At a time when everyone is looking for the next advantage in life. It might seem a little crazy to suggest stopping what you're doing, sit down, close your eyes and meditate, right? Wrong!
With their backs against the wall in Super Bowl 51, the New England Patriots found themselves with a 28-3 point deficit against the Atlanta Falcons. History states that no team has ever come back from more than a 10-point margin, it was safe to say the Patriots were highly unlikely to win.
Boasting the best defence and 3rd ranked offense in the league, the Patriots had great reason to believe they were still able to win the match. No one more so than Tom Brady, their quarterback. Tom completed the most passing yards (466) in Super Bowl history. Guiding his team to one of the all-time great comeback victories.
How is it that Tom Brady, with very little going the Patriots way, with years of statistics suggesting victory was near impossible, shrug off all negative emotion, go out there and deliver the performance of a lifetime?
There is no one specific area of focus that makes an exceptional performer. However, like most occupations, it is a combination of many that contribute to the development of an elite NFL player. Programs typically use sports science, strength and conditioning, recovery protocols, technical and tactical training to assist in advancing their athletes. In addition, a new frontier of evolution is making its way into the elite NFL scene, meditation. Take one guess who uses it? Tom Brady.
Tom uses meditation to help him to complete his whole picture of performance, which "relates to being physically fit, emotionally stable and spiritually nourished", says Tom's trainer and adviser Alex Guerrero.
Meditation and its effect on performance go hand in hand. Meditation provides you with a technique to stay cool, calm and collected under the most stressful of situations (even a Super Bowl). A component of our nervous system (NS) is divided into two parts; the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which aids with rest and recovery, and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is designed for fight or flight. In highly stressful situations it is advantageous for your NS to be in a balanced state so you can perform your task effectively.
Meditation as a practice has been shown to increase PNS activity (1). Meanings when you meditate you are putting your body into a state of high rest and recovery. Once you are developed in your practice you will have the ability transfer that state of relaxation into your most challenging situations. Potentially you can experience less stress and anxiety (2), and thus increase your chances of performance.
Meditation has also been shown to enhance your capacity to focus (3). Typically meditation practices require a student to concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time e.g. your breath. Interestingly, adaptations to elevated levels of focus have been shown in as little as 5 days of 20-minute practice (3). In advanced students increased concentration is thought to correlate with higher emotional stability (4). Furthermore, meditation has also been shown to reduce the distracting effect of external stimuli (4), such as a loud crowd in a Super Bowl.
There is no doubt that Tom Brady is a once in a lifetime athlete. If you've only learned who he is this week through his Super Bowl victory or this post, you might assume he's been great his whole career, wrong. In 2000 Tom was drafted by the Patriots in the 6th round, at the 199th pick! Far from a 1st round quarterback selection where you would assume he came from. Tom is known for his work ethic and is famous for saying to the owner of the Patriots after the 2000 draft, "I'm the best decision this organisation has ever made".
Tom's mental ability to stay present within each moment, play-by-play, is nothing short of amazing. He does not worry about the past; he does not concern himself with the future. He is 100% focused on his process. Tom exhibits many potential adaptations from his meditation practice. He is extremely balanced and calm, displays high levels of focus and is not easily distracted. Meditation teaches you to be in the moment. Tom fights to be in the moment and that's why he is one of the greatest performing athletes of all time.
(1) Wu, S and Lo, P. (2008). Inward-attention meditation increases parasympathetic activity: a study based on heart rate variability. Biomedical Research, 29(5), pp. 245-250.
(2) Kabat-Zinn, J et al. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 149, pp. 936-943
(3) Tang, Y et al. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. PNAS, 104(43), pp. 17152-6.
(4) Lutz, A et al. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in cognitive sciences, 12(4), pp. 163-169.