“Quiet your minds,” “Focus your attention inwardly,” and “Visualize success.” These are the introduction to a meditation session attended by the Seattle Seahawks on the first Sunday of training camp in 2013, led by high-performance sports psychologist, Mike Gervais.
You may recall that the Seattle Seahawks recently played (correction: dominated) in a little game known as the Super Bowl. Could their season-long focus on meditation and their victory in the largest championship game in the U.S. be a coincidence? Not according to coach Pete Carroll.
“Coach Carroll combines old-school values with a real appreciation for the science of psychology,” said Gervais. “He recognizes that quality of thought readily translates into quality of movement.”
The Seattle Seahawks are in good company. More and more professional athletes have been taking note of the benefits of meditation, which include lower stress levels, improved cognitive functioning, creative thinking and productivity, and even improved physical health.
Take for example, Gracie Gold, who scored a career-best to lead the U.S. team onto the medal stand in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for the 18-year-old figure skater is making almost-impossible maneuvers look effortless, despite extreme pressure. “I use some standard stretches each day,” Gold has said of how she prepares. “I practice deep abdominal breathing and meditation before competition.”
Meditation is not just for professional athletes. Leaders in the corporate world and academic world are using meditation to reboot the body and soul—and achieve success.
“For us, mental health is not a separate topic but part of what we do,” said Barrie Sketchley, principal of Rosedale Heights School of the Arts in Toronto. “We have kids who take part in a wellness group and meet every Friday at lunch hour to talk about initiatives like the yoga, meditation, and we want to do some work around intentional acts of kindness.”
The Toronto school is already seeing success. So much so that the Toronto District School Board has developed a city-wide, four-year strategy to address students’ overwhelming anxiety and stress, which they view as the key to “building confident citizens of tomorrow.”
Similarly, a 2009 study published in the journal for Pediatrics found that children with abdominal pain who listened to audio recordings to guide their visualizations were more than twice as likely to have lower pain levels than kids who used standard treatments—and those benefits persisted for six months.
So how can you benefit from meditation in your daily life?
If you’re like most people, you spend the majority of your time worrying about a multitude of things. According to a study conducted in 2001 at Washington University in St. Louis, at any given time we are balancing 150 uncompleted tasks and 15 unaccomplished goals. That is insane!
The good news is that your brain has an impressive ability to rewire itself through experience and training—and all it takes is a few simple first steps, such as:
- Practice gratitude. Think about people you love. Name them and enjoy that feeling of gratitude.
- Breathe. Seriously, just do it: breathe.
- Break it up. Take breaks throughout your day. Remove yourself from the external pressure of the situation or workload. It will still be there in 10 minutes; however, you will feel lighter.
- Change the story. Rethink those first thoughts in the morning. Give the “hamster in your brain” a new dialogue.
Need some assistance getting started? Let your smartphone help you out. There are hundreds of meditation apps available, but one of the best (and free!) apps that I have found is called Headspace. Invented by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, this is meditation geared towards busy people. You don’t have to do anything—just sit down and turn on the app and let Andy’s calm voice explain how to approach meditation.
Or, start with a massage. Meditation and massage go hand-in-hand. There is solid scientific evidence to support that massage can transport your mind to one of the deepest meditative states the waking brain can experience. This is where we find our mind’s freedom. This space is where our conscious thoughts quiet to a mere whisper.