Updated: Jun 2
In today's fast-paced and demanding world, finding inner peace and unlocking our true potential can be a challenge. However, there is a powerful tool available to all of us: meditation.
Beyond its spiritual roots, meditation has emerged as a practical and effective method for achieving success. Discover in this blog how this ancient practice can positively impact our lives, foster personal growth and enhance our productivity.
The origin of meditation
Meditation is believed to have originated thousands of years ago in ancient India. Throughout history, meditation has been practiced in various forms in different cultures and religions worldwide.
These practices often involve techniques such as mindfulness, breath control, visualisation and mantra repetition.
Mindfulness as a practice of meditation
Meditation involves formal practices and techniques that aim to train the brain, while mindfulness is learning someone to be fully present in the moment. Mindfulness meditation, a Buddhist-based breathing practice, is a specific form of meditation that focuses on bringing one's attention to the present moment and fully engaging in activities without judgment or distraction.
Meditation involves dedicated time and specific technique, while mindfulness can be practiced informally throughout the day while for example breathing, listening and walking. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on what’s around you on the present moment.
There are numerous types of mindfulness and meditation practices, each with its own unique approach, technique, and cultural or religious origin.
The benefits of meditation
Meditation, encompassing both mindfulness and other techniques, offers a range of benefits that can positively impact our well-being and cognitive functioning. Scientific research has provided evidence for the neurological advantages of meditation, including but not limited to:
Improved stress management
More creative thinking
Enhanced emotional well-being
Sleep promotion strategy
"You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day, unless you're too busy. Then you should sit for an hour." - An anonymous Zen master
Meditation can change your brain
Neurological research has shown structural and functional changes in the brain associated with meditation practice. Here are some key ways in which meditation can impact the brain:
Strengthened prefrontal cortex:
Regular meditation strengthens the prefrontal cortex, responsible for executive functions like decision-making and problem-solving. Increased activity and connectivity in this area enhance cognitive control and emotional regulation.
Reduced amygdala activity:
Meditation reduces amygdala activity, the brain's fear and stress center, leading to decreased reactivity and suggesting its potential to reduce stress and anxiety. During meditation, the body shifts from the sympathetic nervous system's "fight or flight" response to the parasympathetic nervous system's calming and relaxation response. This shift leads to a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels, promoting a sense of calm and well-being.
Increased gray matter:
Regular meditation increases gray matter volume in brain regions linked to attention, learning, memory, and emotional regulation. These structural changes suggest that meditation can enhance cognitive function and emotional resilience.
Meditation fosters neuroplasticity, enhancing the brain's ability to reorganize and strengthen neural connections. This increased connectivity improves communication between brain regions, leading to heightened attention, concentration, and overall cognitive performance.
Decrease in Default Mode Network activity:
Meditation helps reduce DMN activity, a network of brain regions that are active during rest and mind-wandering, leading to increased present-moment awareness and more of the environmental awareness that underlies focus during sport performance.
The growing recognition of meditation's benefits in the sports world
Meditation has gained significant popularity among business leaders, with notable figures like Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple and Jeff Weiner, former CEO of LinkedIn, embracing its practice.
Meditation has gained popularity among many managers, athletes and players who recognize the benefits it can bring to their performance, to enhance brain recovery and overall well-being.
A few examples are NBA superstar LeBron James, the world-renowned tennis player Novak Djokovic and basketball legend Michael Jordan. Phil Jackson, a renowned basketball coach who has led teams to multiple NBA championships and often referred to as the "Zen Master," is known for incorporating meditation and mindfulness practices into his coaching approach.
Inspiring websites and apps to check out:
Discover websites and apps that can support your meditation journey. You can start anytime, anywhere. Here are some resources that I find interesting to use:
“The goal of meditation isn't to control your thoughts, it's to stop letting them control you.”
In 2015, during the WFA Expert Meeting in Barcelona, I had my first experience with meditation. On the first morning, all delegates gathered in a park near the iconic Camp Nou Stadium to participate in a group meditation session.
Sitting in a comfortable position, I quickly discovered the power of meditation through breath control. The objective was to direct my attention solely to my breathing, following a pattern of inhaling for counts one and two, and exhaling for counts three and four.
Whenever distracting thoughts or interruptions arose, I was encouraged to refocus my attention on my breath. In essence, thinking about breathing became the primary task, and any other thoughts that emerged were gently dismissed.
This practice allowed me to clear my mind by acknowledging and letting go of the thoughts that arose, whether they pertained to work, family, friends, or the past. By centering my focus on my breath, I found a valuable means of silencing the constant stream of unconscious thoughts.
After this first experience, I continued experiencing myself and it’s so powerful to introduce meditation sessions as a tool with staff and players.
I am grateful to have met an cooperated with many experts to study about the brain and implement meditation, mindfulness and breath work into practice! We are only scratching the surface!
Book recommendations (and any other recommendations are welcome!)
10% Happier by Dan Harris
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Mind Over Water by Craig Lambert
The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe
Afonso, R. F. et al. (2020). ‘Neural correlates of meditation: a review of structural and functional MRI studies’, Frontiers in Bioscience-Scholar.
Anderson, S. A., Haraldsdottir, K. and Watson, D. (2021). ‘Mindfulness in Athletes’, Current Sports Medicine Reports.
Buhlmayer, L., Birrer, D., Röthlin, P., Faude, O., Donath, L. (2017). Effects of Mindfulness Practice on Performance-Relevant Parameters and Performance Outcomes in Sports: A Meta-Analytical Review.
Fox, K. C. R. et al. (2014). ‘Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners’, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.
Lardone, A. et al. (2018). ‘Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study’, Neural Plasticity.
Mader, S. (2005). Understanding Human Anatomy and Physiology, 5th edition. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Skinner, J., Smith, A. C. T. and Swanson, S. (2018). Fostering innovative cultures in sport: Leadership, innovation and change.
Lazar, S. W. et al. (2005). ‘Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness’, Neuroreport.
Vestergaard-Poulsen, P. et al. (2009). ‘Long-term meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in the brain stem’, NeuroReport.
Eva Woods - Chelsea FC Women's Health Coach up to 2021.