From reduced stress to improved mood, mindfulness has gained a rep for being healthy for your body and brain. Many studies show that consistent mindfulness practice helps grow new neural pathways. These pathways can give you better focus and emotional stability, while reducing the size of the stress areas of the brain. New research shows that mindfulness can make you a better athlete by rewiring your brain for more body-mind awareness, pain management and overall improved well-being.
According to Dr. Keith Kaufman, a Washington, DC area sports psychologist and research associate at The Catholic University of America, “It’s been suggested that many coaches regard sport as at least 50 percent mental when competing against opponents of similar ability. In some sports, that percentage can be as high as 80 to 90 percent mental.”
That’s a lot of mental pressure going into a competition or game. It’s no wonder athletes also endure mental strain alongside physical exertion. Not only can mindfulness help athletes perform better during games and contests, but it can also help them practice healthier as they prepare for those events.
When you begin practicing mindfulness, you become more aware of the present moment, and learn to accept things about yourself with less judgment. Being able to detach from the emotional side of an experience can also help athletes practice with more efficiency as they accept their mistakes without judgment and harsh self-criticism.
1. Mindfulness improves the quality of your thoughts
If you ever dread going to the gym or working out, mindfulness can teach you to be aware of those thoughts so you can rewrite them. It can give you a competitive edge that will improve your performance alone or when facing opponents. You’re also less likely to snap when frustrated, as mindfulness teaches emotional regulation.
2. Mindfulness increases body awareness
As you practice mindfulness, you become more aware of what’s going on with your body. The mind and the body work better together, and you’ll be able to make small adjustments to your workout to improve how you run, play or simply exercise.
3. Mindfulness improves performance
A study involving over 200 Canadian athletes who participated in the 1984 Olympics looked at three readiness factors: mental readiness, physical readiness and technical readiness. According to the study, only mental readiness was significantly associated with an athlete’s success.
4. Mindfulness reduces injuries
Once you begin paying more attention to your body, you’ll be better at detecting discomfort that might be signaling that it’s time to rest before you injure yourself. People who practice mindfulness often develop higher levels of self-compassion too, so you’ll be less likely to beat yourself up over a gentler practice if you need it.
5. Mindfulness boosts your confidence
Mindfulness can teach you how to “rewrite” your negative thought patterns. You might find that you trust yourself and believe in your abilities more over time.
6. Mindfulness increases your ability to stay in the zone
Two studies involving 81 university athletes who participated in a six-session program found that participants could stay “in the zone” much easier after the program. The researchers, Dr. Kaufman and Dr. Carol Glass of the Catholic University of America, and clinical psychologist Dr. Timothy Pineau, said participants experienced less sport-related anxiety.
7. Mindfulness improves how you manage pain
The mind not only feels pain, but it also processes the information that that pain contains. As Dr. Danny Penman writes, the brain “zooms in” on pain to get a closer look at it, in order to avoid further pain or damage to the body. When the mind zooms in, it amplifies that pain, which can lead to secondary pain. It can also dredge up old memories of when you felt this pain in the past. Mindfulness seems to disrupt the secondary pain caused by the brain’s natural focused attention when something feels uncomfortable.
8. Reduces burnout
A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that athletes who added mindfulness meditation to their routine were more motivated than those who did not. They were also more satisfied with their workouts and didn’t feel burnout as often as before their practice. Maintaining a regular athletic routine is as much a mental game as a physical one. Minimizing burnout is key to continued success.
Whether you play a team sport, run marathons or have dedicated yourself to showing up for regular group classes at the gym, mindfulness can take you to the next level of mental fitness so you can up your game.
Do you use mindfulness as part of your athletic training? Let us know in the comments!