Mindfulness for Athletes: Unlocking your Edge

They say that in sports that 90 percent of performance is mental. Yet, we spend the majority of our time, effort and money on physical and technical training — including everything from gear and coaches to gym memberships and sports massages. All that leaves little time to focus on our mental game.

But with elite athletes like Super Bowl XLVIII champs, the Seattle Seahawks, to Olympic Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, incorporating mindfulness, meditation, yoga and other practices into their training regimen we are seeing a shift in what it takes to get an edge. By learning to stay focused on the present moment we create a stronger mind, body connection. For Athletes, this means unlocking untapped potential. So now the question becomes, "How do I tap into my personal edge?

The answer? Find a mindful connection. Be aware that there will be natural changes in your breathing pattern and heart rate prior to your event or competition. The rise in adrenaline is natural. The mind will naturally want to wander to external stimulus including other players or competitors, coaches, officials, fans and so forth. This can leave the mind racing to future plays or strategies and take you out of the present.

When our brains get caught up in thoughts from the past…or thoughts of the future…it creates a stress response, and we can’t use the part of the brain that keeps us engaged in the moment. If we’re too stressed about performance, we can’t make good decisions and solve problems and stay composed.
— Dr. Kristen Race, Ph.D., founder of Mindful Life

Reconnecting with your breath and focusing on the present moment will help to reduce your stress response and allow you to stay in the "flow" of your competition.

In yoga, your "Drishti" is where you focus your gaze. As an athlete this means that you are keeping your gaze slightly ahead of you. Slow your breath and focus on the inhale and exhale. It could be right before the play is called you count three breaths in and out as you focus on the playing facing off against you, or it is looking down the course in your race before the cannons goes off to start. The key is to keep your drishti throughout your competition. Do not let your eyes wander. When we break our focus, we lose our breath and lose our edge.