Mindfulness Meditation and the Endurance Mind
If your endurance training program does not include an active and ongoing guided mindfulness meditation practice as part of your weekly training schedule then you may not be reaching your potential regardless of what your coach, watch and power-meter may say.
Following is the science and then experience side of a Mindfulness practice and application in endurance training and life. The science is provided by Michelle Evans-Chase based on her groundbreaking, published research on mindfulness meditation at the University of Pennsylvania. The experience and practice side are provided by Bruckner Chase, professional ocean athlete, coach and NOAA expert on coastal safety, science and conservation.
Mindfulness – Science
“Awareness in the service of wisdom, of non-delusion, not just being developed in order to be in the present moment but to be awake and wise in the present moment” – Noah Levine
- Having awareness in the present moment: What is happening right now?
We spend a lot of time worrying about the future or regretting the past = source of stress and fear
- Being aware of but not judging emotions, thoughts or events of the present moment as good or bad: How does it feel?
Identifying our emotional reactions can reduce the physiological responses, or give us enough cognitive space for the third step…
- Accepting the emotions, thoughts or events of the present moment and deciding how we want to respond… What is the right behavior?
Based on long-term goals, ideals, ethics, and what will be most beneficial not only to ourselves but to others
Mindfulness – Experience / Practice
- I see large waves breaking on the beach
- I am feeling fear
- I am feeling fear, but I know that I can move through the waves by watching the wave patterns for a break between the sets. I can then move quickly and deliberately through the breaking surf slicing through or ducking under the white water until I can float on my back and rest on the outside.
Guided Mindfulness Meditation (MM) – Science
- Most effective way to train ourselves in mindfulness
- Neural workout – changes the structure and function of our brains
- Provides opportunity to see what our brain does – how our minds work and how we interact with our thoughts, giving us the chance to change our relationship to them
- Provides opportunity to practice patience, acceptance, and self-regulation
MM Practice: Like all training – HOW we practice matters
- Focus on the breath
- The practice of gathering and sustaining awareness in the present moment
- Base of MM practice – returning over and over to the breath as our attention wanders
- Strengthens attention control and gives us the opportunity to see how thoughts and feelings come and go
- Focus on internal and external bodily sensations
- Increases sensory awareness – awareness of physical sensations
- Decreases our evaluation of sensory input (what the sensation means, the fear associated with it)
- Opportunity to see transitory nature of sensations
- Label thoughts and emotions as they occur, without interpretation or evaluation
- Brings awareness to emotions and thoughts
- Allows detachment: emotion/thought/sensation is just something else in our awareness that can be labeled, not something real that we automatically have to react to
- Attenuates physiological and neurological emotional response – reduces intensity and duration of emotional experiences/reactions
- Time: 30 minute sessions whenever possible. In order to have the opportunity to practice patience and self-regulation we need to experience boredom, impatience, and being uncomfortable during meditation – events less likely to happen in 10 minutes and more likely in 30.
Guided Mindfulness Meditation (MM) – Experience / Practice
- I cannot “Overtrain” with too many Guided Mindfulness Meditation sessions in my weekly training plan
- I can “Overtrain” by cramming in extra swim, bike or run sessions. Physical downtime is how my body gets stronger
- If I am overcome by the fear of failing to hit numbers in training or being judged by my peers or coaches, I will not be able to reach my potential. If I hold back because of “Feelings” on the testing that my coach or training planning calls for then basing future physical training plans on those compromised numbers will have an ongoing, negative impact on my conditioning.
- If I cannot embody Noah Levine’s advice when sitting still, then how can I hope to follow this advice in a training session or race: “Just be uncomfortable.”
- Before I map out my key physical workouts for the week I am going to set aside “X” times during the week to sit in Guided Mindfulness Meditation for a minimum of 30:00 per session.
Guided Mindfulness Meditation (MM) – Science & Experience / Practice
Because the HOW matters, the WHO (like any coach) matters. A few, good MM coaches who use the above components and who have free MP3 downloads on-line:
- Noah Levine
- Diana Winston
- Tara Brach
- Vinny Ferraro