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Meditation: It's Not What You Think

Updated: Jun 13, 2019

Basketball is Psychology XXV

“In basketball, as in life, true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way.” -Phil Jackson


When you hear the word ‘meditation’, you probably picture a hippie sitting with their legs crossed, with their 3 point goggles by their knees, trying to become one with nature through deep breathing and yoga poses.

You’ve probably already determined it’s not for you, it’s too weird. But you’re probably not thinking of it as a weapon like Kobe, Michael, LeBron, and many other greats do.

Some of the greatest basketball players of all time have used meditation to grow their mental strength. If you aspire to achieve what they have, you might want to rethink this stereotype that meditation is for hippies. Meditation is simply a mental exercise, and it’s for anyone who is serious about being an elite basketball player.

Up until the 80’s, there was a stereotype around weightlifting. Basketball players believed it wasn’t for them. They thought if they lifted, it would mess up their shot- until Michael Jordan started lifting weights and elevated his dominance in the NBA.

Around the same time, Phil Jackson (who now has 11 Championships on his resume) introduced Michael and the Bulls to mindfulness and meditation. Phil Jackson understood the value of staying in the moment. Lucky for the players he coached such as MJ, Kobe, Shaq, Steve Kerr; Phil Jackson made them meditate during practice, they bought in, and the championships speak for themselves.

Meditation is just one of the many ways to practice being mindful. Mindfulness is focusing one’s awareness on the present moment- the ability to only be thinking about right here, right now. Mindfulness has numerous benefits, among them:

-Increased awareness

-Increased focus

-Increased energy

-Increased enjoyment

-Increased emotional agility

Mindfulness is an important skill in basketball- it’s one of the Golden State Warriors’ core values.

It’s easy to get distracted. We give people who sit in the nosebleeds expensive opinions, we let the refs determine our mood, and our own poor performances can get us in a destructive thought pattern. It’s easy to forget about the moment we’re in.

Zeidan, who researches how mindfulness meditation changes the brain by using fMRI says, “Mindfulness meditation trains your mind and brain to stabilize attention and it increases your ability to regulate emotions by being in the present moment.”

Those who use meditation, do it to master their focus level on now.

Right now, this very instant of time, is the only point in time you can influence. Too often, we waste our mental energy on points in time we can’t control. When we do this, we get mentally stuck, and we can’t devote all of our energy into now. Instead, the moment we’re in only gets a fraction of our energy and focus, while the rest is being wasted.

It goes without saying that you wouldn’t perform as well if you only gave a portion of your physical energy into the game, and it’s the same with your mind.

When you give all of your attention to the present, you get a hyper-awareness of what’s going on in the game. You might feel like the game “slows down” and you can see the play unfold before anyone else, but really you are just more on time because you are in the moment.

Meditation is a way to very intentionally put this into practice. However, you can put mindfulness into practice without sitting down and crossing your legs.

Meditation involves being still, and becoming more aware of your breath, and all of the thoughts and emotions that come to mind. Meditation is not the only way to do this. You can be mindful or ‘meditative’ while you play, shoot, run, train, or even while sitting on the bench.

Mindfulness is a way of bringing your mind frame back to the present moment. In a game 7 timeout, LeBron’s mental state wasn’t where he wanted it to be. It’s likely the amount of minutes he had played were overwhelming, and he was losing focus.

So what did he do? In a packed, deafeningly loud arena, he closed his eyes, took slow deep breaths, and refocused his mind on being in the now; in the middle of the game.

Meditation is a practical way to focus on controlling what you control, by shutting out the noise to hear your own thoughts.

When things are going wrong, by using mindfulness, you can hit the reset.

When your head isn’t in the game, it’s much harder to enjoy playing or even practicing.

A lot of people enjoy basketball so much so that they say it’s their ‘escape’. Often times, they enjoy it more than anything else in their lives because it’s the only time they are fully present.

We live in a noisy culture; it doesn’t encourage us to be present. We always have headphones in or the radio on, so even when we are driving or doing nothing, we are never alone or quiet enough to hear our thoughts. We are never in the moment, we are always somewhere else mentally.

Which is why once you meditate, you enjoy your whole day more. Kobe Bryant meditates every morning for 10-15 minutes. He says it sets him up for the rest of the day, and allows him to control and dictate the day, without it, he feels like he’s constantly chasing the day.

So how can you put this into practice?

Adrienne Taren, a neuroscientist and mindfulness researcher explained it through the analogy of a flashlight, “Mindfulness gives you a flashlight and you have control over where you point that flashlight. You can direct your attention or flashlight away from panicky or ruminative thoughts and emotional responses and shine it somewhere more productive. It’s not that those thoughts aren’t there, you just learn to peacefully coexist by not shining the light on them.”

You can meditate every morning like Kobe, but ultimately, mindfulness comes from focusing on being the best you can be in this very instant in time. Don’t think about anything else other than the moment you’re in.

When you live in the moment, you aren’t distracted by what has gone wrong or what might go wrong; all of your effort and energy is given to right now. That’s how Kobe and MJ played- giving their best effort in every moment. It’s why their names are synonymous with greatness, and it’s because they used meditation to strengthen their mind.


Written by Julie Fournier


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