Meditation 101: Why and How to Start a Meditation Practice

Meditation has amazing benefits for your body and mind, especially in our fast-paced society.

Athletes tend to have a “go hard or go home” mentality that makes a practice like meditation seem alien, if not useless. But pushing yourself to the limits on a regular basis is even more of a reason to work on your meditation game.

Here is some science about the physical effects of meditation, as well as tips for getting started.

Why Meditate?

In her article, How Meditation Can Heal Your Adrenal System, coach and nurse practitioner Vanessa Bennington detailed some of the important benefits meditation has for athletes:

Stress hormones and the physical signs of stress and the fight-or-flight reaction (like blood pressure and heart rate) are shown to be consistently lower in individuals who regularly meditate. So, just like a strength training program, the longer you stick with it, the stronger and bigger your muscles become, and you can eventually lift some pretty heavy weights. The longer you meditate, the stronger your meditation muscles become, and the more stress you can cope with without jacking up your adrenals.

You might say exercise is well-managed intentional stress (or at least, hopefully it’s well-managed). As noted by Vanessa in the quotation above, meditation helps the body cope with stress. So in essence, meditation may make your workouts more efficient and beneficial. That would be pretty cool, right?

3 More Reasons for Athletes to Meditate

A number of Breaking Muscle coaches have noted other exercise-related benefits of meditation:

1. Control Heart Rate Variability

Coach Craig Marker explained the role of the vagus nerve on heart rate variability:

One branch of our vagus nerve (our brakes) slows down heart rate. As we inhale, that branch of our vagus nerve is inhibited (so our brakes are not responsive), which allows our sympathetic system (our gas) to run free. As we exhale, our vagus nerve inhibitory action returns and our heart rate slows down. This mechanism is probably one of the reasons for the benefits of meditative breathing.

This explains some of the crazy stories you might have heard about experienced meditators who can control their heart rate simply by thinking. It’s not a Jedi mind trick, after all.

Learn more about the vagus nerve and its role in exercise recovery in Craig’s article, “Heart Rate Variability: The New Science of Recovery.”

2. Effects on Lactate Levels

Yoga instructor and athlete Julie Rader explained how meditation aids blood flow and lactate removal:

During meditation functions of the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates our fight-or-flight response, are decreased. Therefore, the constriction of the blood vessels is reduced allowing for greater blood flow. During meditation, the increased flow of blood delivers more oxygen to the muscles and lactate is more quickly and effectively removed.

Read more about meditation’s effects on blood flow and lactate levels in Julie’s article, “How to Improve Your Mental State Through Just 5 Minutes of Meditation.”

3. Increased Immunity

A study conducted in 2012 found people who exercised and meditation reported fewer sick days than those who did not. The participants who practiced daily meditation only had 257 sick days and 27 instances of respiratory illness, as opposed to the inactive group, who reported 453 sick days and 40 cases of respiratory illness. We all know sick days at work usually mean workouts missed in the gym, so this is great news.

For more details on this study, check out coach Joshua Wortman‘s article, “Science Says: Regular Exercise and Meditation Reduce Sick Days.”

3 Steps to Get Started

Hopefully I’ve convinced you meditation isn’t just for Jedis and monks in caves. Here are three steps to get started with establishing a regular meditation practice.

1. Create a Space: Yoga instructor Mindith Rahmat gave five tips for creating a space for your meditation practice:

  1. Find a Good Spot: “Find a space that is free find a small area in your home that is easy to access with good ventilation, temperature control, and lighting.”
  2. Eliminate Distractions: “Remove or cover all visible work, laundry, and to do lists.”
  3. Keep It Clean: “Keep your space free from any dirt, dust, mess, and clutter.”
  4. Make It Pretty: “This is a personal choice, you can keep it simple with a nice rug or colorful mat to sit on.”
  5. Get Comfortable: “Set up an a space that allows you to relax and get comfortable. Use pillows, bolsters, or even a comfortable chair.”

Read more of Mindith’s tips in her article, 5 Tips for Creating a Simple Meditation Space.

2. Find the Right Style for You: Meditation doesn’t look the same for everyone. Consider what style of meditation is best for your personality before you commit to a practice. Coach Danielle Harlan detailed eight types of meditation in her article, Discover the Best Meditation Type for You, so check it if you need some creative ideas.

3. Just Do It! Coach Traver Boehm is a big fan of meditation. In the video below, he explains a simple approach to meditation that can be done anywhere. So if you can’t find a quiet, distraction-free space, don’t let it hold you back. As Traver explained:

You can meditate anywhere. It doesn’t have to be at an ashram, it doesn’t have to be done in a temple. It can be done at your workdesk, it can be done in your car, it can be done while in line at the bank. It can literally be done anywhere, for any amount of time.

Watch the video below to learn some ways to make meditation accessible:

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