More and more clinical research is pointing to the advantages that sports people of all levels can gain from a regular practice of meditation. Now I may be biased as I’ve been teaching meditation to people of all backgrounds, not only sports, for a number of years, but hear me out.
I’ve talked in previous articles about how our thinking affects our body & the neuroplasticity of the brain (The brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life). I thought it would be useful to pinpoint some of the brain changes that can occur from meditation practice.
One of the areas of the brain that is directly affected when you regularly meditate is the pre frontal cortex. The pre frontal cortex is the part of the brain that is associated with our higher order brain function such as awareness, concentration and decision-making.
A study at Massachusetts General Hospital looked at how focused insight meditation affected the brain. It found that those who meditated regularly found an increase in thickness of the pre frontal cortex. Like a muscle being worked the more focused meditation the stronger this area of the brain got.
There’s another part of the brain which is linked to some of our lower order thinking, the amygdala. One of the jobs of this small almond shaped part of our brain is detecting and responding to conscious and unconscious threats. It controls autonomic responses associated with fear, arousal and emotions. Due to the fact that it’s linked with how we respond to threats it’s sometimes referred to as the ‘fear centre’ or the ‘worry muscle’.
Seeing as we have imaginations and sometimes our imaginations can run away with us (admit it) , without awareness, our amygdala can be switched on for much longer than is necessary. Keeping us on the edge, increasing feelings of anxiety. However using awareness mediation such as Mind Calm (yes the meditation I teach, plug plug) or mindfulness regularly can help dramatically. The functional connectivity between this part of the brain and rest gets weaker. Through less constant use the amygdala starts to shrink.
In other words, our more primal, fight or flight, responses to stress seem to be superseded by more thoughtful ones. We gain more effortless control.
So hopefully your having some light bulb moments on how a thickened pre frontal cortex and a smaller ‘worry muscle’ can help your game?
Would less connection to fear and greater concentration help you in that 10 foot putt to win the monthly medal? Would greater awareness of self and a sense of calm be advantageous to you before a race begins (if not you had better tell Usain Bolt he’s doing something wrong). Could less attachment to your thinking help you complete that back handspring in your next gymnastic meet?
The list goes on but I hope you can see the benefits of bringing meditation into your sport (and I haven’t even talked about the positive effect on pain relief& recovery today).
With less fear and reaction and more calm and control your game can only thrive.