I don't profess to be an elite athlete by any stretch of the imagination. At best, I'm a middle of the pack runner. Built more for endurance than speed. I am no stranger to pre-race jitters, in-race doubt and post-race self-criticism. Since adopting the practice of mindfulness these three things have changed dramatically for me and that fits with what the research has shown. While it is still early days in the study of mindfulness programs on athletic performance in terms of increases of speed, strength and physical agility, there have been robust findings on the benefits of mindfulness practice to athletes in other areas. Improvements have been observed in overall well being, sleep, reduction of self criticism and perfectionism, increased awareness of the impact of thought on well being and increased ability to let go of upsetting thoughts allowing the athlete to recover more quickly from frustration or disappointment. Top athletes that have added mindfulness training to their daily lives include Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter, Barry Zito, Mitsy May Treanor and Kerri Walsh. The entire Seattle Seahawks team learned mindfulness as part of their training in 2013-14. They won the 2014 Super Bowl. Their head coach Pete Carroll believes that it was an important part of this achievement.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the developer of MBSR encourages participants in the program to apply the attitude of an athlete to the training in mindfulness. To make the commitment to practice even on days when you might not feel like it or there seems to be too much to do. Athletes do this because they know that with consistent effort they will achieve results. Many mindfulness practitioners refer to meditation as going to the gym for your brain. Brain research is clear that regular meditation practice causes neuro-anatomical changes in the brain, building the parts responsible for attention, reasoning and impulse control. Athletes spend a great deal time at the gym building strength in their bodies. Mindfulness can complete the picture to allow athletes to build strength in their brains.