by Colleen Cannon
I started meditating 39 years ago to improve my performance as a professional triathlete. It had a powerful effect on my performance with over 100 first place finishes. I thought I was meditating to improve my racing times but instead it improved every area of my life. The simple practice of sitting and turning inward, tuning in, opened my mind and heart and opened me to a whole new world of possibilities.
As I practiced meditation (my twice-daily 20-min practice), My workouts changed. My body changed. My mind changed. My life changed. Seriously. I can attest that as I became more mindful, I became more PLAYFUL! More JOYFUL! Every workout became a chance to feel my breath, and tune into “an attitude of gratitude.” We get what we focus on–so by focusing on “slowing down, and “less,”, I was able to feel into what was “more”…more meaningful, more in line with my goals and dreams, and more expansive. Everyone is an athlete and I was able to find my inner coach instead of the inner critic. Anything is possible. Meditation works.
I now have even incorporated my activities like surfing, horse riding, running, hiking, walking, driving my car, singing as my meditations.
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HERE IS COLLEEN’S MEDITATION JOURNEY:
At first I thought: “How the heck can sitting (sitting!?) improve my performance as an endurance athlete?” (I am the sort of person who likes to get up and GO! Moving and do-ing is what I am wired for, not not-doing.)
Rumi, the 14th century poet, said: “Make a way for yourself, inside yourself.”
I’d like to share what it meant for me to find a way for myself, inside myself.
Meditation helped me recover.
The main reason I started to meditate was because I heard that by speeding recovery one can train harder, longer and more efficiently. When racing and training at any level your body goes through a rhythm of stress and recovery. Studies reveal that meditation helps increase the human growth hormone, which is a natural steroid, and it supports both the mind and body recuperate from athletic endeavors.
During my career as a professional athlete I would meditate twice a day…it helped me recover…I could add more stress and therefore train harder! My 10 K time dropped from 39 min to 36 min consistently in triathlons.
Meditation relieved my pre-race jitters and improve concentration.
I am a very excitable person that loves life. Before competitions my high energy would turn into crazy anxiety and I could not sleep. Everything went down the rabbit hole when I was overtired and over-stressed.
Once I started meditating I found my safe haven. I learned how to train my mind and open a pathway to relax under stress. Before a race, during a race, and in any moment when I was under high amounts of stress I could tap in, relax and let go of the outcome.
Reducing stress helped lower my cortisol levels, which ultimately helped my organs and brought me out of adrenal fatigue (which many athletes experience from over-training.) The “fight or flight” response in the body causes the body to fight against itself; when you have the mental “skills” to calm the mind your body can better function in a more relaxed way…and enjoy the ride.
When you are racing and training it is easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged when things are not working out or going your way. Where the mind goes, energy flows! Meditation helps the mind focus on your goal, and get out of the way of thoughts that derail you. Lemme tell ya (from years of experience)…if you are riding into a headwind in a race you MUST know how to focus to stay positive. You must train the brain like you train any other muscle. Many athletes don’t realize or make the most of this ancient wisdom.
Meditation helped me discover my “internal coach.”
As an athlete, it is crucial to be able to “check in” internally.
The internal guidance system is a process of deeply sensing/listening, and then being able to respond to the internal messages. Meditation helped me learn to trust this “internal coach.” While getting support from others—trainers, coaches, training programs, and classes can be helpful for both inspiration and guidance, it can be a trap to fall into the sense that the “expert” knows more than you do. If we give our power to others people, we can lose the ever-important ability to tune-in and discern what is working, what our body needs, and how to train in a way that brings both joy and improvement.
I learned to ask my “inner coach” what sort of workout I needed that day. When to push, when to back off, what to train and what to focus on—this discernment came from within. The results were empowering, surprising, and EFFECTIVE!
My philosophy is that we are intrinsically connected to something …MORE…and when we feel into that more-ness, that longing for growth and expression…then we blossom into the unique athlete that we are each born to be. One of my mantras is: ALL IS WELL AND ALL WILL ALWAYS BE WELL. This “mantra” is something I say internally, and feel into as I move through a workout. It’s like an internal brain massage because it taps me into an aquifer of pure potential calm energy.
Meditation creates “happy molecules!”
Meditation increases seratonin production, boosts alpha waves (quiet/receptive state of wakeful relaxation) and balances and improves moods. Meditation changes our brain patterns so that every cell of the body is filled with more energy (“prana”). The calm state lowers levels of lactic acid in the blood, and created a body environment which is more alkaline. The results are joy and enthusiasm! It gets you in touch with your natural state of being–which is peaceful and stable. Our bodies (and minds) like to be peaceful, and our “job” is to create the conditions internally (since we can’t always affect our external conditions) for that peace to occur.
Meditation helped me overcome major life changes, disappointments and it hooked me up to an energy source where I truly believe that anything is possible.
Meditation: Just. Do. It.
There are many meditation “techniques”—many approaches ranging from very simple to quite complex. Prayer is probably being the best known “meditation technique,” but all meditation practices share the common purpose of quieting a busy mind.
Getting Started: Time and Place
Set a time and place to meditate daily. I started my practice with 20-minutes twice daily. Sometimes it’s helpful to set a “ridiculously easy” goal, such as: “I will sit and focus on my breath for 1-minute every morning and night.” The effects of that discipline and intention can be astounding. Try 1-minute per day for 2 weeks. Then see if you wish to increase your daily time.
To begin it is best to practice in a quite place with a minimum of distractions. (After becoming more skilled at focusing it will be possible to practice anywhere.)Turn off the phone and ask others in your home to respect your time. I know more than one woman who sits in her closet as it is the quietest spot in the house!
Proper posture: The common suggestion for meditation posture is a straight spine. Sit in a chair which helps your spine stay straight, or on the floor with your hips elevated on a folded blanket or cushion. It’s fine to lean your back against a wall if that helps you stay straight. Being upright is better than lying down, as it is less likely that you will fall asleep. (Personal note: I fell asleep for about the first 3 months of meditating.)
A focus: The point of focus is important in meditation to help the mind settle down. The focus can be a word/words (called a mantra) or following your breath, tracking physical sensation, or a sound.
A common mindfulness meditation technique is can be as easy as following the sensation of your breath…in and out.
Your mind will inevitably try to take over and give you a huge “To Do” list. Thoughts and images will enter your mind. That’s normal. Each time this happens (which will be about every 2 seconds), it’s a chance to train your mind! Keep returning your focus to your breath or other focal point.
As I practiced meditation (my twice-daily 20-min practice), my workouts changed. My body changed. My mind changed. My life changed. Seriously. I can attest that as I became more mindful, I became more PLAYFUL! More joyful! Every workout became a chance to feel my breath, and tune into “an attitude of gratitude.” We get what we focus on–so by focusing on “less,”, I was able to feel into what was “more”…more meaningful, more in line with my goals and dreams, and more expansive. Everyone is an athlete. Anything is possible. Meditation works.