Athletes who meditate may have a mental edge over competitors, honing skills that help them focus better, reduce competition anxiety, and get in the right headspace to compete at their highest potential.
If you have considered meditation for athletes before, you may be wondering things like whether or not you should do meditation after workout sessions or beforehand and how to get started.
In this meditation for athletes guide, we will discuss the benefits of sports meditation, teach you how to meditate, and give you tips for meditation to maximize your athletic performance.
We will cover:
- What Is Sports Meditation and How Does It Differ from Other Forms Of Mindfulness Meditation?
- What Are the Benefits of Sports Meditation for Athletes?
- How Can Athletes Get Started With Meditation?
- When Should Athletes Meditate?
- Beginner Sports Meditations for Athletes To Get Started
Let’s dive in!
What Is Sports Meditation and How Does It Differ from Other Forms Of Mindfulness Meditation?
Dr. Saara Haapanen, Ph.D., a Sports Psychologist, describes sports meditation as the practice of mindfulness or “being in the moment” during a sporting event, training, or practice session.
Like all forms of meditation, sports meditation is the practice of being fully present in the moment with curiosity and without judgment, but it is the specific context of sports or working out that differentiates sports meditation from other forms of mindfulness meditation.
What Are the Benefits of Sports Meditation for Athletes?
According to Dr. Haapanen, sports meditation has several benefits for athletes of all sports and training. She says at its core, the primary benefit of sports meditation for athletes is that it allows the athlete to truly take it all in.
“[Sports meditation] has been known to enhance focus, concentration, problem solving, and overall wellbeing in sport.
It can help athletes to cultivate present-moment awareness, optimize their mental state, improve focus and concentration, and can help to manage performance-related anxiety and stress, and can help to foster non-judgemental self-awareness,” explains Dr. Haapanen.
“It is also used as a training technique to help athletes get into the flow state easier.”
Dr. Haapanen adds that meditation for athletes helps dial into how the body is actually feeling.
We often tune out and only “hear” the messages from our bodies when they become significant pain or discomfort, even though there may have been earlier hints of signals of distress that we could have heeded to.
Meditation after workouts or meditating during a workout can help us hear those signals by consciously tuning into the body.
Dr. Amy Saltzman, M.D., board-certified in Integrative Medicine and the author of Still Quiet Place for Athletes: Mindfulness Skills for Achieving Peak Performance and Finding Flow in Sports and in Life, says,
“Mindfulness for athletes is scientifically proven to strengthen mental focus, enhance emotional resilience, refine physical awareness and fine-tune technique, master specific ways of working with distracting or negative thoughts and feelings, decrease the risk of injury and speed rehab, increase the ability to persevere during periods of challenge, plateau, set-back, and injury, and find flow!”
Although certain training techniques and auxiliary sports performance tactics (such as particular “elite” or premium recovery modalities like frequent massages or red light therapy) seem primarily reserved for competitive athletes, sports meditation for athletes can benefit those participating in any sport at any level.
In fact, according to Dr. Haapanen, “Sports meditation may even increase interest in the sport or activity for those who are practicing, as it allows them to be fully present in the experience.”
How Can Athletes Get Started With Meditation?
Athletes of all levels often struggle with how to get started with sports meditation, particularly if they do not have the luxury of having a sports psychologist or mental training sports performance coach on the ready like some elite and professional athletes.
Our experts shared some tips for how to get started with sports meditation for recreational runners and other athletes:
Ditch the all-or-nothing thinking and start small. Dr. Haapanen says that you do not have to dive into some rigorous “meditating for athletes plan.”
Start small and consider meditating before a workout, during exercise, or post-workout meditation.
“Get curious about your experience. You can ask yourself to start reflecting on internal feelings and emotions during the experience,” advises Dr. Haapanen. “There are no perfect questions; just get curious about your experience with NO judgment!”
She provided a few example questions to ponder during your beginner sports meditation for athletes sessions:
- How does my body feel?
- Where can I feel tension in my body?
- Do I enjoy this?
- How am I breathing?
- Can I feel my muscles contracting?
When Should Athletes Meditate?
Athletes looking into sports meditation for beginners often get caught up in details like “When is the best time to do sports meditation—before or after a workout?”
However, there is no right or wrong answer to this question.
Dr. Haapanen says that choosing a time that you find most enjoyable and beneficial is what matters, and these “answers“ will depend on the athlete, the situation, the sport, the level of competition, etc.
“The great thing about meditation is that there is no right or wrong way to do it, and the more you practice it, the easier it becomes,” suggests Dr. Haapanen.
That said, she provided a few specific benefits of meditating after a workout or training session.
“It is a great way to reflect on how the workout, training, or competition session went and how it felt on the body.
This is a vital step that people often skip, as they are not super aware of what their bodies and minds are telling them, so they don’t really know how to listen to their bodies,” explains Dr. Haapanen.
“Meditation and mindfulness are a great way to hone in on that skill.”
Beginner Sports Meditations for Athletes to Get Started
Our sports psychologists walked us through a few beginner sports meditations and strategies for athletes who meditate:
#1: Positive Visualization
Dr. Haapanen recommends visualizing how you want your workout, race, or competition to go.
Ask yourself questions like, “What can you control? What does success look like? What do you want to do? How do you want to perform?”
Focus on what optimal performance would look like and feel like.
#2: Try a Body Scan
Dr. Haapanen says body scans are a great way to release pre-game or pre-competition stress. She walked us through how to do a body scan meditation for sports:
- First, move your intention inwards.
- Start at the top of your head and move down your body on each body part and how it feels: Is it holding tension?
- Then, consciously breathe a few intentional deep breaths into any areas that are feeling tight or holding tension. She suggests holding your hand on the area you feel tension to help bring your mind to control the release.
#3: Use a Pre-Workout Meditation to Check In
Dr. Saltzman also shared another pre-workout meditation for athletes that involves bringing awareness to your body, breath, mind, and heart before you begin your workout.
Here is what she suggests:
- Take one minute to simply feel the rhythm of your breath in your belly—the expansion of the inhale, then the stillness that follows, and then the release of the exhale and the stillness that follows.
- With your body, ask yourself: “How am I feeling today—energetic, fatigued, well-nourished, well-hydrated, depleted, stiff, supple? Are these aches and pains consistent with usual training or signs of a more serious injury? Is today a day to take it a bit easier? Or go for a PR?”
- Next, notice your thinking. Are you thinking, “I am stoked to challenge myself,” or “I really don’t have it today?”
- She encourages you to hold your thoughts lightly rather than as immutable facts.
- Finally, tune into your heart. Ask yourself: “How am I feeling emotionally—enthusiastic, mildly stressed, or perhaps something more significant that is worthy of attending to after my workout?”
Dr. Saltzman says, “The more you learn to tune into your experience, the more data you will have to choose your behavior and to adapt within a given workout, marathon, or training cycle.”
Remember, if you are feeling intimidated by how to get started with sports meditation for beginners, call upon Dr. Haapanen’s advice that it doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” aspect of training.
As she advises her clients who are athletes, “Aim for mini mindfulness moments when you are first getting started—a few breaths or 60 seconds is a great place to start.”
For some instruction on deep diaphragmic breathing, check out our guide here.