For this calendar quarter, the NBA Coaches Association’s focus is on Mindfulness and specifically the basic human ability to be present, to be aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and to not be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us.
Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and a large group of other legendary NBA contributors share two things in common: success on the court and their common routines of practicing mindful meditation off the court. The ability to clear one’s head and control his or her breathing in times of high pressure and stress is vital.
Your mind, body, and soul are inseparable. Yet, each works according to certain chemical reactions and physiological laws. Figuring out how these laws operate allows one to gain control over his or her own inner workings and open doors to happiness and success. The combination of knowing how one’s body works along with having a just mindset will significantly reduce stress in pressure – packed circumstances.
7 Science Backed Benefits To Practicing Mindfulness:
1) Lowers Stress
2) Increases Energy
3) Unlocks Creativity
4) Focuses One’s Mind
5) Reduces Brain Chatter
6) Creates Better Connection With People and Surroundings
7) Allows for Better Understanding of Physical and Emotional Pain
In fact, Andy Puddicombe, a mindfulness and meditation expert with a background in sports science (founded Headspace, a digital health app platform that provides guided meditation training for more than 6 million subscribers), claims the following:
• Performance: A United States study found that just four days of 20 minutes per day mindfulness training improved working memory and the ability to sustain attention.
• Sleep: Up to one-third of people experience issues such as difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep while one in ten are said to experience insomnia regularly. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials for insomnia found that eight weeks of in-person meditation training significantly improved total waking time and sleep quality in patients with insomnia.
• Lifestyle: A study of people who eat out frequently found that eating mindfully resulted in people eating 20% fewer calories.
• Cognition: Scientists investigated the effects of a brief in-person meditation training program on cognition and their findings suggest that meditating for just four days is enough to improve novice meditators’ working memories, executive functions, and their abilities to process visual information. Another paper reviewing the neural effects of in-person meditation training found that meditation leads to activation in brain regions involved in self-regulation, problem-solving, adaptive behavior, and interoception.
• Anxiety: Anxiety currently affects about 7.3% of the total world population or 18.1% of American Adults. A systematic review of in-person meditation training found that 69% of the studies analyzed showed meditation practice alleviated symptoms of anxiety.
• Relationships: A study from Northeastern University found that people who practiced mindfulness are five times more likely to behave compassionately towards others.
• Health: A recent review of nearly 50 scientific studies found that mindfulness techniques were as effective as anti-depressants in helping with depression, but with no side effects.
Without prioritizing mindfulness, anxiety and stress can and will naturally arise. Our bodies’ hormones have evolved into an automatic response system that produce a “fight or flight” response. External phenomena (such as the appearance of danger ahead) and internal phenomena (such as the fear of losing your job or your loved ones becoming sick) trigger a myriad of hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, that surge through our bodies and speed up our heart rates. Once this happens, our bodies become prepared for action, and it will take some time forour bodies to calm down after this type of event/stress.
The reason our bodies evolved this way is to help during short-term, life-threatening situations; not in daily traffic jams or personal/work related stressors. As a result, this repeated arousal of our stress responses can have harmful physical and psychological effects, including but not limited to heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression. For Coaches, this would not only mean less productivity, but also health issues that could potentially lead to a necessary break from basketball.
George Mumford – The Mindful Athletes:
The most respected man in the NBA when it comes to mindfulness techniques is the author of The Mindful Athlete, George Mumford. His extensive work with multiple championship winning teams has stressed many of the key aspects of what it means to be a mindful NBA coach and player. Mumford will often ask coaches what their individual challenges are and how they relate to one another. He encourages quieting the negative voices in one’s brain, which will enhance focus in pressure-packed situations. This results in better body language and the ability to rise above pressure when others fall. For more information on George Mumford please visit his website: (http://mindfulathlete.org) and check out his book, The Mindful Athlete.
Mindfulness and Nutrition – Stacy Goldberg MPH, RN, BSN:
Whether you’re coaching, eating, or exercising, mindfulness plays a key role in self-awareness. By definition, mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.” Essentially, mindfulness is characterized as uninterrupted focus on any activity and is often used as a therapeutic technique. Eliminating external and internal distractions enables one to focus on only his/her thoughts and emotions. Simply being aware during everyday activities such as eating increases self-awareness and improves healthy decision-making.
Studies have shown a relationship between mindfulness and eating behavior. When practicing mindfulness, individuals experience an enhanced sense of self-control and are likely to pay closer attention to fullness cues. Mindful eating implies awareness of the senses, body, and mind while eating. This allows individuals to focus on the act of eating: observing taste and texture, recognizing unconscious eating habits, and tuning in to satiety triggers. Satiety triggers are defined as feelings of fullness and satisfaction while eating.
To take mindfulness a step further, The Center For Mindful Eating defines mindful eating as:
• Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food preparation and consumption by respecting your own inner wisdom.
• Choosing to eat food that is both pleasing to you and nourishing to your body by using all your senses to explore, savor, and taste.
• Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes, or neutral) without judgment.
• Learning to be aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decision to begin eating and to stop eating.
Someone Who Eats Mindfully:
• Acknowledges that there is no right or wrong way to eat but varying degrees of awareness surrounding the experience of food.
• Accepts that his/her eating experiences are unique.
• Is an individual who by choice, directs his/her awareness to all aspects of food and eating on a moment-by-moment basis.
• Is an individual who looks at the immediate choices and direct experiences associated with food and eating; not to the distant health outcome of that choice.
• Is aware of, and reflects on, the effects caused by unmindful eating.
• Experiences insight about how he/she can act to achieve specific health goals as he/she becomes more attuned to the direct experience of eating and feelings of health.
• Becomes aware of the interconnection of earth, living beings, and cultural practices and the impact that his/her food choices have on those systems.
Stomach Hunger vs. Head Hunger?:
Eating mindfully requires pausing before taking a bite or sip, whether it be a snack, meal, or beverage. This can be before opening the hotel room refrigerator or grabbing the nearest candy bar on the plane post-game.
Here are some questions to ask before eating or drinking commences:
1) Am I eating because I am hungry or bored? Stressed? Angry? Depressed? Excited?
2) Am I passing the time on a long flight rather than reading a book or watching a movie?
3) Am I celebrating a victory with food or alcohol?
4) Am I consoling my loss by giving myself permission to eat anything I want?
5) Is my stomach growling and blood sugar dropping? Do I feel like my body needs nourishment (stomach hunger), or am I looking for a distraction (head hunger)?
Strategies to Practice Mindful Eating:
The off-season is an excellent time to begin focusing on mindful eating strategies:
• Consider taking a walk to blow off some steam or a power nap to refresh yourself and renew your mind.
• You can practice mindfulness through meditation, yoga, and physical exercise.
• Eat slowly, while taking note of your food’s many flavors and textures. Chew thoughtfully, reflecting on the food’s journey from farm to table. While you eat, pay close attention to your body’s signals. When you feel full, put your fork down and pause. This mindfulness tip will prevent overeating and potential weight gain.
• Instead of aimlessly reaching into a bag or container, serve food on a plate. Doing so allows you to clearly see what you are putting into your body and encourages mindful eating. Eat with utensils when appropriate rather than with your hands or fingers.
• Disconnect from technology when eating a snack or a meal. Put your phone down, close your laptop, and turn off the TV when eating. When you’re distracted by screens and eating on auto-pilot, you may be more inclined to indulge. Use this time to appreciate your food and to connect with the people you are sharing a meal with.
• If you would like to use technology as a support, there are several apps to assist in your mindful eating goals:
o In The Moment-Mindful Eating
o Mindful Eating Tracker
o Eat, Chew, Rest
Mindfulness and Nutrition Sources:
1) Albers, Susan. 2008. Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful (Mindful Eating Quiz)
2) Moor et al. 2013. Mindful Eating and Its Relationship to Body Mass Index and Physical Activity Among University Students
3) Rott et al. 2008. An Eight Week Mindful Eating Education Program Increases Self Efficacy and Weight Loss
How Do I Practice Mindfulness And Meditation?:
Most Coaches will not have 20 minutes to sit down, relax, and focus on becoming more mindful. However, with this in mind, it’s essential to spare at least a few minutes each day for your well-being and health. Mindfulness is available to us in every moment, whether through meditation and body scans or mindful moment practices like taking time to pause and breathe when the phone rings, instead of rushing to answer it. Here are the 5 basics of mindful practice:
1) Set aside some time. You don’t need a meditation cushion, bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time and space.
2) Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement.
3) Let your judgments roll by. When we notice judgements arise during our practice, we can make a mental note of them, and let them pass.
4) Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
5) Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up; just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.
A Simple Meditation Practice:
1) Sit comfortably. Find a spot that gives you a stable, solid, comfortable seat.
2) Notice what your legs are doing. If on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, rest the bottoms of your feet on the floor.
3) Straighten your upper body—but don’t stiffen. Your spine has natural curvature. Let it be there.
4) Notice what your arms are doing. Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Rest the palms of your hands on your legs wherever it feels most natural.
5) Soften your gaze. Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. It’s not necessary to close your eyes. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it.
6) Feel your breath. Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, along with the rising and falling of your stomach or your chest.
7) Notice when your mind wanders from your breath. Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. Don’t worry. There’s no need to block or eliminate thinking. When you notice your mind wandering, gently return your attention to the breath.
8) Be kind about your wandering mind. You may find your mind wandering constantly—that’s normal, too. Instead of wrestling with your thoughts, practice observing them without reacting. Just sit and pay attention. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all there is. Come back to your breath over and over again, without judgment or expectation.
9) When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions. Remember this feeling.
Coaching at the NBA level is undoubtedly an extremely stressful position; travel, long hours, and constant pressure to succeed will often take their tolls. Luckily, there are ways of mentally and emotionally preparing for the grind that is the NBA season. Like with a player who spends hours a day building muscle in order to maintain a strong and healthy body, it is vital for a coach to build mindfulness in order to create a strong and healthy mind. Stresses and anxieties will naturally come about during the NBA season. However, one can rise above these obstacles and enhance his or her own production in all facets of life. Exercising the mind requires effort, but it can help alleviate stress, can allow for a more fluid “brainflow”, and can lead to better relationships with friends and family.