There has been a lot of interesting research proving that regular performance of techniques based on mindfulness can contribute to accomplishing our sporting goals.
As part of one such study, 46 athletes aged between 18 and 25 from the National Taiwan Sport University were selected. The participants were divided into two equal groups – a group to do a mindfulness training and a control group. The mindfulness group participated in two 30-minute mindfulness sessions per week for 5 weeks. The performance of both groups in fitness and endurance exercises was then examined.
The results of the study showed that:
- the group taking part in mindfulness sessions did much better with the exercises than the control group,
- the group practicing mindfulness showed greater accuracy,
- additionally, it was able to perform them for longer periods of time, which is likely related to the breathing and proper posture exercises introduced in the sessions.
Mindfulness has an impact on sports performance
In another study conducted, 382 young athletes from seven different elite sports schools completed an online survey. The athletes practiced ski jumping, volleyball, handball and hockey, among others, while supporting themselves with daily mindfulness-based exercises.
Survey results showed that mindfulness had a positive impact on sports performance and served as a tool for athletes to combat stress and prevent burnout.
How is it that mindfulness has such a big impact on our mood and energy levels in physical activity?
It has been proven time and again that people who feel good about themselves psychologically, like themselves and are satisfied with the content of their lives, are more active, open to experiences, and willing to interact with others. Such attitude to life, on the other hand, can act as a so-called snowball, when the individual good elements spur the emergence of others.
Regular physical activity is certainly one component of increasing one’s well-being. It turns out that doing this in a mindfulness-based way can further support so-called good living and conscious functioning.
Mindfulness is about becoming aware of the moment
Being mindful is based on intentionally managing our attention in such a way as to allow ourselves to notice what we are dealing with in the present moment. It is about becoming aware of all the sensations that are coming from our body:
- such as tingling on the skin of our back,
- the world of feelings (e.g. the overwhelming emotions of grief, amusement, and others),
- our own thoughts (being aware of what thought is going through our mind at the moment and what effect it has on us, e.g. causing the wave of stress that is overtaking us),
- any other phenomena we are dealing with in the present moment (the feeling of cold, the noises from outside the window, the expression on the face of the person we are talking to, the taste and juiciness of the apple we are eating, etc.).
This kind of “mindfulness” is not likely to happen as a result of deciding that we want to be mindful – acquiring mindfulness competency happens through regular training. It can be classic meditation based on, for example, watching the rhythm of your own breathing while sitting and trying to keep your attention on it. However, for people who have a lot of energy resources and are not fond of stillness, and would like to experience the beneficial power of mindfulness, the solution may be to implement physical exercise into the moments when the person is in motion.
Take your focus for a walk
Following the idea of being here and now, try mindful walking. You can take an intentional walk like this, or you can simply activate your focus while hiking on your way to the post office or work, for example. When walking, try to direct your attention to the way you place your feet. Take an interest in their movement, the smooth work that goes on in them and by which you move.
You can look at your feet and record the pace of your walk. Usually in such moments we lose touch with the “here and now” and are quickly and completely absorbed by the world of our thoughts. We begin to reminisce about what has happened to us recently or think about the difficult challenges ahead.
It is a natural activity of the mind to drift by means of thoughts between various matters that affect us, and what most often attracts our attention at such times are troubles, worries and matters that are not easy for us. Our mind is simply characterized by these settings.
The ability to see problems and solve them is supposed to help us survive, but unfortunately when this function of the mind takes too much control over us, we can feel threatened or worried more often than necessary.
The purpose of mindfulness is to stop such mental chatter around problems and redirect our attention to what we are participating in at the moment.
As a result of regular exercise, our mind becomes accustomed to the new activity and begins to pay more attention to the present experience. However, achieving such state requires training. So continue walking, paying attention to the rhythm of your steps and how your feet and legs are positioned as you step, and when you notice that your mind has become distracted, direct your attention back to your feet and the action of walking.
Do this for a few minutes every day, and after about 4 weeks you will see the first changes in the activity of your mind – it will start to notice what surrounds you with more attention!
Breath in the service of activity and... mindfulness
When we put our body in motion, the breath responds by accelerating. And when we rest after exercise, the breath follows the state of the body and slows down. We can use this natural property as an object to observe while doing sports or other activities that require effort.
The rhythm of our breathing is constantly changing. It is a barometer not only of physical fatigue or rest, but also of the emotions we are experiencing in the moment. Calmness manifests itself through slow and deep breath, whereas a sense of danger through fast and shallow one. For this reason, in all types of meditation – which mindfulness is based on – the breath is an important phenomenon. It can inspire us to remind ourselves to be in the “here and now”.
You can combine your workout with observing your breath and how it responds to the range and intensity of your activity. Such observation has a soothing effect at the same time. Observe how you feel after a workout in which you let your thoughts drift to any area, and how you feel when you are aware of every movement and change in your breath. That difference can be huge!
The more regularly you choose to invite mindfulness into your daily activities, the sooner you will see its beneficial effects on both bodily and mental well-being.