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Meditation and its Impact on Athletic Performance

Novak Djokovic and meditation
Novak Djokovic practices meditation for 15 minutes a day

With the Olympics fully in swing there are many stories circulating not only about the physical training that athletes endure but also how mental conditioning plays a key role in performance. Sports psychologists have long argued about the ratio of physical vs mental in competition but there is no disagreement over whether the mental side of the equation is critical to success. Our lives are constantly put on hold with worries and stress; they take us out of the present. Arguably, one of the most stressful jobs is that of an athlete where, in many cases, you get only one shot to succeed. Meditation, just like weight training, for example, make up the toolbox of preparation that an athlete needs in order to prepare for the big event. Meditation allows athletes to strengthen their drive, focus on present task at hand and drop all distractions that may interfere with winning. Novak Djokovic, both an Olympian and possibly the greatest tennis player of all time, claims in his book Serve to Win that he practices mindfulness meditation for 15 minutes every day. Gold medal winning figure skater Javier Fernandez credits Muse for helping him build an ongoing meditation practice.

Olympic cyclist and world record holder Sky Christopherson, believes in the power of technology and data to help the athletes he coaches gain the upper edge. As part of that training he also recommends Muse to tackle the mental aspect of a training schedule. 

Ultimately, it is the mind that controls how the physical body behaves and is a powerful indication of what the body is capable of. Take the work of sports psychologist, Michael Gervais, a doctor who advises high-performance athletes around the world and tries to find the roots of their anxieties while aiding them in overcoming it. Meditation can yield similar results by mitigating anxiety-like symptoms. Meditation can even aid in the reduction of how chronic pain affects the mind as well as lower stress levels and help control oxygen. All of which will aid any athletic endeavor.

Meditation coach, George Mumford
Meditation coach, George Mumford

So how do prolific athletes become frequent meditators? One answer is George Mumford, the author of the Mindful Athlete. Mumford is a meditation coach or, as the the NBA’s New York Knicks call him, a “personal and organizational development consultant”. His rise to prominence stems from his work with legendary basketball coach, Phil Jackson for both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. A recovered addict, now 30+ years clean, Mumford learned about mindfulness from his studies with the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Now, Mumford consults with different NBA teams to offer “the opportunity to be in the moment”. This aligns perfectly with Phil Jackson’s moniker of “Zen Master”. Mumford’s approach involves being present within the game, accepting all external stimuli rather than ignoring it. This is what Mumford, and athletes of all pedigrees, would call being “in the zone”. He teaches several different concepts, including one he calls “one breath, one mind,” meaning he gets everyone in the room “to breathe together to become one” team.

Two of Mumford’s greatest disciples were Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. When Mumford met Michael, he was sure Jordan suffered from some sort of mental disorder. His manic behaviour on court couldn’t have been natural and Mumford didn’t believe it was sustainable. However, he was blown away when he learned that this was simply how Michael was. “Michael did have to find something to motivate himself into that state” Mumford tells Vice Sports, “You have to be in the moment. You can’t worry about what just happened, the basket you missed, the foul you made two minutes ago, because it’s over. You can’t worry about what’s gonna happen the next time down the floor. You have to be right there in the moment”. But Mumford attests that Michael believes, “that Zen Buddhist stuff really works”. Kobe Bryant has a well documented history with meditation. He also learned from Mumford and continued to meditate years later, although he was skeptical at first. “Just coach” were the words a young Kobe Bryant uttered when introduced to the exercise. He now makes life decisions based on how he feels after meditation. Kobe decided it would be time to retire when he no longer found his mind drifting towards the game while meditating. Even after retirement, Kobe can be seen meditating with monks on Instagram.

Even if one’s skepticism is a deterrent against meditation, its hard to ignore the impact its had on athelete’s lives and its popularity amongst everyone who isn’t a professional athlete. Meditation becomes easier once the results are realized. The routine established by George Mumford and practiced by high-caliber athletes is a living testament to what the mind can accomplish. Whether you want to shake off the negative distractions of everyday life or break a new world record, practicing meditation is a choice you can make today.

Kobe Bryant taking time to practise meditation

Learn more about how Muse benefits athletes like Canadian soccer star Stephanie Labbé, skating gold medal champion Javier Fernandez, Olympian world record holding cyclist Sky Christopherson, professional golfer Andrew Parr, and 2014 World Junior figure skating champion Nam Nguyen.

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