardless of your level and experience, is to use guided meditation. Fortunately, there are many wonderful free apps providing quick access to this method. Guided meditation allows you to listen to a recording and be led via voice through your session. Some people prefer this option to help with focus, and sometimes it is used as an alternate method with listeners enjoying the added soothing effects it can have.
While these techniques seem simple, it takes a while to stay focused, however with patience you will eventually build the amount of time that you are meditating. Do not pressure yourself to build too quickly; remember, even a few moments daily can provide mental benefits. An alarm may be helpful to add structure for those who need it. Knowing you only have a few minutes can provide reinforcement!
My classes focused on sports meditation. For running, this may be the dread of the distance, less-than-perfect climate, or a looming to-do list (or the physical act of getting dressed getting out of the door- as with most exercise, sometimes this is the biggest obstacle). The act of stopping for a few minutes and meditating can reset my thought process. Mindful thoughts such as “I love to run. I am fortunate to be able to run. I feel better when I run,” can invigorate motivation. If I am having a bad run, I can check in and scan my body for the problem…What is happening and what is my body telling me? Is my knee hurting because I’m running stiffly or with poor form? Can I relax a bit and just breathe through my body and release any tension or pain? Is my mind heavy and affecting me physically? What can I release in order to get the benefits of my run? In this way, meditation has helped keep me focused and on track to reach my training goals by exercising awareness.
When I decided to register for the Sports Meditation class, I was so interested in how the practice might help me run more miles efficiently, and maybe even joyfully. Since the instructor is also a seasoned runner, I knew that running would be his focus. Surprisingly, I found the meditation techniques to be a valuable in many ways, both on and off the roads and trails I run, as it can be implemented into my daily routine for almost any reason, and at almost any time a re-focus is needed.