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If you have been an athlete for any length of time, you probably understand the importance of the mind-body connection.
Have you had those moments in the gym where everything drops away, you have complete presence in what you are doing and things just flow? THAT is a connected mind and body. On the flip side, have you walked into the gym only to have your mind going a million miles an hour, you feel scattered, unorganized and the workout session feels at best mediocre? You leave the gym questioning the very reasons why you do what you do.
Regular meditation practice ideally should help you spend more time closer to the flow state and less time on the “WTF am I doing?!” end of the spectrum. In other words, meditation is an important part of weightlifting because, among other benefits, it increases focus and decreases anxiety which improves your mental game. It even helps with recovery.
Athletes can probably easily see the benefits of enhancing those attributes, but many don’t know where to start or even how to do it. I promise you that learning to meditate is not as intimidating as you may think.
What it is: sitdown, stay quiet, focus on your breath. (It is that simple but not always that easy and like anything it gets much better with practice.)
What it is not: Trying not to think thoughts or empty your mind.
NOT thinking is impossible; meditation is more about not grabbing on and obsessing. It is working on being passively aware of (observing if you will) all the things that pop in and out of your brain, but not being attached to any of it. It is bringing your attention back to your breath again and again and again. THAT is the practice.
Admittedly, even though I know the benefits, I am not a meditation practitioner who sits for 30 minutes a day with any regularity. While I do enjoy having some longer meditation sessions, I love finding small moments to meditate throughout the day and tools to make it as easy as possible.
Here are three easy ways I bring this into my weightlifting or into my day.
1. Have deliberate time before and after a workout session. I run a women’s barbell club. Every session we start and end with 2 minutes of relaxed breathing. We start our sessions this way so that the women have a chance to decompress before lifting. I ask them to let go of what ever the world laid on them today, to ground themselves, to get back to the present moment. Sometimes I even take them through a mental scan of their bodies to bring greater awareness to how things feel today. This allows them to ready themselves for learning and working in the upcoming session.
At the end of the session, we pause for another two minutes of breathing. This moment allows them the opportunity to calm themselves after a training session so they can walk out the door and back into the world in a more relaxed state. Additionally, and perhaps the most important part of these moments is the focus on gratitude. Gratitude can always be found even if the training didn’t go well. It is powerful to acknowledge our strong, healthy bodies that allow us to do what we want to do and the fact that we have another day of life.
2. You only need a minute. Martin Boroson offers a mediation practice that lends its self very well to weightlifting. He is the author of the book One-Moment Meditation and has an accompanying app to guide you through one minute of meditation. (You can also just use the timer on your phone) The idea and practice that Boroson advocates is that even only one minute of meditation can allow you to be less stressed, more focused and calmer. A minute is easy for someone to try, where five to ten minutes might feel impossible. It is a great starting point. A minute is easy to fit in between sets after you mix your protein shake or in between lift attempts at a competition. With a little bit of practice, a minute becomes enough time to reset focus, reduce anxiety and stop or settle down some of the noises in your head.
3. Movement as meditation. Weightlifting to me is meditation in motion. Both the lifts themselves as well as visualization (picturing the perfect movement flowing through your mind) force you to the present moment. You have to be present and focused, feeling your feet push against the floor, the strength in your back, the pull of the bar into the hips, the powerful extension and the landing of your bar in your hands. Your breath, your muscles, your brain all coming together to do something amazing. It can be calming, centering and euphoric. Visualization can help with muscle memory, so in a sense it is a way of practicing as well. The practice here is bringing awareness to the body throughout the lift. Not in an obsessive-overthinking way, but in an awareness without attachment kind of way.
When starting a meditation practice, I typically recommend people find someone to help guide them but don’t let that be a barrier for you. The steps above will ground you in the basic practice. There are so many directions to go from there. Meditation gets better with practice. You will have times where the time flies and you have peace and other times where you get lost in thousands of thoughts. It’s all ok. The short duration mediations and the before and after sessions can help improve the mental game of weightlifting so try it out for a month or so and see what you notice.
Live one meditative day, well with such freedom, strength, and wisdom rather than a hundred years of laziness and bondage. – The Dhammapada
- Check out more from Kara at ZenBarbell.com
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- Learn more about mindset as we talk training with Mark Divine of SEALFIT