Peak Performance: Yoga to Improve Athletic Performance
Athletes call it “being in the zone.” Author and learned professor of psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi , calls it Flow. Osho, or Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh said, “this is the secret of happiness. Whatever you are doing, don’t let past move your mind; don’t let future disturb you. . .” There is a paradox that yogi practitioners are aware of, and that is this: if you live in the flow of a moment, your movements and mental choices become super-human, extraordinary, divine as if guided by some great invisible hand. In order to achieve peak performance, or rest easily in this paradox, professional athletes use tools such as yoga and meditation.
When you have a calm mind, that which a consistent yoga practice helps to provide, you see a greater number of possibilities. Anger, stress, jealousy and other unstable emotions create an imbalance in both the brain and body, and make it very difficult to do your best in any sport. If it’s the last inning of a World Series Game or your team is against its arch ‘enemy’ in a World Cup, then you need to be able to keep your body and mind in perfect balance. Did you know that feeling angry can raise your heart to upwards of 180 beats per minute? It also makes your body tight and your muscles tense up. This isn’t exactly and ideal physical state when you need to achieve peak performance. Anger slows your metabolism and even constricts blood flow. If a referee of your game calls something that you don’t agree with, you can choose to keep your cool or let anger win the game instead. Yoga and meditation practice help to give you the choice.
Utilizing meditation, athletes can train their minds to complete a seemingly impossible task mentally before actually doing it in real life. The brain doesn’t really know the difference between the two, so if an athlete can get into the ‘flow’ of a game or match, and tap into a complete presence in the now moment, they can call upon previously stored memories of success, and bring them to the present moment. A great jump shot or a perfect golf swing can be the results of meditative training just as much, if not more, than physical practice.
Performing in No Time
When Magic Johnson performed his best, the basketball hoop seemed to widen in diameter. When Handel wrote the Messiah, he did it all in almost one sitting without realizing weeks had passed. He didn’t remember eating, sleeping, or using the restroom. Soccer players, runners, ballet dancers, you name it, experience the Nirvana or absolute freedom of their sport when they loose track of time. They feel they could dance, run, jump, swim or play all day, without tiring. This is the power that yoga and meditation provide. It goes beyond the physical. It is literally a matter of mind over matter, though there are significant physical benefits. The Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, among other teams, use meditation and yoga to increase the chances of an athlete performing in the zone. LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers practices yoga. Tightend Dudley LaPort practices for his amazing football skills. The list of pros who use meditation and yoga is in the thousands.
Breaking it down:
- Meditation has been clinically proven to change oxygen consumption and respiration rates. Athletes can experience better power with less oxygen use.
- Meditation changes the way cells metabolize. In one study participants realized a 20% increase in phenylalanine concentrations which is one of the essential amino acids needed for building muscle.
- Meditation increases endurance. The muscles are not the only thing to fatigue in endurance sports. Athletes participating in the Tour de France and numerous marathons talk about how meditation increases both mental and physical fortitude to go the distance.
- Meditation reduces distraction. If a competitor or fan at an athletic event is calling out your name, you need to be able to focus on your next action, and not distractions like these. Meditation creates laser-like focus in athletes.
- Yoga teaches mindfulness in every posture – a form of moving meditation.
Yoga and meditation isn’t just for monks and flower children. It’s the recipe for peak performance.
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