Mindfulness may help athletes out on the track

A link has been found between mindfulness practices and a potential increase in physical athletic ability.

Working with seven of the top US men’s National BMX riders, the Center for Mindfulness at the University of California tested to see how mindfulness training could affect their brain activity and the way that the part of the brain that causes stress was affected.

Taking brain scans at the start of the trial, the athletes were put into a scanner and shown different colours while wearing apparatus that could restrict their breathing.

Breathing restrictions are a good way to test stress levels, as an inability to breath clearly immediately triggers stress responses across the body.

The researchers triggered the breathing restrictions when the athletes were looking at the colour yellow. To build the association of yellow and anticipation of stress.

After eight weeks of training how to use mindfulness, the athletes were again put in the scanner, and given the same test. It was found that when the colour yellow was shown, the part of the brain which plans ahead and anticipates the future fired up, apparently preparing to deal with the breathing restrictions, but the communication between this section and the part which triggers body-wide stress responses was dulled.

What this indicates is that having been trained in mindfulness use, the athletes were more likely not to freeze or experience stress when a forthcoming stressful event occurred. This meant they were better at dealing with the event when it occurred.

In theory, this means that the BMX riders were more likely to get off the start line quicker and not experience a bodily panic when the starting gun fires.

One interesting point to note is that the scientists had to refer to the training as “tactical training” to negotiate prejudices that the athletes had against phrases such as “meditation”. This is a worrying point, showing how the taboo surrounding mental illnesses can extend to therapies which can help solve them.

Of course, the study was carried out on males at the peak of physical fitness, and so was a very specific sample.

Find Counsellors & Therapists Near You
Talk through your feelings with a recommended Counsellor or Therapist near you From face to face to online sessions, we’ll find you the best local professionals to help you. Whether you’re looking for help with work stress, grief or a relationship breakdown, we can connect you to a range of professionals who will listen and advise.

Close this Box
100% secure