I’ve written about yoga for hockey and about the importance of quality sleep and how both will improve your performance and your play. There is another piece to the puzzle, and that is learning how to calm the mind to improve mental clarity.
I call this “getting the static out of the attic!”
Meditation techniques have been used by professional and Olympic athletes since the early ’80s, but now these techniques are mainstream and finding their place in the lives and routines of minor league athletes as young as nine.
Why you should meditate
Meditation is a mental discipline that promotes well being by calming the mind and relaxing the body. On a physical level, heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels—the stress hormone—all drop, promoting better sleep, faster recovery and an increased immune level. On a mental level, meditation as little as five to 10 minutes a day can increase mental clarity, help manage anxiety and ease pain. This means you will perform better under stress, and we all know there is too much stress in minor hockey.
To the amazement and delight of their parents, I have had great success teaching meditation to hockey players as young as nine years old. Maybe it’s because by the time I see them at 7:00 o’clock at night, they are overstimulated from a long day at school, texting, video games, rushing their supper and traffic. The youngsters seem to love it and always ask for it at the end of my sessions. Maybe it’s because they immediately “feel” the benefit of the relaxation.
When you should meditate
If you are new to meditation, try to do it every night, in bed, before you go to sleep. It will help you get into a deep sleep faster and promote a faster recovery. This is especially important if you had an evening game or practice or have problems getting to sleep.
Every yoga, stretching or mobility session should include a relaxation and meditation component. I even recommend it after a hard interval or strength session. Make sure your instructor is qualified to conduct this training and includes it.
Once you are comfortable with sitting or lying without moving or falling asleep for 10 minutes, you are ready for a pre-game meditation. Start out with a meditation two to three hours before a game or even when driving to your game. Everyone is different and you will know when works best for you. Goalies really benefit from a pre-game meditation, and no, it’s not mediation if you have headphones on.
Meditation techniques are very simple to do, but very difficult to do right. At first, you might just fall asleep, which is ok because you can’t get more physically relaxed than that. But to relax the mind, you need to take your meditation practice to a deeper level and for that you need to focus. Have you heard that before? “Your focus needs more focus!!”
At first, you will find that your mind will wander to all kinds of thoughts, some invoking emotions and tension. Try hard to just observe the thought, acknowledging that it’s there, but not engaging it. Just let it go by bringing your attention back to your inhale and exhale. Think of your breath like the sound of the ocean waves coming to shore. With every inhale, become more aware of your body and with every exhale, let go of the tension and relax deeper.
They say Wayne Gretzky saw the game in slow motion. What that means is that he saw the game with unmatched clarity and adapted accordingly. You too can develop this clarity with meditation. It’s a skill, like everything else.
How you can meditate
Here is a sample meditation (and what you could expect).
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