Have you ever reached a plateau in your workouts, or not been able to “dig deep” as your coach instructed, even though you knew there was more fuel inside you? Meditation can help you make the most of your workout because it engages the mental and spiritual along with the physical. Any workout is more than physical, yet that’s so often what we focus on. You don’t need to be a yogi to achieve better results from your workout. Meditation can happen at any time, including during your workout.
Consider “pranayama”, or breath control, a common aspect in both meditation and yoga. Pranayama has countless benefits, and one of them is as a meditation tool. Most people need some form of light distraction during meditation, and concentrating on your breath can be a great option. Of course, breath control is also a critical part of any workout. It’s well-known that most people are shallow breathers. We rarely fill our lungs, instead choosing to take shallow, little breaths.
Pranayama can stretch the lungs and teach you to make the most of the oxygen you consume. It’s a beneficial part of meditation while seated and focusing only on meditation, but also during your workout. Lifters know that when and how you breathe makes a big difference in performance. It’s also paramount for boxers, tennis players, and a number of other athletes. However, you can incorporate it into absolutely any exercise. The higher quality your breath, the more oxygen you’re feeding your muscles and the faster you can recover. Exhaling at certain points, and during certain activities, can also make you stronger (which is why boxers exhale when they strike).
However, meditation is much more than pranayama. One of the most well-known benefits is better concentration and focus—both important for athletes. When our minds are scattered, we simply won’t perform our best. Think about two marathon runners, both equally physically fit. However, if one is worried about a relationship or work issue, they’re distracted and likely won’t finish as soon as the other—especially if the other practices meditation and more easily gets into the runner’s high.
Meditation is typically thought of as practiced while seated, perhaps in a quiet space. That’s not always the case. There’s walking meditation, and even running, or cycling can be a form of meditation. Since it’s impossible to actually have a blank mind, a better goal in meditation is to minimize distractions. The sound of your footsteps on the pavement or calming music can be a helpful meditation tool. Actually, it’s been proven that music helps athletes perform better, which is why when runners are competing at the Olympic or professional level, they’re not allowed to listen to music during races. It’s an instant disqualification. However, the type of music we choose is important. Some music can agitate, which can lead to short bursts of power but not be overall helpful to the body.
When you have the ability to control your breath and better control over your mind and emotions, your body is clear and free to achieve at any healthy activity. You’ll often hear of athletes getting into the zone, and many top-ranked athletes have their own mini forms of meditation (though they may not call it that). Some may count breaths as they work out, while others prefer to workout at sunrise (a very common magic hour for meditation). There are Ayurveda qualities to workouts, with key hours being between 6 am – 10 am (the fire hours).
After a workout, meditation can be an excellent recovery tool. Self-care after a workout or competition is just as important as the event itself. Many athletes opt for a massage therapy session after workouts or races. They do this to make sure there’s no serious damage and prevent the breakdown of the body. Implementing meditation as part of this can also help with reflection. It gives your entire body (including mental) a chance to reflect and heal. After such an intensive session, some quiet and gentleness on the body counteracts the acquired trauma. Workouts, by nature, are traumatic. Some are intentionally so, such as bodybuilding, because the body needs to be traumatized before it can grow stronger. That can be healthy in doses, and when balanced with self-care.
Meditating for many Westerners might seem like a nice idea, but not something they have time for. However, meditation doesn’t need to eat up much time at all. Taking a few minutes each day to sit in a quiet space and experiment with meditation tools, such as counting beads or controlling the breath, is easy to fit in to any schedule. Make sure you earmark times where you can truly commit to meditating with no distractions, and take time after intense workouts for this cool-down. It’s just as important as stretching and re-hydrating.
For many athletes, meditation goes hand in hand with their training. There are no hard and fast rules for how to meditate, and you may need to play with a few different approaches before finding the right fit. However, when that happens, you can enjoy a faster recovery, a better overall experience, and better sync your body with your mind, emotions, and spiritual self. A workout is never just physical, but it does require a little leg work from the practitioner to make it a holistic practice. Incorporate meditation into your workouts and you may be surprised at how fast the results arrive.