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Meditation and Athletic Performance – Upping Your Mental Game

Ask any athlete and they’ll tell you — when it comes to real improvement it’s as much about physical performance as it is about mental performance.  As we continue to evolve our view on optimal sports performance the need to focus on mental health has become increasingly more obvious. But the question remains, can we train our brain the same way we train our body?  Read on to learn about the health benefits of a regular meditation practice paired with physical exercise.  

Meditation and Athletic Performance – What’s the Link?

We’ve moved way beyond the old paradigm of daily exercise alone as a standard routine for athletes.  Through years of biometric and sports performance research we’ve been able to consistently improve how to make athletes, better, faster, stronger, and recovery more quickly… no easy feat!  It’s only now that we’re slowly starting to see the positive effects of a consistent meditation practice on athletic performance in diverse clinical research studies.

 how to focus better, sports performance, sports meditation

Pain and Sports Injuries – Can we change the way we feel pain?

Injuries or “painful interruptions” can be a major cause of delay in any training program.  Injuries resulting from athletic activities (i.e., sports such as football) or the normal activities of life can impede range of motion as well as the ability to bear weight on affected joints. Aging adults are also more apt to develop arthritis in formerly injured joints—and a work-out at the local fitness center can get shortened or halted due to pain in a hip or knee.

Appropriate rest to recover from an injury is paramount, but the speed at which we recover can make or break our ability to get “back in the ring”.  To help speed the process — and engage in recovery treatments — is it possible to change the way we feel pain?  The answer is yes. A study published in Neuroscience Letters revealed that the brain’s transmission of pain signals is lessened through a regimen of meditation and mindfulness (1). This study also found that meditation can positively affect the neural signals that determine pain sensation in the following brain-controlled processes (2):

  • Sensory processes
  • Cognitive processes
  • Affective processes

Similar findings were also found in a study of research participants with arthritis published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine (3). These researchers documented that a gentle exercise routine (e.g., Tai Chi or yoga) decreased arthritic symptoms and increased cardiac function in the participants. Furthermore, the authors of a research article published in 2017 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience concluded that a three-month combined practice of yoga and meditation produced lowered inflammatory biomarkers (and arthritis is the result of inflammation in afflicted joints) (4).


Psychosocial States and Inflammation – The Impact of Meditation

Most athletes frequently deal with varying levels of stress and trauma – both physical and emotional. Improving mental toughness means being able to learn, adapt, and emotionally regulate past emotional events. It is widely recognized that emotional stress can be relieved by meditation—and also by aerobic exercise. Since stress is also associated with increased inflammation (as found in Rheumatoid Arthritis, as well as inflammatory bowel disorders such as Crohn’s Disease), the relief of stress can also relieve the symptoms of these disorders.

The previously-mentioned article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience — as well as numerous other medical research articles — suggests the link between stress and reactive inflammation. Not only can embarking on a combined meditation and fitness regimen improve the overall quality of life for people who suffer from inflammatory disorders, it can also relieve symptoms of depression and improve energy.

how to focus better, sports performance, sports meditation


Improving Focus and Concentration in Athletics – How Meditation Helps

Recognizing where to run to intercept the ball and reacting quickly is vital in volleyball, baseball, football, and soccer. That attention and concentration can be improved by physical fitness (achieved through an aerobic and weight-bearing exercise routine), and also through practicing meditation on a regular basis. The following are areas where positive cognitive changes were produced by meditation, as related to increased attention/concentration (per an article in Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports) (5):

  • Brain function capacity
  • Neural activity
  • Circulatory blood flow

Altering our neural connectivity for the ability to access information quickly as an athlete is crucial. The formation of new neurons through meditation in the brain’s hippocampus region—which is linked to concentration and memory—was shown in study findings published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (6).

This study tracked participants who performed exercise on a treadmill and a meditation practice, which suggested that participants’ increased blood flow and neural activity were the contributory mechanism leading to increased attention and concentration ability.

how to focus better, sports performance, sports meditation
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Upping Your Mental Game – Learn How To Control Your Focus

Life and sport are filled with chaos and distraction.  It’s not breaking news that a combined regimen of mental and physical exercise is the best way to boost mood, improve sleep quality, improve brain functioning, and boost overall health and well-being. For athletes, this is essential for their ability to execute as a top-performing player!

Meditation alone can be an amazing addition to any training program but if you’re looking for a way to start improving your mental focus now for better focus and concentration welcome to The Lowdown Focus with the Smith Focus App.  Specifically designed to help you develop a heightened sense of self-awareness and train your cognitive performance, the integrated brain-sensing technology provides real-time feedback on your brain’s activity level so you can learn how to control your focus.



  1. Zeidan F, Grant JA, Brown CA, et al. (2012). Mindfulness meditation-related pain relief: Evidence for unique brain mechanisms in the regulation of pain. Neuroscience Letters 520(2): 165-173. Webpage:
  2. Zeidan F, Grant JA, Brown CA, et al. (2012). Mindfulness meditation-related pain relief: Evidence for unique brain mechanisms in the regulation of pain. Neuroscience Letters 520(2): 165-173. Webpage:
  3. Prusak K, Prusak K, and Mahoney J. (2014). An integrated mind–body approach to arthritis: A pilot study. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine 4(2): 99-107. Webpage:
  4. Cahn BR, Goodman MS, Peterson CT, et al. (2017). Yoga, meditation and mind-body health: Increased BDNF, cortisol awakening response, and altered inflammatory marker expression after a 3-month yoga and meditation retreat. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 11:315. Webpage:
  5. Acevedo BP, Pospos S, and Lavretsky H. (2016). The neural mechanisms of meditative practices: Novel approaches for healthy aging. Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports 3(4): 328-339. Webpage:
  6. Shors TJ, Olson RL, Bates ME, et al. (2014). Mental and physical (MAP) training: A neurogenesis-inspired intervention that enhances health in humans. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 115:3-9. Webpage:
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