The Mindful Athlete: Mental Fortitude through Meditation

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“Ervin, three-time All-American gymnast in the floor routine and vault, as beholden to rigorous fitness, practice, and nutrition routines. Every morning, however, he carved 15 minutes from his busy schedule to practice meditation, actively training his mind to remain present by focusing on his breath. It’s a habit he still continues today.” 1

“Ervin’s approach to mental health is truly proactive, not reactive. He did not wait for a psychological crisis to arise. He simply adapted a technique he learned via Athletes Connected, a mental-health initiative and research program for student-athletes at Michigan. ‘I wasn’t really going through any particularly stressful period of time. But I figured if there’s anything to give me a mental edge in my sport, or life in general, why not take advantage?’.” 1

“While athletes are constantly seeking ways to one-up the competition, Ervin’s attitude toward mental health is still a somewhat uncommon sentiment—but perhaps not for much longer.” 1

Meditation and wellness concerns may seem antithetical to the world of sports, where success is often defined by manly values like sheer will power, strength, and fighter mentalities, but increasingly pro and “student-athletes [alike] are starting to realize that there is perhaps an edge in being able to be mentally fit,” 1 explains Dr. Nohelani Lawrence, a University of Southern California sports and clinical psychologist.

The reason for the rising interest in meditation from a sports perspective comes down to focus. Rituals training the brain to find calm and quite allow athletes to “remain present in a stimuli-choked society.” 1

But in spite, of meditation’s growing appeal, a “stigma still surrounds mental health, especially in the hypercompetitive world of sports [because] a perceived deficit in psychological strength can still be [seen] as a deathblow for an athlete.” 1

Fortunately, a few high profile advocates are helping normalize the notion that mental training can be just as impactful as physical. Take New York Knicks president Phil Jackson, who’s  “already a believer. The longtime NBA coach had George Mumford, a sports psychologist and mindfulness expert, work with his title-winning Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers teams in the 1990s and 2000s. While Jackson was sometimes derided in the press with the nickname ‘Zen Master,’ some of his best players became mindfulness converts.” 1

“To wit: the first time Kobe Bryant met Mumford in 1999, he was immediately suspicious. He couldn’t believe that Jackson was using practice time to have his players sit on the floor—in the dark, no less—and meditate. Over time, however, Bryant came to consider Mumford one of the most influential figures in his life, someone who had helped him learn how to better cope with the intense, consuming pressure of his long and successful basketball career.” 1

And sure, it might seem counterintuitive for brands built for athletes, with action-urging tag lines like “Win from within,” “I will” or “Just do it,” to celebrate the sedentary power of mediation, but hey, there’s a first time for everything, right?

And in case you’re curious, here are a few interesting products helping athletes hack the mind.

Screen Shot 2017-02-11 at 8.55.13 PM.png Halo sport

mindful  Lucid 

head Headspace

1 Vice Sports, The mindful athlete: Can preventative mental health improve performance too?, 05/24/16 (see here)


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