An Athlete’s Quiet Mind
Meditation My Way
By Leah Goldstein with Lori Friend Moger, M.Sc.
After a recent speaking event, a participant rushed up to me to shake my hand.
“Wow! That was just amazing! I can’t believe you’ve had so many successes!” And then, out of nowhere, “Do you meditate?”
I bit my lip to keep from smiling. Picturing myself cross-legged on a mat with my eyes closed seemed about as likely as me going into space. Me? Sit and do nothing? I glanced at her loose cotton clothing, exceptional posture and minimalist shoes. Yep, she’s a yogi. I took a deep breath while I tried to think of a better answer than the one racing toward my lips.
“No.” Darn. Truth bomb.
She wasn’t put off in the slightest. “Well you should try it! Meditation gives you focus, aligns your inner energy and quiets your mind. After all you’ve been through, I’m sure you could use some of that!” She smiled, shook my hand with both of hers and walked away. I greeted more people, and chatted about my crazy experiences, but her words kept repeating in my head. Focus, align energy, quiet mind.
And then it hit me. Maybe I DO meditate! Sort of. In my mind, the word “meditate” always conjured up images of chanting hippies sitting in a circle, swaying and sweating in a smoke-filled room. And while I’m sure most people who meditate don’t actually fit my imaginary description, I still could never picture myself settling onto a cushion and just concentrating on my breath. I’m too antsy. However, after chatting with my yogi friend, I realized that I’ve used many mental strategies to “clear my head” over the years, I’d simply been going about it a different way.
- Focus. Many professional cycling events stretch across 3 or more days. Each stage is unique, with time trials (solo ride against the clock), criteriums (tight-turning, crowded lap races) and long, hilly team road races. Each event requires different bike handling skills, physical effort and therefore, prep. I always arrived a few days early, driving and even riding parts of the course taking mental notes on the terrain, pavement conditions and tight turns. The night before, I’d visualize possible scenarios and my response. If I get a flat in that section, I could catch the field on the next climb. If a team attacks early, I’ll attack them right back. Mental rehearsal allows your brain to play out the entire event, and therefore on race day, doesn’t have to think about anything except pushing your legs.
- Align Energy. My kickboxing coach, Alen Chang, never allowed me to look at my opponent (or smile, for that matter – but that’s a different story). Every ounce of stored up training energy had to be protected and turned inward. Before a bout, my heart would beat to the rhythm of the jump rope ticking under my feet, and my breath blew out with each pop on the focus pads. When I stepped into the ring, I couldn’t hear the crowd or sometimes even my coach. My closed mind pulled all of my energy into my torso – my body “loading” for the job ahead. By refusing to acknowledge outside stimulus, my mind and body aligned and elevated my athletic potential.
- Quiet mind. Sports psychologist, coaches and athletes have long bantered about the state of “flow” or “being in the zone.” Elite athletes, and really anyone pushed to perform at a high level, know this feeling. Everything falls into place; your body simply responds to challenges without conscious thought or consideration. I believe this quiet mind comes from being prepared. Years of repetition, mental rehearsal and good coaching all help get to this point; but above all, the calm stems from confidence. It’s the ability to say to yourself: Nobody trains as hard as me. I deserve to win. If you can’t say that before an important event, interview or exam, even meditation won’t silence the little voices of doubt.
I’ve now retired from competitive sport, but I still use these strategies when speaking to large audiences, training my clients and teaching seminars. After all, life is a game – I’ll always compete to be the best; using meditation (my way) is simply one tool I can rely on. I wonder if my yogi friend would still consider me part of the club. I truly hope so.
Leah Goldstein is an internationally sought-after speaker. She is a World Champion Kickboxer, Israeli Undercover Police Officer, National Cycling Champion, record holder of multiple ultra-distance cycling races and all-around crazy person. Leah’s memoir, “No Limits” is available now at http://leahgoldstein.com/book/ and all online retailers.
Lori Friend Moger, M.Sc. is a writer, speaker and Kinesiologist. She is co-founder (with Leah) of No Finish Line Living, a wellness company providing keynotes, seminars and retreats with the sole purpose of pushing people into their best lives possible. She is considerably less crazy. For more information, visit us at www.nofinishlineliving.com and our Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/leahgoldstein1 .