meditation a vital tool for athletes

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  • Self-mastery

  • Recognition of arousal levels

  • Refocus

  • Removal of negativity

  • Visualization

  • Attain suitable mood states

  • Reduction of anxiety

  • Positive energy levels

  • Inner stillness

  • Quieting the central nervous system

  • Increased oxygen uptake

The benefits of meditation in regards to elite athletes performance can be utilized throughout different stages of their development.  This encompasses elite athletes pre-event, competition, post-event, and rehabilitation cycles.  Elite athletes must be able to perform skills without an excessive thought process, via muscle memory and exclude any surrounding factors that may disrupt their focus from the job at hand (Ungerleider, 2005).  Although performance nutrition, skill development, strength, and conditioning all play a significant role in elite athletes development, meditation is also a vital element for elite athletes.

Meditation is a form of relaxation, a mental technique that uses the mind to quiet the physical aspects of the body.  It allows an athlete to be passively relaxed yet positively focused on their athletic performance (Ungerleider, 2005).  Meditation in athletic performance incorporates visualization techniques, which is a mental rehearsal of the physical actions of which an athlete will perform in perfection (Ungerleider, 2005).   Meditation techniques have been encompassed in the mental training of elite athletes to assist with their psychological states (Behncke, 2004).   Meditation during training pre-event, allows the athlete to prepare for an event in a relaxed passive mode, during this phase of meditation the athlete learns to recognize their levels of arousal and acquire the skill of reversing the arousal process (Ungerleider, 2005).    This allows the athlete to control mental and emotional elements assisting task performance as well as creating a psychological foundation for confidence and well-being (Tod, R Thatcher, McGuigan, J Thatcher 2009).  When the athlete feels as though they possess a degree of self-mastery with psycho-somatic function, this, in turn, serves to motivate continued effects in attempting to increase performance (Behncke, 2004). 

Aspects of arousal for the athlete usually consist of negative thought patterns and emotions, it is essential for an athlete to learn how to refocus and remove negativity from the mind and concentrate on the performance (Gabbett, Carius, Muvley 2008).  Visualization techniques are also used during this phase of meditation known as mindfulness meditation (Ungerleider, 2005) which allows the athlete to re-create the kinesthetic awareness of the movements required to perform a particular skill or movement in paragon.  Visualizations assist with confidence building, focus attention, enhance technique, reduce interfering thoughts, and attain suitable mood states (Tod, R Thatcher, McGuigan, J Thatcher 2009).

Incorporating the techniques used in meditation for pre-event training during the actual competition phase, allows the athlete to have inner stillness despite the external motion which surrounds an event such as extraneous noise and sights, allowing the athlete to concentrate on their performance and remove distracting thoughts of fear and uncertainty, thus reducing the anxiety and producing positive energy (Ungerleider, 2005).  Confidence levels are then enhanced under the stress of competition (Catina, 2009).    The skill of removal of negativity plays an essential role during this phase as it allows the athlete to disengage from a bad experience during the competition and re-compose themselves quickly and efficiently (Gabbett, Carius, Mulvey, 2008).  This procedure is performed by an athlete sending signals from the mind through the neural pathways to the muscles and organs, reminding them to stay cool and calm (Gabbett, Carius, Mulvey, 2008).  Practiced mental rehearsal in this stage of competition mental skill development is a paradox, the athlete must be able to react instinctively with flawless execution of combined skills (Behncke 2004).

An athlete requires transcendental meditation post-event (Ungerleider, 2005), this enables that athletes to overcome the physical exhaustion and mental stress of the event, by being in the relaxed state this practice is also known as quieting the central nervous system (Behncke 2004).  The effects of physical exhaustion and mental stress after an event can easily lead to adrenal fatigue (Shepard, 2001).   This is caused by overstimulation of the adrenal glands, which does not allow the body to meet its needs for recovery.  The athlete can then suffer from excessive fatigue, prolonged recovery from training, low stamina, low immune function, slow recovery from injury, poor digestion, sleep disturbances and the feeling of being overwhelmed (Acevedo, Ekkekakis, 2001).   If an athlete suffers from any of the above conditions, there will have adverse effects on athletes condition, training, and performance.  It is vital for an elite athlete to have total recovery from an event especially when the athlete in season, so they can maximize the advantages of in-season training and preparation for the next event or competition (Lakier Smith, 2000).  

Meditation also plays a role in rehabilitation from injury, by creating a neutral pattern in the brain, a pattern which is identical to the network created by the actual physical performance of the movements in their chosen sport without placing any physical stress on to the body (Vetter, Matthew, Symonds 2010).  The breathing techniques used in meditation play a vital role in rehabilitation as the increased oxygen uptake helps stimulate blood flow to the injured areas. During this time phase, an athlete will also convey positive repetitive healing affirmations to themselves, to assist with the healing process (Peng, Mietus, Liu, Khalsa, Douglas, Benson, Goldberger 1999). 

Meditation is a vital tool for elite athletes and has been transferred to the sport because of its holistic emphasis in integrating psychophysical function.  Meditation assists athletes by focusing on particular aspects of physical sensation and being aware of the correlations between physiological functions and physiological activity.  Meditation is a way for the athletes to identify what is happening within self and intervene before undertaking the action, thereby,  averting possible reduced performance.   Meditation is a fundamental principle of self-awareness for athletes that allow the athlete to reduce anxiety, the achievement of critical levels of arousal, and the appropriate attention processes.  Without this ability, any application of the cognitive-somatic technique to increase performance will be limited.

References:

Peng, C. K., Mietus, J. E., Liu, Y., Khalsa, G., Douglas, P. S., Benson, H., & Goldberger, A. L. (1999). Exaggerated heart rate oscillations during two meditation techniques. International journal of cardiology70(2), 101-107.

Vetter, R. E., & Symonds, M. L. (2010). Correlations between injury, training intensity, and physical and mental exhaustion among college athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research24(3), 587-596.

Smith, Lucille Lakier. "Cytokine hypothesis of overtraining: a physiological adaptation to excessive stress?." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 32.2 (2000): 317.

Acevedo, E. O., & Ekkekakis, P. (2001). The transactional psychobiological nature of cognitive appraisal during exercise in environmentally stressful conditions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise2(1), 47-67.

Behncke, Luke. "Mental skills training for sports: A brief review." Online J Sport Psychol 6.1 (2004).

Ungerleider, Steven. Mental training for peak performance: Top athletes reveal the mind exercises they use to excel. Rodale, 2005.

Gabbett, Tim J., Josh Carius, and Mike Mulvey. "Does improved decision-making ability reduce the physiological demands of game-based activities in field sport athletes?." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 22.6 (2008): 2027-2035.

Tod, D. A., Thatcher, R., McGuigan, M., & Thatcher, J. (2009). Effects of instructional and motivational self-talk on the vertical jump. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research23(1), 196-202.