Cross-country athletes and Olympic weight lifters are only a select group of individuals who understand that though the demands from their activities can be physically hard, the mental part can be even harder. So why only train the body? You need to train the mind too.

High levels of stress can disable your ability to maintain focus and make concise decisions. However, stress can be helpful when used correctly; for example, a kicker in football uses 90 percent of his skills on the mental aspect of the game, and when pushed to the limit, the athlete needs to trust himself—there is no time for trying something new or tinkering with the mechanics of the craft. Working out your mind through meditation will allow you to maintain a mindset that isn’t overcome by stress, allowing you to trust yourself.

What are athletes affected by due to the extreme demands of their craft? They’re subject to anxiety, depression, stress, inability to maintain focus, sleep difficulties, life balance, and confidence. Just as the list goes on so does the game. Medications only mask the problem, and are often times illegal for athletes to use during competition, so finding the right way to meditate will allow you to tackle these challenges directly.

Stress reduction is critical for optimal performance; it doesn’t take a study to tell you that being under stress reduces athletic performance. According to the Journal of Health Psychology, meditation reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which greatly diminishes your abilities when competing at a high level, or even writing a crucial exam. By consistently practicing meditation, your body will learn how to relax in stressful situations, building self-confidence and ultimately achieving a more positive mindset.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health found that those who practice meditation experience few acute respiratory infections, as well as shorted duration and severity of symptoms from the common cold. Therefore, meditation aids in improving the quality and length of sleep, and the immune system. This is good news, obviously, because athletes who aren’t able to get enough sleep will experience a number of negative effects, including: weight gain, mood disturbance, increased anxiety, and inability to maintain focus. This doesn’t mean go ahead and sleep all day, because everyone has slept in until 10:30 a.m. for the 11 a.m. class and experienced these symptoms. If you meditate to control your sleep patterns, you’ll experience its greater effects.

One of the greater effects of meditation is its ability to enhance endurance. Practicing meditation that utilizes visualizations will enhance endurance performance. Visualizing your accomplishments combined with regular practice of breathing exercises can train the body to work harder and for longer periods of time.

The most important effects of meditation is the improved sense of identity, self, and body. For an athlete who may have experienced injury, rejection, or is making a difficult transition in their life, meditation will help. The practice of meditation is a journey similar to any athletic pursuit, and it can offer that small percentage needed to make you a better and happier athlete.

You can find meditation inside the athletic facilities with the Mindfulness Meditation class, or download the app Head Space; it’s what some top Varsity Blues athletes are saying is the most important app on their phone.

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