Ritual, a practice, is what makes you perform day after day, year after year. At Spartan, we’re never about doing a fitness feat once. Selecting actionable, sustainable rituals that power your performance, push your limits and gain results is key to living the Spartan Way. In this series, we share how to build healthy rituals that last so you can optimize (and revolutionize) your life. Think: screw resolutions—this is for the long game. Let’s make rituals instead.
Sponsored by our partner, Ritual Zero Proof
Want to hear something crazy? Sitting still may just be the key to boosting your athletic performance.
Science proves that spending even just a few minutes per day solo and quiet to focus on your breathing both cultivates a stronger mind-body connection and directly translates to better fitness performance.
A 2020 study published in Neural Plasticity evaluated 46 athletes ages 18-25 who followed a 5-week mindfulness program. Athletes in the test group employed meditation activities that helped them pay attention on purpose, breathe in the present moment and non-judgmentally experience events as they unfolded. The study found that meditating even two days per week for five weeks reduced stress levels, and improved movement control as well as fatigue and pain thresholds. It also decreased cortisol levels, which contribute to competition anxiety (think: pre-race jitters).
In addition to major performance benefits, mindfulness also helps with dialing in (and sticking to) your diet goals and nutrition plan. “A consistent meditation/mindfulness practice can carry over into your nutritional habits, especially when it comes to cutting out things you don’t want to consume (unless in moderation) like alcohol and sugar, by readjusting your mindset toward these things,” says Marley Oldham Carnes, MS, RDN, CSCS.
When you take a moment to notice and accept your feelings (a.k.a. why you are reaching for the beer or bread), it helps dismantle emotional eating and create a healthy relationship with what you consume, she says. For example, when you’re mindful, you’re less likely to drink alcohol compulsively. If you really want a cocktail, you’ll enjoy each sip. If you don’t fancy the negative setbacks of booze, you’ll have the awareness to choose an alternative, like Ritual non-alcoholic tequila.
“It is completely normal for athletes to turn to food as a means to celebrate, relax or relieve stress, just as some do with alcohol,” says Oldham Carnes. “Overcoming [non-moderate eating behaviors] is not to avoid but rather accept your emotions, including negative ones, because this contributes to your overall wellbeing.”
So, if you’re serious about reaping the benefits of a meditation practice (and we’re behind you!) know this: consistency is key. Here, get the Spartan-approved weeklong action plan to start meditating. In less time than a sitcom episode, you’ll feel more grounded, confident and connected so you can live your best life, before, during and after training.
The 7-Day Plan to Jumpstart Your Meditation Practice
Before You Begin:
Set Up Your Meditation Space
Find a quiet spot where you can meditate consistently each day. Ideally, you’ll be able to close the door to shut out distractions. Sit cross legged on a comfortable pillow to lift your hips and pelvis. This helps support good posture so you can focus more on meditation and less on physical discomfort. If sitting is just too painful or you are rehabbing injuries, lie down. It’s all good.
Amp it up by adding essential oils (scents help the mind to focus), white noise music, blankets, a space heater… whatever makes you comfortable. Experiment with your space, but consider your meditation time as sacred as your workout regimen.
Designate A Daily Meditation Time
Like anything fitness related, consistency is key. If you can meditate around the same time each day, you’ll be more successful at sticking with it. It doesn’t matter as much when you meditate (we recommend mornings, so you’re less tired), but hold 10-20 minutes for your practice where you don’t schedule anything else. Set a reminder in your phone to block it off.
The Meditate-More Plan:
Days 1-3 — Start Small
Time Goal: Set your phone timer for five minutes.
Exercise: Noticing the Breath
Find a comfortable seat, sit up tall, close your eyes and begin to notice your breath. Without changing anything, pay attention to your inhales and exhales. If your thoughts wander, simply notice this and invite them back to the present moment, without judgement. (This will happen a lot as you start out—it’s normal, and part of the practice.)
Days 4-6 — Put Some Focus to It
Time Goal: Set your phone timer for 10 minutes.
Exercise: The Befriending Breath
Oldham Carnes recommends this exercise to her clients who struggle with emotional eating or mindful consumption, but it can be used to cultivate awareness in any arena (i.e. thought management, body connection, etc). “With this exercise, you are courageously experiencing the human condition,” she says. “Befriending means you aren’t rejecting yourself.”
Practice this technique sitting up or lying down. Here’s how:
- Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart.
- Invite your chest to soften and your breath to relax into your belly.
- Notice any arising sensation or thought. As you inhale, extend a warm invitation to what is arising in your body or your mind.
- As you exhale, further soften your chest and relax your belly, welcoming what is occurring with acceptance.
- Practice this for 1 to 2 minutes. Then rest and reflect for another minute.
Practice two to three rounds of this simple, mindful breath on days 4-6. Feel free to write down what came up for you—journaling is a great way to notice emotional patterns that need a second look.
Day 7 — Take It Deeper
Time Goal: The 20-Minute Challenge
Exercise: Your Choice
Set your timer for 20 minutes and forget about it. Choose working on breathing mindfully, use The Befriending Breath, or employ a mix of both. No matter what you do, relax and be present with your breath, emotions and thoughts—without judgement. This beginning practice is simply about cultivating more awareness.
Now with this meditative base, stick to your routine the following week and beyond. Take what you like and ditch what you don’t. But above all, stay consistent. Hit anywhere from 10-20 minutes of meditation each day and notice the stability a little mindfulness brings to your life. (Bonuses = you'll sleep better, eat healthier, booze less and work out stronger. Give it a shot. What do you have to lose?)