What is meditation?
Meditation is the practice of concentrated relaxation, to bring you into the moment.
How does it work?
Meditation reduces activity of the sympathetic nervous system. Given that the sympathetic nervous system’s primary process is to stimulate the body’s fight or flight response, decreasing its activity slows breathing, heart rate, lowers the blood pressure, and relaxes the muscles. In doing so, it helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the main function of which is to conserve energy, or ‘rest and digest’.
Because of this, meditation has been associated with:
|Focus and concentration||Heart attack and stroke risk|
|Listening skills||Physical pain|
|Creativity and productivity||Risk of burnout|
|Ability to deal with stress||Age related memory loss|
|Body and self-awareness||Anxiety and mood disorders|
Why do athletes use it?
Athletes meditate to:
- Aid recovery
- Prevent illnesses that could hinder training and/or performance
- For enjoyment and relaxation
- Improve sleep
Former pro-rider Shannon Malseed, tells us more. Shannon has competed and won at the highest level, becoming Australian national road champion in 2018. Since retirement she has become a human development coach, so is very well-placed to give more insight:
“Reducing your stress affects your physiology. The biggest benefit for me is clarity of my thoughts. There’s a connection with myself and also the outside world. If you have these problems that feel larger than life, then you can meditate and come out of it knowing it’s not that big of a deal. There’s this knowing that it’s all part of a bigger plan. It’s all serving you in some way and you have that level of trust.”
“I would remain in that state the whole ride and be taken away by what I was actually doing rather than taken away by other stuff going on in my life.”
“Swimmers go into a marshalling room before a race to line up in the order of the lane you’ll be in, and you sit in a chair, and you might be there for ten minutes, it’s such a nervous place to be. I’d do a lot of breath-work then. Dad always used to say to me you can tell who’s nervous as they’ll be fiddling around with their bathers or goggles, or playing with their hands, and you can see who’s focused and in the zone as they’ll be looking at the pool or the blocks or looking down. So I would always try to do that so Dad didn’t notice I was nervous. And it would put me in that state just by virtue of fake it till you make it. I would really focus on belly breathing.”
How can I use it?
There are no hard and fast rules about meditation, and one of the best things about it is that it can be done anywhere. Generally I believe the more I’ve done it, the better I’ve felt. I think the old Zen saying explains it best;
“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day—unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
The image we traditionally think of is someone sitting cross-legged on the floor. This is not possible for everyone, and that’s ok. How you meditate is more important than where and what shape your body is in, but here’s some tips;
- Breath: appreciate the sensation of your breath through your nose, rather than focusing on trying to calm the mind. It is normal for the mind to wander, acknowledge this, and then gently nudge your thoughts back to the breath
- Arms and hands: relax your shoulders and arms, and rest your hands on your thighs
- Legs: you can sit on a chair, or on the ground, either way it’s important to have your knees above your hips and your spine straight. If sitting on a chair, keep your feet flat on the ground and support your back, but not your neck
- Eyes: If you want your experience to be more body-based, close your eyes. If you want to feel more anchored in your environment, keep them open
- Time: it’s not about length, it’s about frequency and quality. Twenty minutes is optimal, but less or more is fine if that works for you
If you need something to focus on, once you have reached complete stillness, focus on each body part, one at a time, from the toes to the nose.
And remember…it gets easier with time.
If you are interested in delving into this topic more, check out Shannon’s website!