Go with the Flow: Enhance Athletic Potential with Mindfulness
Many of the world’s most celebrated athletes have been known to apply mindfulness in ways so powerful that they have rewritten the history of their sport: Novak Djokovic, Kobe Bryant, Misty May-Trainor, Kerri Walsh, the LA Lakers, the Seattle Seahawks — the list goes on.
Mindfulness can help improve all aspects of a sportsperson’s life. Arguably the most significant change they witness is in their athletic performance. There are multiple studies that have proven that athletes who practice meditation (a pathway to mindfulness) just a few minutes every day are better able to cope with the mental demands of strenuous physical training.
Mindfulness helps one be in the present moment. If done correctly, it’s also a rigorous mental workout. The mind has a natural tendency to wander and take you away from the moment at hand. For an athlete, this can mean distractions from the crowd, anxiety over the conditions of play, or being rattled by the opponent — all of which can impact performance. Mindfulness practices help reduce stress by training the brain to center itself and let go of things it can’t control. This, in turn, helps athletes sync their bodies with their minds so both can move in the same direction.
Mindfulness can help sportspersons improve attention and concentration, reduce stress and anxiety, overcome distractions on the field, and ultimately enhance their performance. It also helps build mental resilience and toughness, understood as the ability to sustain attention on the task-at-hand while under pressure and warding off distraction — a must-have among athletes in competitive sports.
The flow state
Mindfulness supports an athlete’s long-term mental wellbeing and improves their short-term sports performance by better enabling what’s called a “flow state”: when one is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus and total enjoyment of the task at hand.
To be in a flow state is to be fully cognitive of one’s body: how our limbs bend and twist, how our muscles articulate motion through muscle movement, etc. Most importantly, it is about being fully present in the moment and embracing the beauty — heck, the art — of athletics, rather than the reward it may yield at the end. A true athlete is not driven by winning, but by creativity, technique, and endurance.
Once athletes cultivate a “flow state”, they can understand the inner workings of their bodies better, which can help surpass their challengers. It helps them be always alert, always aware, and always there. Ultimately, this helps them improve their performance and withstand the high-arcane pressure of participating in professional sports.
The art of presence
As all who have watched athletics competitions know, the racetrack is all about what happens in the present: the tiniest millisecond can make a world of difference. Athletics are, in some way, their very own kind of meditation: they get us to re-center our experience around our bodies, one step or leap at a time. No wonder, then, that the more mindful athletes tend to also be the more successful: their sport is an extension of their mindfulness practice where self-control and awareness are the order of the day.
It seems imperative, therefore, that mindfulness should be consciously integrated into athletes’ training as part of their wellbeing protocols. We need to teach athletes that acknowledging their emotions empowers them to better control their minds and, by extension, their bodies.
Mindfulness does not simply help enhance athletic performance: it reframes it entirely through the lens of self-development and allows us to grow not just physically, but also emotionally, consciously, and even spiritually; in short, wholistically.