#76 – Meditation & Mindfulness Tips for Athletes
Lewis shares tips and advice on adding or starting mindfulness and meditation to your sport, training and or life in general.
Lewis shares tips and advice on adding or starting mindfulness and meditation to your sport, training and or life in general.
This episode at a glance
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Benefits of Mindfulness & Meditation for Athletes
So mindfulness and meditation as an athlete. Now, if you are someone who has perhaps been curious about this or perhaps you’re someone who’s heard of it, I don’t think it’s it’s rocket science to know what the benefits of mindfulness and meditation are hugely documented It’s hugely marketed at the moment. But you perhaps are someone that could fall into a camp where and I was one of these where you perceive mindfulness meditation to be something that you have to be a type of person or a certain type of person to do.
And you could be someone else who is really curious and just not sure where and how you can already add it into your busy schedule. Or maybe you haven’t even started that discipline or that practice yourself to see the benefit, to see the change that you could have from it. So I’m going to go through sort of my experiences and the benefits that I’ve seen both on and off the field as an athlete.
And then just give you a couple of ideas that you can use to add it into what you’re doing already or maybe something that you can add on top of what you’re doing. It’s totally up to you. But my practice and my journey with meditation came through physical movement, yoga. And if you’ve ever done a yoga practice, if you’ve ever gone through a whole practice, there’s a moment at the end called savasana where you lie, you relax, and you sort of recover from the practice and you spend a moment to work internally and scan the body, see the changes that come about in the body.
And that’s a hugely mindful practice in itself. And a body scan is a mindful practice as well. But that journey and starting from a physical practice was what I wanted. I wanted to move my body. I want to fix my broken body at the time and get through that practice and then just add it on at the end and have this meditative and mindful practice at the end.
I was already there. I was already lying down, so I just had it in any way. It was easy to start. But from that, I then built the idea and started to build awareness around not only my body but also the impact that that practice was having on my body. And then once I had that impact on my body and I was feeling better and my aches and pains were going, but I had a better understanding of how my body moved, how my body felt on certain days and then I could correlate that with my mindset and where my mind was at.
Was I agitated? Was I relaxed with a calm? Was I focused? And it gave me such a great awareness of where my mind was. And I saw the value that just this mindful practice just at the time, just a simple, mindful practice of scanning my body after every yoga practice had had on my mindset and the way I managed to my mind in sport.
And like any of this, I will kind of put a disclaimer in that I was not perfect and still am not perfect in what I do. And perfection isn’t really what you’re chasing. You’re chasing the awareness to know that you can improve every time you do one of these practices. So I think it’s worth just knowing that first that you don’t have to be perfect in your routine, your mindfulness to start with you.
You’re never going to be perfect, and no one is perfect in what they do because it’s really about that self-improvement looking at itself and if we’re looking at perfection, we’re looking at the wrong thing, we’re looking at our external, we’re looking externally and looking to others and judging ourselves compared to them. Whereas we should simply be looking at where we’re at.
Am I better than where I was before? Have I learned? Have I improved? Have I grown through what we’re practising? So it kind of went a bit off on a tangent there. But let’s get back to some of the well-known benefits that you can find from meditation. And the first one up is a calmer state of mind.
So the main goal for my perspective with meditation and mindfulness is this awareness of mind, the idea of being present and the experience of being present in the mind, not being overrun with or sitting there understanding your thought, not judging your thought. As an athlete, we will have so many different expectations, so many different goals, so many different people in our lives that we believe will have this element of judgment on us and the expectation that we perhaps can put on ourselves and the expectation that perhaps others may put on ourselves or we believe others are putting on ourselves.
And just by using something like meditation, and mindfulness, it brings that awareness of the mind. It brings your attention to the thoughts that you’re having, the storylines that you’re telling yourself, and you can start to unpack where they’re coming from. You can start to unpack whether they’re true, whether they’re kind, whether they’re timely. Are they do you need to be telling yourself this story?
This thought at that time? Is it the right time to be telling yourself that? And bringing that greater sense of presence into the mind will then transfer into what you do in a day to day life and these little glimpses in this practice because it is a practice. And that is why it’s so important to note that it is a practice, is that you are practice in getting that awareness.
You don’t always have that awareness every time, and you don’t get it right every time, but just by simply practising it day in, day out. I’ve mentioned it before where it’s like bicep curls of the mind. You get it, you do your reps, you prepare, and then as you do more reps, you start to get better, you start to get stronger, at it.
So over time, you build this ability to be more present, whether it’s in your everyday life or whether you’re moving into these crunch moments or clutch moments in a game or a competition that you may have. And that will start to build up strength and resilience in the mind and an ability in the mind for you to do that again and again.
And like I said again, it’s not perfect. It’s not something that you can do all the time perfectly, but you can continuously learn to improve. You can continuously look to get better at what you’re doing. And obviously, another big benefit of it is this the calmness, but also the clarity and the relaxation that you get from it.
We’re living in a stressed world and we constantly are stressed. So whether it’s through what we’re hearing, what we’re seeing, what we’re telling ourselves, the training that we’re doing, we’re physically and mentally, and I’m in a place of stress and anxiety. And reducing that stress and anxiety is going to allow us to have that ability to recover, to be in a better place both physically and mentally when we need it most.
If we burn out by the time we’ve got to a moment in time that is important to us, i.e. a competition or a match, then it’s a little bit too late and we need something to bring us down and allow ourselves to relax, allowing ourselves to de-stress and bring that anxiety back and understand and build a better relationship with that anxiety.
Because again, we’re not going to run away from stress. We can’t get rid of it. We can’t get rid of anxiety and almost we don’t want to get rid of it. Because those are important there. Things that bring our attention levels up as athletes, they stress on the body is good. It allows us to grow again. Stress on the mind allows us to grow.
But if we don’t have a good relationship with it, if we don’t understand it, then it can run away. And that’s something that we should be looking to prioritize as an athlete. Because in my previous podcast with that, I’ve just done about mental health prioritizing our mental health. Our mental strength is a huge part of our game. And if we can start to add that in, then we’re gaining a huge advantage over others.
So again, if you want to look up some of the benefits, these are just a few, but if you wanted to go and look up some of the benefits that are around meditation, then literally Google, literally Google, and you will find so much information and you can see some of the benefits for you. But I would say that awareness of mine, that ability to be more present, that ability to recover, to de-stress, to have a better relationship with anxiety and stress is something that you can almost switch on and switch off, and that will make you a much more rounded athlete.
How to start your meditation practice
Ultimately, that’s very important So where do you get started? How do you start this if you haven’t done something like this before, or if you’re maybe having started it and you’re having troubles with it where do you get started and how is the best way to get started? And for me as an athlete, what I think is important or a great place to start is movement.
Movement is just key. We want to move where already. I would hazard a guess that majority of people that have tried meditation start fidgeting. They start getting agitated in the body. They want to move. Some movement is a great place to start and something like yoga, stretching, moving the body, whether it could be even going for a walk or run, but moving the body and then going inside and looking at the body and feeling the body and listening to the body.
That’s a beginning of a mindful practice. So yoga, for example, allowed me and many others who practice it. That ability to feel the body, feel where it’s at, and scan it both during the movement, after the movement, maybe even before the movement. So you can feel where that tension is being held. You can feel the muscles moving, the joints moving, the gravity, the weight on the hands.
And it brings that attention and that presence within and it takes away the distraction from without some from outside. And that, again, as an athlete, if you can start to tune into your body, not only do you understand it more, but when you’re in the heat of the moment and you have those clutch moments, you don’t have an app, you don’t have anything around you to help you with that anxiety or that distraction that perhaps is there.
You can go within the body. You can start to just scan the body. The breath is a place. And I’d move on to that in a minute, but the breath is a place to start again. That internal feeling of the breath and that movement, that presence within the body starts to become a practice of bringing more presence to the mind.
So start by just being a little bit more present with the movement. You doing it could be lifting weights, it could be out on your run but can you feel things like the ball that you’re lifting? Can you be fully tuned in to that presence within the body? What does it feel like? What does it sound like? What is it tasted like and tuned into those sensations and those feelings?
And you begin and hopefully more often than not start to become more present in what you’re doing. And that’s a great place to have this kind of aha moment with meditation and mindfulness, especially as an athlete because you perhaps don’t want to start sitting down and trying to meditate and that’s fine. To begin with, the body, begin with something that you’re already accustomed to and get going there.
Like I just mentioned, the breath. So breathing practice, breathing exercises are a great way of, again, tuning into the body. So simply there are many different practices you can do, many different exercises that you can do because they all have a different physiological effect on the body. But ultimately when you are doing them, you are concentrating on that breathing practice only you’re not focusing on the distraction.
And I’ll give you one, for example, which would be box breathing. So box breathing is this breathing exercise where you inhale for a count, you hold for a count, you exhale for a count and you hold for a count. The bottom of the breath. All of those holds are the same. So usually it’s done to a count of four, which is a great place to start.
It can be less it can be more totally up to where you are. But let’s say it’s four. You inhale for a count of 4 seconds, you hold for a count of 4 seconds, you exhale for a count of 4 seconds, and then you hold for a count of 4 seconds. Start with ten rounds of that. So just by doing ten rounds of that, you’re bringing that awareness into your breath.
You’re bringing your awareness to just counting, you’re bringing that feeling in that sensation of, of, of breathing inside, breathing through your nose, breathing through your belly, diaphragmatic breathing again, a hugely beneficial technique for athletes by lowering that sympathetic tone in the nervous system. So shifting from a sympathetic, nervous, sympathetic to autonomic nervous system tone to a parasympathetic tone and which is a much more relaxed and a much more present state that you want to be into.
So it’s great for recovery again, great for reducing that stress in the mind and stress in the body, reducing the levels of cortisol. And that is something that will benefit you both on and off the field. I use it a lot, just simply being aware of the sensations of breathing in and out through the nose, just knowing that at any moment in a stressful situation, you can just go straight to that, breathing in through the nose, noticing the sensation of that air coming in through the nose and then breathing out and noticing the sensation of that just one breath.
Taking that one breath could be the difference between running away with the emotion that you feel in a stressful and pressured moment or taking that time to become a little bit more composed and making the right decision that you need to make under pressure. So going to belly breathing, breathing through the nose, because if you breathe through the nose, you breathe through the diaphragm and again, maybe start with box breathing so you can maybe bring them all together breathing through the nose, doing box breathing.
So there are multiple ranges of ways to do multiple different exercises. But ultimately that sensation of being present comes from these breathing exercises, comes from going into that breathing ability. And finally, the last little tip I go to is bringing mindfulness again.
Using mindfulness in your training
I’ve touched on it before, just bring it into your training and perhaps bring it into your recovery days.
So a great way to gain that space from your training and your mind and your stresses and anxieties that you may feel with your training is going and taking yourself for perhaps a walk so often. Do I hear someone say that all my meditation is taking my dogs for a walk or going for a walk upon the hills, up on the beach, wherever I am?
And it’s true. Like that is a brilliant mind full and meditative practice. I bet you that if when you’ve seen a sign or seen a view or seen a sunset, sunrise that you’ve suddenly had this kind of beautiful moment of being present and being aware of what’s going on around you, you’re looking at that scenery for what it is you may be looking at the waves, the trees, the grass, the smells, the feeling of the air and your body.
And it may be only for a split second, but it is a gateway into that mindful life and that mindful mind and being present in what you’re doing. So if you want to become a little bit more present, a bit more mindful, just going for a walk, just going into these, as I said, could be on your recovery days where you don’t want to go into the gym, be feeling like you’re moving the body or something stressful and you need to take it away.
You can start with that gentle walk that gentle, mindful walk that you’re doing. And if you do want to start meditation and find that place where you can sit down and just be with your breath, be with whatever is happening at that moment, you don’t have to try hard. You don’t have to try to know. You can just allow the mind to run and just see the thoughts for what they are.
And just doing that for one minute, maybe 30 seconds to start with could be what you do. You could do it before you go to bed. You could do it before you start your day by just jumping out of bed. You can do it in bed. And those are just little glimpses of starting that mindful practice and then building from there.
And that’s really where my experience happened was all of these different practices, all of these different methods. I didn’t do all of them, to begin with. I simply started with moving. I simply started with my yoga practice and then it built. And then now where I’m at with it is that I can almost pick and choose at any one time.
And I don’t, for example, sit down and meditate every morning because I will choose to do yoga practice in the morning. That’s when I will choose to become mindful of where I’m at, whether I’m sticking earphones in and listening to guided practice, whether I’m sticking earphones in and listening to music, or whether I’m just not putting anything on and just listening to surroundings, listening to maybe where my mind goes, how my body feels in that practice.
That could be my mindful practice for that moment and for that day. It could be breaking it up throughout the day. It could be taking 2 minutes during my lunch to just be mindful of what I’m eating. It could be a walk, it could be changing my clothes, having a shower could be something as simple as starting by brushing your teeth and being mindful of the sensations, the smells, the tastes as you’re doing something like that.
So again, it hasn’t got to be this mindful practice every day of sitting down and meditating for 30 minutes. And if you don’t do that, you’re not worth it can be something as simple as breaking up throughout the day, but bringing awareness is that first point of call. So just understanding that whatever you choose, you are bringing that awareness to the present moment, to the sensations, the sounds, the the the feelings that you’re having and again, the thoughts and the storylines and just becoming aware of, aware of them.
And I think the toughest thing that we have as athletes is that combat with our egos. And I would I will probably do a podcast on our egos because they are important and also damaging parts of what we do. And that conflict we have in our egos feeling like we are becoming someone that the people might make fun of, that might make jokes about.
And we can always feel awkward in starting these sort of things and feel like, oh, I don’t want to be that that person. And but for the benefit, you get from them is incredible and that’s what it kind of takes to be what I describe as this uncommon athlete, those moments where you feel uncomfortable, where you feel different from other people those are the important moments, whether you’re an athlete or not.
Just those moments that you’re overcoming were or there’s a voice inside my head telling me to stop doing this to you look like a fool. Don’t do this. Stop, get up, put it away so that no one sees you. I have those thoughts, but if you can work through them, if you can sit with them, if you can understand them and tell yourself that you’re doing this to beat it yourself as a person and as an athlete, or just a person in general, they’re going to benefit not only yourself but those around you.
Using Mindfulness as your advantage
And that makes you that uncommon athlete, that uncommon person so then it’s a tough practice to try and get into as an athlete because of the judgments, the thoughts that we may have around here. But once you can do it, it is a superpower it is something that brings an advantage to you over other people. And I promise you, you won’t regret it.
So I’ve probably will before on quite a lot. If you have any questions about stuff around mindfulness meditation, you can find me on my Instagram at Lewis Hatchett. You can also go and find Sport Yogi where there’s loads of content for you as an athlete to get involved in yoga, mindfulness meditation. So head over to @sportyogi on Instagram.
You can download the app today. There are practices to get going for free today, both breathing exercises, both meditations and also yoga practices to help you improve your body, improve that flexibility, mobility and awareness like I was mentioning around the body. So head over to the App Store, both iOS and Android type in Sport Yogi. You’ll find it there.
Sport Yoga dot com. You can find it there as well. Reach out to me if you want to get in touch and let me know if you have started a meditation practice. If you’re being mindful as an athlete, head over to Lewis Hatchet dot com for as much podcast where you can find it, you can get in touch over there.
And again, any of those social channels you can find me as well just let me know if you’ve started it. Some tips, some advice that you may have other athletes that have worked for you and I’d love to share them in the future and also chat to you and see how your experiences are going. But thank you so much for joining me for this episode and I will catch you guys later on.