Doug Dupont http://breakingmuscle.com
One of the ways I have helped many athletes is by teaching them to
stimulate their relaxation response through techniques like meditation. After training combat athletes for years, I found that many of them had a lot of stress and anxiety. Go figure. Fighters get stressed out, and they need help to rein it in.
The relaxation response is the exact opposite of the stress response,
sometimes called fight-or-flight. While I employ methods that stimulate
the relaxation response in athletes because I know them to be
effective, I can’t say I ever knew the science behind it until now. In fact, until a recent PLoS ONE study I’m not sure there was any study examining which genes were affected by meditation.
In this new study, researchers looked at people with at least four years of experience mediating and also meditation newbies.
The experienced group was allowed to meditate using their own preferred
methods, where the inexperienced group was trained in meditation for
eight weeks. The researchers then studied the genes expressed by
each group to find which pathways were stimulated by meditation and how
it affected each group.
The researchers discovered a substantial array of potential benefits.
The genes activated were mostly energy and stress related. It seems as
though meditation helps to protect mitochondria, the energy producing
parts of our cells, against stress. Meditation also improved
insulin function and increased the production of ATPase, an enzyme
primarily responsible for producing the building block molecules of energy in our body.
Interestingly, these benefits were produced in each participant, no
matter their experience level, but those with greater experience had
especially strong results. This would indicate that practicing the skills associated with meditative practices does actually improve the benefits. While
I’ve seen this in athletes I train, it’s cool to see it on paper too.
Meditation is a skill just like any other, and you can be better at it.
It’s plain for anyone to see that meditation has important effects on relaxation,
and so also benefits sleep. It’s an important part of the daily process
for athletes I have trained for this reason alone. Meditation aids with
sleep by mitigating stress, particularly physical stress through
consciously reducing psychological stress. With a lot of meditative
practice, it could also help to calm excitable athletes before
According to this study, it seems the obvious benefits to stress
reduction aren’t all we have to look forward to. Apparently meditation
also improves energy production and utilization. This is a double whammy
for athletes. Less stress (read: better recovery) and more energy both mean better quality workouts and competitions. Over the long term you won’t find a cheaper and simpler athletic booster.
Meditation can be done anytime and anywhere, and you don’t even need
to make time in your day for it. If you haven’t gotten on this bandwagon
yet, today is the day.