Athletic Applications of Mindfulness Part 1
My therapist has been attempting to get me to practice mindfulness for about a year now. Being such a fan of hypnosis and active visualization, you would think I would be motivated by the thought of sitting for 10 minutes doing nothing. “It will make you a better athlete.” He says alluringly. Hmmm, I raise my eyebrows, really? Now you have got me interested. “How exactly is mindfulness going to make me a better athlete?” I queried. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something along the lines of “Well, you will just have to try it and see for yourself.” Yep, he’s a sports psychologist. Now I am starting to get motivated. “Mindfulness has been shown to reduce cortisol as well.” He adds. He shrugs his shoulders as if to suggest “But whatever.”
So off to sit for ten minutes doing nothing I go. I have about three months of inconsistent practice. Once in a while he checks in “Have you been doing mindfulness?” Grrrrrr. Stop asking me, but don’t stop asking me, is what I am thinking. I know it is beneficial, and I also know I am super resistant, but frankly I have no idea why it is so difficult to sit and do nothing. Well, the idea as he suggested was to sit and pay attention to my breath. But breathing is so boring. I don’t want to pay attention to my breath. I want to do other stuff. I want to stretch and wiggle around and do the splits and put my body into fun positions. That’s just what I do when I sit still, I don’t.
Tell me to eat chicken and fish and broccoli all day, no problem. Tell me to do cardio at 6:00 in the morning, no problem. But tell me to sit and do nothing? Big problem! What exactly is the difference? For me, the difference is that when I would sit and focus on my breath it felt like I was being forced to focus on something that I was not naturally focusing on. It is like stopping a car that is moving 100 miles an hour. It is quite shocking to the system of the car. The slamming on the breaks, the jolting of the entire vehicle, the stress to the transmission. That is how it felt sitting and doing nothing.
So here is what I did. Instead of going right to my breath, I focused for a minute on what I wanted to focus on. I did the stretching I wanted to do. I looked around the room; I listened to sounds; I felt sensations in my body, and then, when I was satisfied, I focused on my breath.
What is so important about mindfulness? He never did answer the question, but here is the benefit as I see it. First, checking in with myself in the morning feels great. I love just being with myself and connecting with my body and mind before the day begins. The benefits I have noticed is that I respond to life more from my core, more from my authentic self. If that were the only benefit, quite frankly, I would be happy. But there is more, ten minutes of quiet mindfulness in the morning focusing on my breath allows me to be more in control of my moods, emotions, and responses to life. It allows me to change my focus on a dime if I want to. And it makes sense when we go to the research also.
According to Hayes, Strosahl, and Wilson (2012) the purpose of practicing mindfulness is not to help one relax, rather the purpose is to increase one’s ability to attend to present moment experience, to be able to shift, and control our focus whenever we like. If that is not an athletes dream come true, then I don’t know what is.
If you are already practicing mindfulness, then I am preaching to the choir. But for those of you who are stubborn like me, I will leave you with this much for now, and I will elaborate next more on mindfulness. It is such an important subject; I want to give it a bit more attention.
So here is your assignment for the month, if you choose to. Start to get in the habit of just 10 minutes of sitting and focusing on your breathing. Do a lead in at the beginning. I spend from 5 to 15 minutes allowing myself to stretch, look around, listen to sounds and feel my body, then I set my timer for 10 minutes and simply sit. Start off twice a week, then three times a week, then five times a week. Work up to sitting for ten minutes a day on most days. Whatever time you like is fine. Personally, I like to do it in the morning after my morning cardio.
Next month I will have some more specifics on the benefits of mindfulness for athletes as well as some more official practices. For now, just start to warm up to the idea of the utility of mindfulness. Trust me; I know it can be a challenge.
Until next month,
Reference: Hayes, S., Strosahl, K., & Wilson, K. (2012) Acceptance and commitment therapy. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.