Why & How to Practice Mindfulness

Alex Foster Headshot (Small)Alex Foster is a professional basketball player and founder of Sense Basketball, a youth basketball initiative. His youth programs include purposeful skills training and mindfulness exercise, to promote athletes’ self-confidence and general well-being.

On the surface, it’s hard to see any similarities between the seemingly lavish lives of professional basketball players and the humble existence that Buddhist monks seek. Beneath the surface, however, their minds might operate closer than we think.

Consider the following quotes, the first from a basketball legend, the second from a zen master:

Every so often a Celtics game would heat up, so that it became more than a physical and mental game, and would be magical… I’d be putting out the maximum effort, straining, coughing up parts of my lungs as we ran, and yet I never felt the pain.
Bill Russell, 11x NBA Champion & 5x NBA MVP

This way is just to do it, forgetting all about yourself in your practice.
Shunryu Suzuki, founder of the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia 

As it turns out, the link between Russell and Suzuki is no coincidence. The parallel between the two lies in the mindset needed to achieve their respective goals; basketball performance and enlightenment both rely on the ability to embrace the present moment.

The crowd gets quiet, and the moment starts to become the moment for me… That’s part of that zen Buddhism stuff.
Michael Jordan, 6x NBA Champion & 5x NBA MVP

Does the secret to basketball performance lay in an ancient tradition? MJ isn’t the only one that thinks so. Kobe Bryant credits present-mindedness for his historic 81-point performance. Cameras caught Lebron James finding the moment by meditating on the bench, before winning his first NBA championship in 2012.

So maybe it isn’t such a secret after all.

Mindfulness isn’t limited to the pros. Just like every basketball skill, however, mindfulness takes practice. Yet with a little bit of guidance, any player can strengthen their connection with the present moment.

Here are four ways to get players started:

1. Make Time for the Mind

Mindfulness is practice that takes time. In order to understand the workings of the mind, slow thoughts to a manageable pace.

Tip: get to the gym early; rushing leaves no time for thoughts to settle

2. Focus on the Breath

The mind always follows the breath. By focusing on the breath, thoughts are centered in the present moment.

Tip: during stretching or a break in practice, count out three long inhales and exhales as a group

3. Get a Sense for Surrounding

In order to center the mind in the present, observe the surrounding environment. Sights, sounds, smells; an awareness of physical sensations helps focus the mind.

Tip: after a breathing exercise, extend attention to close proximities first, then to the furthest ends of the gym

4. Meditate on the Moment

Meditation is the key that unlocks mindfulness. The best way to synchronize with the present is to direct awareness inwards and reflect on consciousness itself.

Tip: start by trying to focus on a single thought for 60-seconds and gradually increase the time interval, reminding  the mind to come back to the breath when it begins to drift

Learn more about the art of mindfulness at sensebasketball.com!

Have you ever tried practicing mindfulness? Share your experience in the comments below!

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