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The Mindful Athlete…Where Do I Start?

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Mindfulness is easy: Stop. Breathe. Think about your thinking.

In the world of elite sport, athletes are always looking for that special something that can help them gain a winning edge over their opponents and cope with extreme pressure.

Mindfulness and meditation techniques have been around for centuries, but increasingly some of Australia’s high-profile athletes are using the tools to help them deal with life on and off the playing field.

What is it?

Mindfulness teaches us to manipulate our own mind instead of letting it manipulate us.

It is the opposite of being absent minded. It is paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment. Mindfulness also involves ignoring intruding thoughts and feelings which sometimes come to us when we are trying to concentrate on the task at hand. However instead of wasting energy using tools to get rid of unwanted thoughts, mindfulness teaches that more energy could be invested in concentrating on the game.

The application of mindfulness to athletic performance has suggested that practicing mindful exercises in addition to physical training resulted in improved mental and physical performance.

BASIC: A Place to Start

This is an easy to remember mindfulness exercise designed to facilitate increased attention during physical performance. This can enable you to become more self-aware, as opposed to ‘checking out’.

Body

Pause to notice the position of your body in space. Observe the movements of your shoulders, arms, hands, legs and feed. Notice any areas of tension or relaxation. Simply pause to connect with your body and notice what it’s doing with an open-minded, curious attitude.

Arousal Level

Notice how energised you feel as you engage in the physical activity. Does your level of energy change based on the intensity of the activity or your mood? Observe your level of physical arousal without judgment… notice if you feel invigorated, tranquil, nervous, or bored. Try not to label your state of arousal as good or bad, simply notice how you’re feeling in a concentrating and open manner.

Self-Talk

What messages are you telling yourself as you perform the activity? For instance, do you notice thoughts such as ‘I can’t do this,’ or ‘feeling good’? We all experience mental chatter that can be motivating, discouraging, or neutral. The idea is to increase self-awareness of the mental chatter and notice how it impacts your performance. When you begin to notice common themes, such as self-defeating thoughts followed by physical exhaustion, you can choose whether or not you’d like to replace that demotivating self-talk with positive affirmations.

Imagery

What images tend to go through your mind when engaged in physical activity? Notice the images or scenes passing through your mind. Do the images seem relevant to the physical activity in a way that is motivating and inspiring? Try consciously focusing on visual scenes in your mind that bring your awareness toward successful outcomes. Picture yourself doing it.

Concentration

Notice the quality of your concentration and focus. Does it seem to be narrow, focused, and highly attuned to details? Observe the process of consciously shifting your concentration back and forth between detail-oriented and broad. How does your performance change at different times during the physical activity when you choose to focus on the details vs. the big picture? The idea is not to label either type of concentration as inherently good or bad, but to notice what type of focus is most effective for you at different moments.

If you believe you could benefit from increasing self-awareness of your bodily state and performance, give the mindfulness exercise B-A-S-I-C a try. As with any new behavior, remember that it takes practice for this mindfulness exercise to become second nature… a habit.

Check out our social media for more posts like this. If things ever get too much and you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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