What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword lately, but don't let that put you off seeing what all the fuss is about. We are big supporters of the idea, here is what the Oxford Dictionary have to say on the matter:
Mindfulness: 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.
OK, so it sounds like meditation? Sort of, but not quite. Where meditation aims to empty your mind of all thoughts for a period of time so as to feel fully relaxed, mindfulness is more about allowing your mind do what it wants while really honing in on your current physiological state, whatever that may be at the time. While undoubtedly relaxing, it also heightens your focus and awareness of self. Ideally you should make time to practice mindfulness every day, even just a short 10 minutes can yield great effects.
What does mindfulness have to do with Squash?
Used in the right way at the right times, practicing mindfulness can lead to great benefits on your all round performance levels and state of mind, which can most certainly be applied to your squash game, or in fact any sport. Here are a few of the benefits you can expect to enjoy:
- Focus – perhaps the biggest sporting benefit comes from a heightened sense of focus as distracting thoughts are left behind during the mindfulness process. This can take a few sessions to feel stronger, but believe us when we say it works.
- Stress relief – taking just a short time out each day, allowing your mind to stop and “wander” for a bit while you focus in on how you feel, this is proven to lower stress levels. Less stress means your performance can meet your potential more successfully, and hopefully break a few less racquets!
- Positive thinking – quite linked to the stress relief benefit, through mindfulness you will naturally take a more positive outlook on situations, likely due to the fact you have taken the time to process them and calm your body. A positive approach is crucial to success on the squash court.
- Body awareness – sometimes small aches and pains can become so familiar that we almost forget they are there, but if you have them they are without doubt hindering your squash performance. Through mindfulness you learn to “scan” your body and notice everything you are feeling, just be sure to deal with any niggling pains.
- Mental relaxation post matches – mindfulness could also be used as a post-match relaxation technique, to help process what happened and reflect on your performance, all the while giving your body time to just stop for a few minutes.
Sounds great! Where do I start?
A great thing about mindfulness is that you don't really need any equipment or anything to get started, just you, yourself and a quiet space. To get used to the basics, sit somewhere comfortable in a quiet space with no disturbance, close your eyes, breathe slowly and deeply, and imagine scanning your body on the inside from head down to feet. Really notice how each part of your body feels, and allow any sounds just to be as they are. Give yourself 10 minutes for this at first, and try every day for 1 week. Then see how you feel, and see if you feel a difference in the rest of your daily life as well as the squash court.
We also highly recommend getting your hands on an app called “Headspace”. Headspace is a great app which talks you through the mindfulness process in a simple manner with daily reminders and topics to focus on. There's plenty of free content, plus some premium content which is well worth the money if you enjoy the free stuff. They have included a program focussing on improving sports performance which we highly recommend.