You already know that spending time in the gym equals fitness gains, but what about doing the same for your brain? Elite athletes spend as much time working on their mental health as they do in the gym, because it can improve their performance drastically come game day. Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and the entire Seattle Seahawks team have included meditation as part of their physical training regiment.
Studies show that meditation has countless benefits. Aside from reducing stress levels, mindfulness can change your brain. You’re more present, helping the hours you spend on that run or in the gym become more impactful. Beyond physical benefits, daily meditation practices can help you sleep better, have less anxiety, keep a level head when you have sudden pain.
To get a few recommendations and hear why meditation is so great for athletes, we chatted with Max Vallot, co-founder at District Vision, who leads all pre-run group meditations for the brand. We also spoke with Joe Holder, performance specialist and health consultant, as well as a certified personal trainer at S10 and a Nike Run Coach.
Holder was introduced to meditation by his parents when he was young, but only started to ‘take it seriously’ in college. “It has continuously helped, not just my mental state, but I’ve seen improvements in my ability to bounce back from physical injuries as well,” Holder says. He recommends Headspace and Stop, Breathe & Think, as well as using resources from UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, which offers online meditations that you can stream.
Vallot has been meditating for years and brings his expertise to the running space, leading group meditations before big races like The New York City Marathon and Brooklyn Half. “At District Vision, we’re developing a method that is about a holistic sense of awareness throughout the body and how [those] are involved with running, and in turn how the breath affects running efficiency.” And while he’s quick to admit that meditation hasn’t made him a faster runner, “it makes you a more aware runner, a more conscious runner on some level.” Vallot started with transcendental meditation, “essentially a form of mantra meditation, that has been my core practice every day for the last five years or so,” he says. And continues to expand his practice into Vipassana and of course, yoga. “Physical forms of yoga asana and breath awareness are specifically designed to highlight aspects of the anatomical regions of the body that are key for a runner to look at.” He recommends Ten Percent Happier for beginners.
No matter what your experience with meditation is, the Headspace meditation app asks your familiarity, then asks what you want out of the sessions. Focus on anxiety, sleep or stress, then set a reminder to meditate every day. Andy Puddicombe’s soothing voice calms everyone down.
Stop, Breathe & Think
Offered online as well as on an app, this meditation app starts with the basics in three simple steps: stop, breathe, think. It’ll take you through exactly why mindfulness and meditation help you understand bad moods, identify and work on nagging thoughts to release stress and change habits. A female voice walks you through everything from sleep meditations to breath awareness lasting from three to twenty minutes. The free app gets you access to over 15 different types of mediation, and then for a dollar and up, you can unlock a variety of others.
This mindfulness app is incredibly easy to use. Pull up the meditation app or head to Calm.com to listen to the soothing sounds of nature, a campfire, thunderstorms and more. With over twenty-five different mediation sounds, you’ll find your focus in no time. While the free sounds are all I’ve needed, you can also pay $5 a year to get more talking meditations — everything from focus, calming anxiety, managing stress to gratitude and happiness.
10% Happier: Meditation
Get ready to dive back into school. This meditation app offers a variety of teachers and course catalogs ripe for the newbie meditator. Learn the basics, and then test out the new original content that’s up every month.
With a studio space in NYC, this meditation app is one you can experience in real life. The catch is, even at the studio, there’s a recorded voice. The voice has an accent that’s hard to pin down, making it sound all the more natural as you walk through that day’s meditation. Each meditation ends with the words ‘travel gently’ whether you’re drifting off to sleep, or getting ready to take on the day. The sleep meditations built into this app have been a game-changer for me. Whenever I can’t fall asleep, I just pop one of these on and drift off somehow before the 20-minutes is up. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the end.