By Andrew Shykofsky
We are all familiar with the expression “being in the zone.” The zone connotes a mental and physical state where everything seems to function nearly perfectly. Athletes know the feeling of being able to maneuver effortlessly, pass, throw, kick, shoot and score as though they can do no wrong. But is it possible to get into the zone at will or does it just happen randomly to a few lucky ones?
There is an illusion that great talents are simply born and not developed. If you read biographies of athletes that have achieved greatness, you are sure to find they did not simply rely on their God-given talents. Intense preparation was required to achieve peak performance. Meditation is a practice that many great athletes use to ensure they reach their fullest potential.
Those just getting introduced to meditation often believe that it can only mean sitting in a cross legged position on the floor and reaching a state where the mind is utterly still. This would be the same as saying exercising always means running a marathon. We know that exercising covers a gamut of activities. The same is true of meditation.
Meditation when broken down to its Latin root (meditationem) means “to think over, to reflect or study.” In applying this to athletic performance, the idea is to move into a focused and quiet inner state and then meditate on one’s sport. It sounds simple, and in fact it is. The challenge becomes implementing an effective practice. Let’s discuss how best to proceed.
It might be said that great performances, athletic or otherwise involve thorough preparation. When well prepared, people tend to be more relaxed. Some nervousness on the day of a big game or against a particularly tough opponent is almost always going to be present. That nervousness is a sign that we actually care about what happens.
Imagine that for several days prior to an important match, you were able to sit quietly and focus your mind on your performance. By learning a basic relaxation technique, you can transition from the active waking state where there the mind is often harried and frenetic to a meditation state where the mind is calm and focused. This is accomplished through sitting comfortably, taking deep full breaths and settling down both mentally and emotionally.
You will know that a transition has occurred because you will feel mentally calmer and your body will feel a little heavy. The goal, however, is not to fall asleep. In the beginning, this can sometimes happen. Just keep practicing until you teach yourself the difference between meditation and sleep.
Once in the meditative state, examine and reflect on your attitude and feelings about your sport (this can also apply to any aspect of your life from a relationship issue to a career opportunity or aspects of your spiritual life). Meditate on your strategy. Use this quiet time away from the court or field to examine what kind of athlete you are and where your game excels as well as where it falls short.
It is likely that slowing down and sitting in this way with the idea of objectively considering your relationship to your game will allow new insights to reveal themselves. The agitated achiever mind or the all too common overly critical mind relaxes and a deeper wisdom can surface when meditating.
One of the keys to improving is accepting that your mind will resist holding its focus on one thing. It can seem painful, as though you were asked to watch a really boring commercial on TV. After twenty seconds, the mind wants to move on to something more interesting. This is normal and your ability to hold your focus for longer will improve as you practice.
As you do improve and can hold your focus for longer periods on your chosen area of focus, you begin to appreciate why so many people rave about meditation. You are training your mind and when the time comes to perform, a focused mind leads to a relaxed body. This combination will often take you straight into the zone.
In addition, many great athletes use another meditation technique called visualization to further improve their performance. It is the active creation of images, much like making an internal movie and having that movie play out exactly as you want it to.
Visualization is not about trying to imagine reality. It is seeing yourself perform at the higher level you aspire toward. It is a mystery why it works. One reason might be because in seeing the possibility lived out in mind, a person programs themselves for that possibility to become reality.
In conclusion, in order to take your athletic performance to a new level, learn to meditate. First transition from the normal waking consciousness into a quiet inner state. Once your mind and body have relaxed, hold your mind focused on examining and reflecting on your sport and your connection to it. Review weaknesses and consider methods to correct them. Craft a strategy. Finally, end your meditation seeing a very positive result at your next game or match. Visualize yourself having already made the needed improvements. You will be pleasantly surprised to find yourself entering the zone a little easier each time you play.
Andrew Shykofsky is a meditation teacher and founder of Meditate – A Center for Healing Arts in Charleston. He has over 30 years of meditation experience. Visit the Meditate website at www.meditatecenter.com. Email Andrew: email@example.com