Mindfulness is beyond a buzzword now. Courses in the practice have sprung up all over the world. Books extolling its virtues fill shelves in bookshops everywhere. And forward-thinking employers are preaching it to their staff.
But what is mindfulness and can it advance your fitness training?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation. Buddhists embrace each moment as it comes, accept each experience as it presents itself, and process all their thoughts without making judgements.
All this sound very passive to the active fitness fanatic. How could such a mindset help them reach long-term goals? Deal with setbacks and injuries? Or embrace feelings of achievement and cope with disappointment along the way?
In fact, mindfulness is not at odds with fitness, many physical disciplines have always incorporated it.
Mindfulness and fitness
Mindfulness and physical activity have long been bedfellows. Yoga and the many martial arts disciplines all combine mental focus with physical practice.
The uptake of Yoga in particular by top-end sportsfolk like Andy Murray and the New Zealand All Blacks has doubtlessly raised their games – not only because their bodies are suppler, their minds are more open too.
This simple statement sums up the mental attitude Yoga encourages:
“Don’t look back in anger, or forward in fear, but around with awareness”
In short, be alert and be in the moment.
Meditation improves physical performance
Sustained mindfulness comes from regular meditation. There are numerous ways to meditate and it is something that doesn’t come readily to most. Sitting watching a candle flame, lying down and counting your breath, watching your hands as you wash them and walking without tech in the countryside are all accessible meditative practices.
Devoting five to ten minutes initially each day to one of the above will clear, calm and focus the mind.
As a result, general mental agility improves which enhances the physical reflexes and the mental focus required to perform well in sport.
Mindfulness improves experiential acceptance
Committing to a fitness program or sporting goal is as much a matter of the mind as the body whereby self-determination and self-motivation are the key factors that dictate whether you fly or fall. Performance in sports is linked to how the athlete feels about their achievements and those with a more positive mindset enjoy the competitive edge.
The aspect of mindfulness to which this links is experiential acceptance. This is when the individual simply accepts their positive and negative thoughts and feelings about the task in hand. As a result, the thoughts and feelings pass through their mind while it remains keenly focused on the game or goal.
Numerous studies report the ability of an athlete to do this makes them more accurate, faster and enduring.
Mindfulness trains the brain to focus
Practising mindfulness and meditation trains the brain to focus on very specific things, as it does so the brain is able to block and dismiss other thoughts, feelings and sensations.
Those sportspeople who practice mindfulness exhibit more alertness in a game situation and more durability in repetitive sports and training like long-distance running.
Another common description for being mindful during sports and exercise is ‘being in the zone’ i.e. those periods in a game where pure focus creates real flow and hyperawareness of all the information the brain needs to process for excellent play. In Yoga it would be called superconciousness, but whatever label you give it, getting there requires mindfulness.
Give mindfulness a go today. Add five minutes of mediation to your day and as you go through it observe, but don’t engage with the thoughts and feelings you experience as you perform your everyday tasks. Keep going while you train.
Commit to it for at least month and observe positive changes. Sign up to mindfulness for the long-term and enjoy infinite improvements.