Volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings, basketball star Kobe Bryant and Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington all have one thing in common — beyond dominating their respective sports. They make training their brains a priority, just like their bodies. And their go-to methods: meditation and visualization.
By now you’ve probably read 10 times over about the stress-relieving, productivity-boosting benefits of meditation. Well, those same advantages trickle into athletic performance. Research shows that mindfulness and relaxation training helps power athletes through tough intervals and reduces anxiety while doing so.
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“Mindfulness is the ability to remain focused and engaged in the present moment, activity, task or communication without being distracted by the extraneous noise of unrelated thoughts or other stimuli,” says Danielle Mika Nagel, Lululemon’s director of mindful performance. (Yes, coolest title ever.) “Many athletes have labeled this thought process as being ‘in the zone’ — meaning they can’t miss a shot, don’t hear the crowd or get distracted by anything outside that moment.” That also means these hyper-focused athletes can work at higher intensities, without letting the emotional and physical stress hold them back from reaching their goals.
Keep in mind, though, that you don’t need a crowd watching you crush a workout or a million-dollar contract to make fitness gains via meditations. By incorporating a daily mindfulness practice into your regular routine, you might also see your runs improve, your yoga practice flourish or even hit some lifting PRs.
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How Regular Meditations Can Enhance Your Workouts
Nagel has led athletes, yogis and even business people through simple meditations to help them find more success. And she often uses specific visualizations for various activities. To launch your own journey to fitness-improving zen, Nagel suggests starting with just five minutes a day.
“Find an activity that you already do, and attach the practice of meditation to that activity,” she says. For example, “right after your run or right after you wake up, before you drink your first cup of coffee or check your phone.” If you want to find peace post-workout, allow your heart rate to come back to normal before you start meditating, Nagel suggests. Giving yourself a few minutes to stretch prior to a mental practice will do the job.
Another time meditation can come in handy? When you’re experiencing those pre-race jitters. “If you find yourself anxious before a race, or anytime you need to settle yourself, you can incorporate the practice at that very moment,” Nagel says. “It is important to establish a foundation, though, so you don’t turn into a crisis meditator. Simply put: The more you meditate, the lower levels of stress you will experience.”
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Meditations to Improve Your Walking, Running and Strength Training
Get Outside to Walk It Out
Prefer strolling for your cardio? Take this meditation with you to the road or the trails. It helps you focus on the present rather than trying to make it to a finish line. You just might find you don’t want to stop stepping.
Run Into a Positive Mindset
Add this 10-minute meditation to your typical training schedule. As Nagel says in this series, meditation teaches you to focus on one tough task at a time, while bringing your attention to your breath — rather than any fatigue you’re feeling in your muscles. By listening, you’ll also gain visualization tools to help you feel powerful on the pavement.
Find Your Strength, Physically and Mentally
Getting strong isn’t only about lifting heavy weights (though that’s impressive, too). Let Nagel guide you toward mindful aptitude via powerful mantras so you can tackle any emotional obstacle with ease. Then take those newfound mental reinforcements to the gym, so you come out of your sweat session stronger than ever.
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