Today I'm going to talk about meditation. Meditation is and includes relaxation and breathing exercises. I'm certainly no expert in meditation, but I know full well the benefits they can have on your health and your squash game. I've read a number of Zen books and have a pretty thorough understanding of the concept of meditation. Taking some time for yourself can help clear the mind. When a professional athlete gets to the highest level the psychological skills to perform at their highest level every time they play is what makes them special. Having control of their concentration and a clear mind is a big part of this. The good news is that you don't need to be a professional athlete or a monk to try and benefit from mediation.
From what I've read you don't even have to follow the guidelines in Zen books. In Zen you are supposed to sit a certain way with good posture. If this is what works for you then great. But I think you can take a mental time out in a variety of ways. I go for a weekly 90 minute float in a float tank. This is time away from your computer, your phone and work. It's a time to just sit. Sometimes I am able to simply count my breathing and quiet my mind while other times my thoughts drift around. No matter what happens though I always get out and feel much more energized.
What you want to do during mediation is up to you. When you try not to think, you aren't really in a relaxed frame of mind. So personally I don't worry about this. If something enters your brain just let it go, but don't force it out. The idea is to be living in the present. That you are the centre of your universe. Your attention moves inward. Focusing on your breathing allows your attention to be in the now. After trying some mediation and floating I realize how frequently my thoughts drift to the future and the past. All we have is this present moment so this is where we should focus our attention and energy and to just live. This is the mindset we need to play our best squash. When I was younger I would spend most of my time and effort trying to achieve future goals. Little did I realize I was so focused on the future that I didn't always take care or enjoy of the present. Having gaols is great, but we shouldn't spend all of our time and effort living in the future.
So how exactly does mediation help your squash game? Well for starters, I read recently that their was a Harvard study that suggested that after 6 weeks of regular meditation the participants gray matter density in their brain increased. http://www.feelguide.com/2014/11/19/harvard-unveils-mri-study-proving-meditation-literally-rebuilds-the-brains-gray-matter-in-8-. The participants also said they felt less stressed after doing their meditation. So meditation is relaxing, but also improves our brain functioning. When I was young I had poor concentration. I think this is why I didn't enjoy reading and had trouble with imagery. So I feel that mediation can help your focus and concentration. As I've already said, mediation can allow you to enter into the now by focusing on your breathing. This can be extremely beneficial before and during a squash match. If you're nervous or feel some anxiety, doing some breathing exercises and meditation can calm you down and bring you back into the present. I've read Phil Jackson's book, Sacred Hoops. Phil said he had team mediation sessions when he coached the Lakers. Sometimes in the heat of battle being able to step back and take a breath can give you an edge. When we become too emotional we can use mediation and breathing to relax us, refocus and recenter.
I don't have all of the answers about mediation. But I have come across a website that is designed specifically to help people meditate. You can check it out here calm.com. It's an interesting concept. Is staring at a computer screen the best way to unwind? I'm not sure, but you can always close your eyes and listen to it. You can select how long of a timer you want to set, change the display and they have a person talking to help guide you through some relaxation. They also have an app for the iPhone and Android. You may find a simple app like this helps you relax and sleep better during tournaments.
I've found meditation and imagery to be one of the toughest areas to teach. Just like when I was a kid, many kids don't have the concentration and can't sit still or just don't appreciate this part of the game yet. It is something that I believe is important to introduce to kids that want to play competitively. Psychological skills and mediation goes much beyond squash. Like any skill you get better with practice. So stick with it and make it a part of your routine.
I know a lot of yoga classes have a breathing and mediation aspect to them. I really enjoy floating. Some people find running to be therapeutic. Run hard enough until your mind wants to stop and all the other mental noise is drowned out.
Do you have any experience with mediation? Have you ever read or heard of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind? It's a good into book to Zen. It was written for western culture. Zen has been through fads on the North America's west coast. How about the book 'The Power Of Now' by Eckhart Tolle? If you're just getting into mediation or Zen I would recommend these two books.
I find it fascinating and believe we would all be happier and healthier and of course play better squash if we made a little quiet time for ourselves once in a while. Maybe you're thinking, who has time to meditate every day? You likely do, but also it doesn't have to be something you do every day. If you end up feeling better because of it, it will be worth every minute of it and you won't want to go a day without it. It can reduce your stress, improve your brain functioning, help you control your emotions, improve your concentration and can benefit your squash game. If you don't already meditate, I hope I'v'e convinced you to give it a try.