Meditation has several health benefits for our bodies. When partnered with mindfulness to focus energy, several aspects of our health can improve both mentally and physically. This can benefit athletes if they choose to take the practice seriously.
Some of the biggest impacts mindful meditation can have on our bodies include greater focus, improved cardiovascular health, lower cortisol levels, improved immune systems, reduced sensitivity to pain, and much more(1).
One thing most exciting to athletes would not only be an overall improved performance, but in some cases, it is possible to increase their muscle strength simply from meditation.
In a study observed by V.K. Ranganathan, test subjects had to perform mindful meditation. After 12 weeks, individuals who had merely imagined working out had increased their muscle strength by sheer will power by 13.5%. For comparison, those who actually worked out improved their muscle strength by 53%(2).
If we look at just cortisol levels and their impact, “elevated cortisol levels interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease”(3).
These issues not only affect athletes but all of humankind. For this reason alone, meditation should become a regular practice for all ages. It only takes a few deep breaths to engage the Vagus nerve, one of the nerves that connect the brain to the body; this then triggers a signal within the nervous system to slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and finally decrease cortisol (3).
Less cortisol means less stress, which equals less strain on the heart.
Regarding pain sensitivity, Katharine MacLean, Ph.D, states that rather than diminishing sensation, mindful meditation allows people to consciously control their perception of pain (4). This can be extremely helpful for those in contact sports such as MMA, football, hockey, and more. It can give them the edge they need to win the match or play a little harder.
Looking at these improvements alone, meditating would be worth the while to pick up. Athletes should seriously consider taking a part of their cool-down or warm-up to sit down and think about which muscle or performance improvements they would like to make that day.
Use the peace within you to bring out the beast in action.
Ranganathan, V.K., et al. (2004) “From mental power to muscle power—gaining strength by using the mind”. Neuropsychologia, 42 (2), 944–956.