Meditation to optimize your life and performance

Around the globe, in every religion, spiritual tradition, and culture, we find some form of meditation. Breathing practices, purposeful reflection, chanting, mantras, singing, and prayer are some of the oldest forms of improving mindset, wellness, and performance through meditation.

Whether your goal is to achieve calm, a sense of gratitude, or feeling connected to people and nature, these disciplines can help us live a more centered life. In the world of human performance, when someone is really “in the zone,” we like to call it a “flow state.” When we are there, we perceive things differently actually process information in a different way.

In order to avail yourself of the many benefits of meditation, we believe it’s important not to remain intellectually and emotionally open to the wide variety of meditative practices found throughout our world’s cultures, religions, and philosophies. What is important is that the methods you choose work for you.

Whether or not you consider yourself spiritual or religious, improving your meditative skills teaches you how to control your brain and mindset to reach a state of higher performance.

How does one begin?

This is a beginner’s guide to practical steps for accessing a better state of mind and will highlight some of the benefits they offer..

Your analytical vs. intuitive mind

Once people become adults, they spend a lot of the time walking around with their brain in an analytical mode: making choices, solving problems, working, thinking about the future, and analyzing the past.

This is an incredible gift that has helped our species thrive and discover amazing things, but it is not the entire picture of ourselves. Our mind is also capable of incredible creativity, empathy, and connection to purpose and other people. This is also a skill we need to build and use daily.

Analytical thinking blocks emotion and empathy and vice versa, according to some recent studies [1,2]. You can think of your brain as having two modes: the rational, analytical mind, and the creative, intuitive one. When we function optimally, we are able to switch back and forth between them.

Rational thinking is necessary. We accomplish a lot of things in our lives through it. However, we can lose balance when it’s the only mode we are using.

In modern society, we subject ourselves to an increasing level of information input. News, social media, texts, streaming shows, and the web provide a constant stream of input for our analytical mind to process.

Because this endless stream of stimuli is always available for our mind to analyze, it’s essential to actively practice turning off our analytical processes. Quieting your analytical mind opens you up to a performance-enhancing mindset. Here are a few ways to do that.

Reset Switch

Being able to alter your state of mind is an immensely powerful skill. As an athlete, performing artist, executive, or anyone who has to perform under pressure, you need to be able to reset occasionally. When the stress builds, when the conditions change, or when things go wrong, being able to step back and out of the chaos is critical for good decision making. Retaining a sense of calm allows you to tap into your strengths, instincts, and training.

It’s also a valuable switch when the game is over, when you’re done with work, or after practice. We all need to go into recovery mode. Just as you don’t want the engine on your high-performance sports car revving at 5,000 rpm when you put it in the garage at night, you don’t want your brain stuck in analytical mode or your emotions on high when it’s time to relax and rest.

Meditation

Meditation may be the most well-known way to silence the mind. It doesn’t require a special place or any equipment other than your own time and mind. It doesn’t even have in any particular manner.

Meditation allows you to tap into a state of calm. Turning off (or just down) the thoughts running through your head increases creativity [3], reduces stress and anxiety, and increases one’s sense of happiness [4].

These effects are magnified with practice, and you can practice any time, anywhere, for free.

Here are two simple ways to meditate:

Breath

Sit, close your eyes, and inhale deeply into your belly for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, slowly exhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of four. Repeat. Focus on the sensation of your breath filling your body and then emptying out.
Observation. Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, take a step back from your mind, and watch your thoughts. Don’t judge them or pursue them; simply let them come and go as you watch. There are two distinct entities here: you, the calm watcher, and your mind, the source of your thoughts.

Try these, or do whatever gives you that inner sense of calm. When you notice your mind wandering, simply return to your mind to the meditation. You might do just 2-5 minutes to start. You might build to longer stretches. Most importantly, do it consistently and you’ll strengthen your meditation muscles.

You must resist the temptation to do it the “right way.” This idea deters many beginners because they aren’t sure of they a doing it “right.” Meditation is challenging in that sense because it’s not the type of activity that provides immediate, concrete feedback. Getting guidance from a coach or in performing a specific form of the practice can help. So can some modern technologies.

Muse

If you go a traditional route to master meditation, you might spend hour after hour, month after month, year after year, sitting at a monastery meditating. You can take a long, meandering path, meditating daily for 20 to 40 years, finally becoming a Zen master. It’s a long, slow process that demands extraordinary dedication.

Whether this would be beneficial is beyond the point; it is neither feasible or desirable for most of us. Still, many people are looking for a way to incorporate meditation into their lives and want to get feedback along the way.

This is where modern technology like Muse can come in. The system measures your brainwaves while you meditate and provides feedback in real time through the sounds you hear. This feedback teaches you to rewire your brain faster because you are learning when your brain is actually in the right state.

It also “gamifies” the process. At the end of each session, you get scores on how well you did and points for having a calm mind. You get credit for “recoveries” when your mind started to wander and think but you brought it back to calm.

It also can help you keep on track session to session. Goals, recommendations to increase time, rewards for consistency and daily streaks, and the tracking functions all can help you state motivated to practice.

Heart Rate Variability training

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a method of measuring and analyzing beat-to-beat changes in your heart rate that gives us insight into the state of your autonomic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system is important to understand because it is one of the bridges between body and mind. It has two parts: the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches, which are essentially opposites.

The sympathetic nervous system is often described as the “fight or flight” system. It activates our body, mind, and the resources to act quickly when needed. The parasympathetic nervous system handles the opposite functions of rest, digest, and recovery: the functions that help restore and sustain our bodies.

HRV feedback teaches you to consciously synchronize your brainwaves and heartbeat, which puts you into a parasympathetic (recovery) dominant state. This is a state of calm focus. It’s the same benefit you get from meditation, but HRV training gives you real-time feedback, so you know when you’re improving.

You can train your heart rate variability and track your results with an HRV sensor like the Inner Balance or Em Wave2 from HeartMath. This feedback helps you to recognize that feeling of inner calm and achieve that state of mind more quickly than you would with normal meditation.

Sensory deprivation

Sensory deprivation tanks, also called float tanks, eliminate nearly all sensory input to your brain. Suspended in water with more than 1000 lbs. of dissolved magnesium salt, you float without any pressure on your body. You’re in a light- and sound-proof chamber. The water and air are both maintained at your body temperature.

When you lay still you don’t see, hear, or feel anything. You lose sense of time. Deprived of any sensory input, one is presented with an opportunity to be one with one’s mind that is difficult to find elsewhere.

A typical float session is 60 – 90 minutes long. For many people that sounds like an eternity to just lay there, floating in the dark. It typically takes three sessions to really get “good” at floating, but the results are usually enjoyed immediately the first time.

This doesn’t mean it is always easy. Often your mind wanders at first. You may have thoughts like: This is boring. This is stupid. Get out. You feel claustrophobic. But if you stick it out, eventually your mind lets go.

This let us experience a state of calm, of relaxation. For some people they experience a state of creativity or hover somewhere between wake and sleep. Not only will you reap the rewards after the float, most people find that they sleep better afterward and the state of calmness is easier to reach in the following days.

Next to time you want to accelerate your mindfulness practice, or need to reduce stress and anxiety, try a float. In most major cities you can find a float center near you.

Try something and practice it

Whether you’re meditating, praying, chanting, getting feedback or floating in salt water, it’s worth it to learn how to quiet your mind. It only takes a few minutes a day and the benefits to your health, wellness, and performance are huge.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811912010646?np=y
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121030161416.htm
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10400410902858691
http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1809754
https://www.heartmath.org/research/research-library/energetics/electricity-of-touch/

 

How can MUSE make it easier for you to meditate?

muse and meditation

When we lift weights, it strengthens our body. Meditation is like lifting weights for your brain: the more you do it the stronger your mind grows. The hard part about meditation is that it’s very difficult to get the same kind of feedback that we get when weightlifting. When I can lift more than I used to, I know I’m getting stronger. But how do I know I’ve gotten better at meditating?

This is what makes the MUSE so valuable for people who are interested in starting a meditative practice. The system senses your brain activity while you’re meditating and then gives you feedback in real time.

Are you staying calm, or are you is your mind active?

While using MUSE, you plug headphones into your tablet or smartphone, open the app, connect the headset, and you’re off and running. When MUSE sees that your brain is calm, you will hear serene weather, as though you’re sitting at the beach on a peaceful day. When you hear birds chirping, you know that you are remaining calm. When your mind wanders, the waves begin to crash louder and the weather begins to sound stormy.

This simple mechanism provides instant and clear feedback on the quality of your meditation. Suddenly you have a way to know if you’re meditating “well.” MUSE also tracks and stores data on your sessions so you can see your progress over time. While it would normally be very difficult to know when we have learned how to stay present for longer periods of time, with MUSE it’s easy. You can, for instance, look at the number of birds that “chirp” during your sessions; more birds equals better quality meditation!

The app then gives you challenges to encourage you to build a regular habit of meditating. Starting with just three minutes at a time, you earn rewards for practicing daily or for practicing multiple times a day. High frequency is vital to forming a successful habit. Just like anything new, it takes practice to get good at it. The important thing is that you carve out time out of your day to meditate. Over time you will get better at hearing more birds and being able to be still and meditate for longer periods of time, but only if you cultivate a meditation practice each and every day.

The benefits of meditation are many and varied. At Velocity, we recommend it because of its benefits on sports performance. Learning how to deal with frustration, loss, and adversity are necessary skills for anyone who wants to compete at the elite level. Meditation is one tool that helps our athletes learn how to calm their minds when the pressure is on, but just like any skill, it has to be practiced regularly. No competitive athlete would expect to get physically stronger by training sporadically or infrequently, and the same is true for meditation. Caring for your mind can be a powerful tool in taking your performance to the next level.

Focus.Mindfullness.Meditation.Regen

 

Focus. Mindfullness. Meditation. Regen.

Visualization

In youth sports the most important thing for an athlete to be able to do is focus. Without focus an athlete will never really discover their true ability. At the youth age, athletes are all growing and developing at different rates. However, the thing that sets good youth athletes apart is their ability to focus, and put all of their attention into what they are doing.

To be fair, the same is true of most professional athletes. When the game is on the line it’s the more focused athletes that prevail. You could say it is because they have better abilities than other athletes but, that athlete was not born with those abilities, they made a conscious choice to put the effort, time and necessary focus to gain those abilities.

Wait, we can improve our abilities with focus? Yes, anything we put time and effort into we will get better at, including focus.

How can we improve our focus? We live in a distracted society. Everything is designed to stimulate and constantly bombard us with things, and information. Our bodies never fully get a chance to relax from information and stress overload. You are like your computer. When you work on the computer you can operate one window pretty well maybe two or three, but when you have many windows and tabs open its hard to get anything done. Even the computer can’t handle it sometimes, and has to shut everything down or turn off so it can run efficiently again. A computer has an on and off/reboot switch. Where or what is our reboot switch?

So what is this magic switch that can shut down our body and allow it to focus, and operate more efficiently? Meditation. The way I can describe meditation is the practice of focusing or being aware of your breath. That’s it only that. Pay attention, be aware of your breath, the life sustaining process. There are tons of way to meditate, but the easiest way to think about it is to bring your attention to your breathing.

Just try and do that for a few minutes, and only focus on your breathing. Breathe all the way in and out. It is harder than you think, to just sit there and count your breaths. All it takes is a few minutes a day! You can reset your nervous system, and escape all the stress of your life by just focusing on your breath.
We can use different breathing techniques to calm us down and relax us. We can also use different techniques to amp us up and energize to focus us on the task at hand.

A great technique to calm yourself down and focus is box breathing. You can use 4 seconds to start. You breathe in for 4 seconds. Hold for 4 seconds. Breathe out for 4 seconds. Hold 4 seconds. Repeat. In the beginning try to get 10 rounds or so in.

This is also a good technique to use if you have had a stressful day. Take a few box breaths to let go of whatever just happened, and remain focused on what you can do! Use your breath as a reset button to help you block out distractions and remain focused for your best performance. You can do it! Try it out!