We all know meditation is a useful tool to help us unwind and combat stress, but did you know it's also the perfect way to prepare for exercise? Meditation can help you get both motivated and focused to have a better session, be it on a spin bike, down the gym or at your yoga mat.
And it's not as crazy as it sounds: Plenty of sports stars use meditation and visualisation to reach their goals. The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that after elite shooters carried out four weeks of meditation, they saw an increase in their performance scores. "This is almost certainly as a result of the reduction in performance anxiety and the improvements in sleep," explains Will Williams, founder of Will Williams Meditation.
And while you may not be competing for a gold medal, a great workout can leave you feeling pretty euphoric. We asked Williams to reveal more about how meditation can help boost your workout potential and to share a guide to vedic meditation. Keep scrolling to find your inner focus and motivation.
Why meditate before working out?
"By meditating in advance of the gym, you can help calm down the activation of the amygdala, a tiny almond-shaped part of your brain, that triggers anxiety and stress responses. Calming this key component of our brain has a vast impact on our sports performance," Williams says. "It enables us to sleep more peacefully so you wake up feeling energised and motivated naturally. By the time you get to the gym, you've rested more deeply, meaning your workouts will be more productive, and without stressing the body."
Many of us live hectic lives, and Williams says anxiety and stress can eat into our energy reserves, leaving us feeling tired and unmotivated. "Meditation can enhance energy restoration by giving you deep hits of rest. Vedic meditation, for example, results in a state of restfulness that is on average 33% deeper than the deepest point in sleep. This allows you to reboot all of your physical, mental and emotional energies ready for the upcoming gym session, and, indeed, the marathon of life."
And it's not only down at the gym where you will see positive results. "The improved sleep quality this technique provides not only improves your energy levels, but it also results in superior tissue repair and growth, which means your skin will look great too."
Of course, if meditation means you can work out harder, then you might expect especially sore muscles as a result. Not so, says Williams. "Vedic meditation is particularly efficient at processing accumulated lactic acid in the muscles, meaning you can recover more quickly. If you've got an action-packed training schedule ahead, perhaps you're running a marathon in 2017, meditating can allow the condition of your muscle tissues to stay healthier throughout the training period.
"It also results in the oxygenation of the brain and of the muscle tissues, enabling greater output from your muscles and greater stamina levels when wanting to head to the gym more than usual."
While exercise is, of course, good for us, very intense workouts like boot camps, HIIT and marathon training can lead to a fight or flight response, regular meditation can bring much-needed equilibrium to our hormones.
"Overall, finding any technique that will reduce your performance anxiety is going to have a significant effect on your gym time. The meditation technique we teach has been demonstrated by the experts at Harvard to be 250% more effective at reducing anxiety than any other technique.
"Ultimately, the combined effects of adding a restorative meditation routine to your training schedule will have a significant impact on your overall mood. Many people who have learned with us have found a 15- to 20-minute reduction in their running times as a result of learning, even if they only learned a week or two previously," adds Williams.
Will Williams 5-Step Guide to Meditating
Williams teaches the simple yet beneficial practice of vedic meditation. Here are his top tips for meditating to reduce stress, which is not only a big factor in weight gain around the abdomen, but can also affect your focus in your workouts:
- The ideal time to meditate is first thing in the morning and early evening. However, the most important thing is to choose a time that fits in with your schedule, and to be flexible and play with it.
- Find a seat where you can sit up comfortably, and close your eyes for 15 to 20 minutes (this could be sitting up in bed, on your commute or in the local park).
- Begin silently repeating a mantra (a sanskrit sound) in your head when your eyes are closed. 'So hum' is a good one to begin with, it can act as a vehicle to transport your mind and body into a beneficial state of relaxation, and this will reduce your body's need to fuel stress with cravings for fatty sugary foods.
- End your meditation with two minutes of gentle breathing without using the mantra.
- When meditating, switch your phone onto airplane mode and use a watch rather than your phone to keep an eye on the time. Technology over-stresses the nervous system and it's good to take a break from it when meditating if at all possible.
Also, check out this straightforward guide to how to meditate without music and the other benefits you can expect.
Opening Image: Zara