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How Meditation Can Make You a Better Athlete

Under Armour

Meditation is so good for… well, everything (just check out Your Brain On… Meditation). Katy Perry does it. Oprah does it. And many, many athletes do it. Turns out, meditation is not only great for stress relief and health (even the American Heart Association recommends adopting a regular practice!), but it can also give you a serious boost in your fitness endeavors.

Yep, research backs this up. For one, meditation can improve your pain tolerance, helpful when you’re, say, attempting to bang out that tenth burpee or cross the marathon finish line. Other brain imaging studies have shown that people who practice Transcendental Meditation (TM) share brain functioning traits with elite athletes. Iiinteresting. So, we tracked down five athletes who meditate to find out how their practice—be it visualization exercises, breathing techniques, or a mantra-based one—helps them in their sport of choice.

"I meditate most regularly right before a big event or a race," says Shayna Powless, a professional U23 rider for the LIV Off-Road (Mountain Bike) Co-Factory Team. "Not only does it help ease my nerves, but it also helps me maintain a high level of focus needed for racing. Staying calm throughout a race is the most important way for me to do well and succeed in performing my best," she adds.

Deena Kastor, Olympic Bronze Medalist and American Record Holding Marathon Runner, started her meditation practice more than two decades ago. “Being a professional athlete can elicit anxiety, stress and nerves, which can be a drain on my energy," she says. (Try these 5 Moves For Instant Energy.) "With meditation, I can get in a calm state and perform with focus so I can compete optimally." Kastor says she has mastered the technique to the point where she can now meditate (she does a breathing technique which involves inhaling and exhaling to the count of eight) even in a crowded subway station!

Visualization can be a form of meditation for some athletes. "I feel that when I am visualizing, I am very focused—specifically on diving—and that sort of takes me into a world of my own," says Ginger Huber, Red Bull Cliff Diving athlete. "Without it, I would never have the courage to jump from such high places." Huber learned this technique from a college sports psychologist. "It gives me the confidence that, even if I don’t get a lot of physical practice for the (often inaccessible) high dives, I get a lot of mental practice that I know is just as beneficial," says Huber. 

Amy Beisel, a Giant/LIV professional cross country mountain biker, also practices visualization. "Before a race, I will just lie down and go through the whole course in my mind, from start to finish. I think about my body position on my bike, where I am looking, how much break to use and when to use them. I’ll imagine myself up with the front pack of a race, clearing a technical section on my bike, or making smooth transitions out of turns with speed," she explains. "Visualization and breathing meditations help me excel at so many levels. The breathing helps me relax, physically and mentally, both very important before a race. The visualization helps prepare me for the race and builds the confidence needed." (Check out how to Breathe Your Way to a Fitter Body.) 

Meditation can also help give you the motivation to hit the gym when you're not in the mood, give you the confidence you need to try a difficult yoga pose, or crank the treadmill speed up a notch or two. "Practicing Japa Meditiation, during which you chant a 'mantra,' drives home my intention to show up, do my best and stay committed [to my practice]," says Kathryn Budig, yoga teacher and expert. "It brings me an instant reminder to do my best.” Budig uses her personal mantra, “Aim True, Stay True,” but you can choose your own mantra for your personal meditation practice (or use one of these 10 Mantras Mindfulness Experts Live By).

Inspired to give it a try? Visit TM.org for more information on Transcendental Meditation, which is the type of meditation most deeply researched, or find out How to Meditate With Gretchen Bleiler.

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