Meditating with Triathlon

In our blogs, we often talk about the many benefits the three sports that create triathlon have over our bodies and minds. We have touched on how training helps individuals cope with mental health issues. We know that it increases the body’s immune system and tissue regeneration. The social aspect and the benefits of introducing positive people into our lives is hugely undervalued. Overall, the benefits of staying active through such a multifaceted sport are endless.

Today, Mental Health Counsellor Alejandro Rivera will be discussing one aspect of triathlon that has been rarely explored but is equally valuable when developing a healthy and holistic lifestyle. How can an individual use swim, bike and/or run to meditate and explore their inner self and help bring balance to their lives?

Research has found that engaging in meditation while training can develop other areas of the human brain. It has been observed that athletes who engage in meditative practices increase their ability to concentrate. They are able to reduce stress both emotionally and physically it has been found to have a positive effect in areas of the brain such as hippocampus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and insula. This leads to the conclusion that there are measurable positive health benefits and these can be used to improve an individual’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

For most of us, the big question is how we introduce this into our training.  We need to identify and understand the areas of Triathlon that are also valuable when meditating and how both activities connect when correctly performed. There are many aspects that can make this up, but here, we will focus in the three main points that are most recognisable and easy to implement.

  1. Movement: As you would expect, triathlon is an activity that requires a lot of physical movement. However, it also brings the participant to an immersing sensorial experience, regardless of which of the three sports are being engaged in. All the senses come into the “here and now”. Athletes get the chance to fully connect with the present moment as their body becomes more aware of the surroundings and inner self.
  • Breathing: As obvious as it might seem, respiration is a very important aspect of both sport and meditation alike. The more we work on our breathing, the more aware we become of the way we breathe. This builds on our ability to develop our proprioceptive awareness and become more aware of our body in relation to the space it occupies.
  • Connection: This helps us to understand what we value the most in life. Anyone can meditate, but the road that each individual travels to get there varies greatly from person to person. Some people like calmness and quiet. They can sit quietly in one spot for long periods of time without complaining or worrying too much about life. For others, staying still is torture, they need to get moving, and their nature is that of an explorer, always in search of novelty and transformation. Triathlon is an activity that connects with the roots of the athletes, who enjoy the long hours in the saddle, or endless laps on the pool.

Each individual also needs to define what kind of session suits them best for meditation. When training for a big event, like on the Melbourne half ironman training plan

there is a wide range of different session types. Fartlek, tempo, speed work, technique acquisition just to name a few. The one that is always there and best resembles the physical activation that comes with this activity is the longer endurance session. This is the basic endurance-building zone, and should be at a conversational pace and still feel pretty easy. Not only does it build your endurance towards more physically demanding races, it will also get you in a zone where deep thought and connection with the environment is more possible.

What comes next varies from person to person according to what they value the most. Mostly, you can start focusing on the here and the now. The wind in your face, the road or lane you are moving in, the scenery around you. These elements will anchor you into the present moment and allow you to stay in it as a safe space. Finally, you can be free to wonder the deepest areas of your mind, allow yourself to explore the different thoughts that wonder your mind that usually have no place in our day to day routines. Think of the most recent interaction with your partner, reflect on your mood, ask yourself whether or not you should spend more time with a close one. Once you get “in the zone” it is only you who can decide how far you want these thoughts to go.

It must be mentioned that this process around meditation can be guided by a mental health professional to enhance results. Working on processing emotions, traumas or stress responses accompanied by cognitive and emotional techniques. This can be used to remain grounded in the external environment and respiration patterns while focusing on going through the emotion or episode that needs to be processed and dissociated from the past.

Swimming, cycling and running are exercises that immerse the athlete into a complete different world, regardless of what is going on with family, work, education and life in general. The invitation here is to use at least one session per week to focus on the elements explained above. Instead of constantly pushing the limits of your body, take the time to feel the changes in your breathing patterns, the sensations around you. That way, triathlon can be not only a sport to be physically fit and healthy, but it can also let you understand and explore those areas of life that tend to be left behind in our day to day routines.

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