The Mindful Athlete

“Mindfulness” is the new buzz word these days, but what does it actually mean? Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally paying attention in the present moment without judgment. It’s kind of a loaded definition, so here are a few key aspects of mindfulness:

  • Practice: this is important to remember because mindfulness takes practice. It requires remembering to pay attention and becoming aware of when the mind has wandered to the past or the future and gently returning to the present moment. Just as an athlete must practice physical skills and techniques, the state of mindful awareness takes practice, too!

  • Intentionally paying attention: intention entails putting our efforts in a particular direction. When we do something with intention, there is an energy that moves us towards what we desire. So when we pay attention with intention, there is enhanced focus which brings us into the present moment, allowing us to respond to the demands of the moment to the best of our ability.

  • Without judgment: this is key to practicing mindfulness. The mind becomes so trained to judge, especially in certain sports, and simply becoming aware of what is happening without needing to change it or have an opinion on it takes some discipline. This doesn’t mean that judgment won’t arise, but with a mindful attention, we can see it for what it is-the judging mind-and not allow it to dictate our actions anymore.

To further define mindfulness, it’s important to state what it is NOT. Some people think of mindfulness as a kind of passive way of living in the world, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Mindfulness helps us develop awareness of our bodies, minds and emotions so that we can respond to situations skillfully as opposed to reacting out of habit or strong emotion.

We now know from research in neuroscience and mindfulness how training the mind to be present with a nonjudgmental attention positively changes the brain. These brain changes can transfer into the training and competitive arena by helping athletes stay in the moment, quiet the fear response, and most importantly, relate to themselves with less criticism and more acceptance. Cultivating a nonjudgmental awareness in the present moment reduces physical, mental and emotional stress, aids in recovery, improves performance, and increases enjoyment in the sport.

I am here to offer additional “brain training”, so to speak, outside of the gym and competitive arena to athletes who want to optimize, not only their athletic potential, but their human potential by learning to be present on the path to their dreams and befriending themselves along the way. I believe it is possible to attain the level that athletes desire AND have a healthy relationship with themselves and life during and after sports. Bringing mindfulness practices into their daily lives will allow this to be possible!