By Brooke Chaplan / Freelance Writer
Sport Psychology: Is Mental Practice Just as Effective as Physical?
Athletes know the importance of physical conditioning and practice if they want to prevail on game day. However, fine-tuning the body is not the only activity necessary for maximizing athletic performance The field of sports psychology presents compelling evidence for the utility of mental conditioning in enhancing sports performance. Meditation and yoga are two practices which have gained support in recent years for better conditioning and more quality practice.
While the competitive nature of sports is pleasurable for the audience, it can be anxiety-provoking for athletes themselves. Anxiety is both a mental and physical state, leading to hyper-arousal and decreased focus. Meditation is a practice which helps to focus the mind and consequently calm the nervous system. Research on meditation provides promising evidence for its effect on athletes who perform in high-pressure environments.
ACEM meditation requires participants to listen to or mentally imagine a repetitive, singular sound for a period of time. This practice trains the mind to focus on a singular point instead of wandering in a state of chaos, preparing athletes to focus more easily in chaotic environments. In one study, professional basketball players who participated in a 30-minute ACEM meditation once per week, for 7 weeks significantly improved their competitive shooting averages.
Mindfulness meditation practices include activities such as focusing on the breath, letting go of thoughts, and practicing non-judgement of internal states. Research provides evidence for the benefits of these practices on the performance of elite athletes, including runners, rowers, and golfers. In one study, a 4-week mindfulness meditation program decreased sport-related worry for elite runners, leading to heightened states of awareness and decreased pain reduction during races. While preparing the body for sports requires intense physical preparation, mental strengthening techniques such as yoga and meditation can greatly enhance athletic performance. Human beings are complex creatures with interrelated systems of mental and physical balance, and giving the mind and body equal attention is the best way to achieve maximum performance.
While yoga may appear to be a fundamentally physical practice, it requires equal if not greater mental discipline. The mental regulation required for pranayama, or the practice of breath control, is one way in which yoga can enhance sports performance. In one study, judo and volleyball players who practiced pranayama once daily for 8 weeks had reduced oxygen consumption during periods of high strenuous activity, resulting in greater endurance. Yoga also trains the mind to better recognize physical imbalances and limitations, increasing athletes’ abilities to better respond to their bodies.New programs for yoga are being developed all the time to be more specific to certain sports and practices. Inner Engineering is one example that uses guided meditations and yoga remedies for stress in athletes and professionals.