Tap into Your Inner Strength
How to use meditation to take your mind and body to new heights.
   Mention the word meditation around a group of athletes and watch them roll their eyes or wince like they had just caught a whiff of an old sweat sock. 
To the pragmatic athlete, meditation is a term packed with negative connotations. The whole concept seems a tad too mystical, weird, new age and touchy-feely 
to be taken seriously as an aid to sports improvement by the typical red-blooded American jock. To the aggressive competitor, the perceived image of 
meditation seems in total contradiction to the smash-mouth mind-set so prevalent in modern athletics. Too bad, it's a lame rap on a valuable athletic tool. 
Meditation, when properly applied, can propel your physical progress into the stratosphere. And you need nothing but a few simple guidelines; no equipment 
to buy, no expensive supplements to ingest, no major time commitment necessary. Yet athletes so intent on training every muscle, so methodical in their 
approach ignore the critical mind/body link and then lament their stagnation. Mental mastery eludes them and their progress grinds to a halt. 
Meditation, for our purposes, is the systematic harnessing of untapped mental powers to improve sports performance. If you apply it correctly, you can improve 
your athletic abilities by gaining access to "the zone," that legendary mental state in which an athlete strictly through the powers of the mind can exceed his or her 
capabilities. When athletes are in the zone, they perform "over their heads"; they turn in a performance beyond their realistic capacity.  When "zoned-out," the 
athletes literally will themselves to break their personal records, to exceed their previous best. Unfortunately, the zone seems to have a mind of its own. It 
moves through our consciousness like the welcome relief of a summer thunderstorm on a hot August day. By systematically meditating, you can make it rain 
upon command. One of the most difficult things to do in sport is conjure up the zone. Through meditation we develop a method and the ability to do just that. 
In the martial arts world, meditation has a 1,000-year-old track record as a performance aid. T'ai chi ch'uan, karate, kendo, aikido and judo are just a few of the 
martial arts that use meditation before practice and competition. And, believe me, the practitioners are not meditating for any touchy-feely space-cadet rationale. 
They meditate because they perform better as a result. If we felt strong, confident, powerful, fierce and capable every time we trained or competed, 
we would have no need of meditation. Meditation is the art of altering our existing psychological state into one more conducive to achieving our immediate 
athletic goals. The correct attitude can turn a bad day into a good day and a good day into a great day. We learn to train the mind just as we would a muscle.
 As with any sport attribute, practice and perseverance are the keys to progress.
The first step is to find a comfortable place to sit. Fix the eyes on something or close them if you prefer. Whether you are at home or in the gym, you must 
pay close attention to posture. Keep the spine straight, the neck upright. Don't sit rigidly, but straight and tall. Slumping interferes with the breathing passageways
and indicates lack of concentration. Maintaining correct posture can be fatiguing at first, but it's necessary. 
   Sit on a bench, in a chair or, better yet, cross-legged on a cushion or folded towels. The crossed-leg position (with elevated butt) is superior for smooth breathing 
and proper posture.  Place your hands in the Zen mudra position, right hand palm up on lap, left hand on top of right hand, also palm up, the balls of the thumbs 
touching lightly. If the thumbs drift apart, or press together, you have lost your concentration. Posture and the Zen mudra (hand position) are the concentration monitors.
 The core of the practice is breath control. Breath control is the tool that allows you to alter your existing mental state. Inhale slowly and rhythmically through the nose, 
breathing quietly and deliberately. The incoming breath fills (in sequence): the abdomen, the ribcage and the upper chest. After you draw a full, comfortable breath, hold
 it for a count of one, then release it slowly at the same rate and rhythm as you drew it in. The exhalation procedure is the exact opposite of inhalation: First expel the air 
from your upper chest, next the ribcage and finally the abdomen. Allow the abdomen to power the breathing process. Try to breathe silently. Inner Dialogue, Nemesis of
 Concentration. Concentration is the ability to tell yourself to pay attention to something and then doing exactly that! Our minds tend to drift. We have continuous mental 
conversations. Damn near every minute of the day we talk to ourselves. Through meditation, we control, limit and finally eliminate this internal chitchat. Rambling 
thoughts are counterproductive in athletics (or life, for that matter). These thoughts can be controlled and mastered through breath awareness.  When in action, 
the only thoughts a good athlete has are those directly related to the task at hand. More often than not, great athletes don't think they do! Thought does not occur fast 
enough to effectively offer any more than the briefest of suggestions when the athlete is under the pressure of a full-speed, competitive situation. Instead, great athletes
 rely on instinct, intuition, auto-response, and hours and hours of training, practice and preparation to carry them through. Keen, laser-like concentration is a trait 
common to great athletes. Inner dialogue is detrimental to concentration. You cannot concentrate on doing something and simultaneously hold an unrelated conversation 
with yourself. The optimal athletic mind-set is clear and alert. No inner dialogue just 100%, perfect, silent, alert concentration. 
You cannot enter the zone as long as preoccupation exists. 
The first step in accessing the zone is to put the inner voice to work so it won't wander. Do this by having your inner voice count breaths. 
Use your breath technique, and upon the complete exhalation of each breath, count it. Go from one through 10, then repeat it over and over. 
Simultaneously, watch your posture and pay close attention to the mudra. In Zen lingo, this whole procedure is called skikantaza. Apply total concentration,
 paying strict attention to the process. But even in this seemingly simple task, the mind tends to wander. 
Types Of Thought falls into two general categories: passing thoughts and clinging thoughts. Passing thoughts arise, receive no further attention, 
and then fade away. Clinging thoughts grab the mental spotlight. They demand attention and then expand and grow. Clinging thoughts are debated and pondered; 
they're allowed to take root and embellish themselves. Passing thoughts are no big deal. Clinging thoughts are Concentration-killers!  If during meditation and breath 
counting a thought arises and you ignore it, it fades and you go on about your business, which in this case is counting breaths, maintaining your posture and monitoring 
the mudra. You will be totally attuned to the procedure, and each time you complete a 1-10 cycle, fewer and fewer thoughts arise. At some point deep in the session, 
you "dispense with the toys" -- quit counting breaths --and allow the process to roll forward on its own. The brain becomes silent, and yet the process goes on. But now 
you're free of the internal dialogue that normally accompanies all actions. You discover that you can be alert, aware and totally on top of the situation without having 
your mind, run the show. As a result, you will experience a tremendous sense of alertness and vibrancy. A feeling of well-being and intense energy pervades the body. 
Welcome to the zone. After a refreshing period in the zone, the athlete should shift the direction of the meditative session. He or she should re-engage the mind 
and begin to mentally rehearse the about-to-happen training session or competition. The athlete should run a mental movie of him- or herself successfully performing 
the discipline over and over. The key to imaging for athletics is to incorporate as much detail and realism as possible into the process. 
This mental imaging, run again and again, establishes a positive psychological base for the about-to-happen session. Believe it or not, scientific testing has verified
 that athletes can actually improve their technical skills through this detailed mental rehearsing. Additionally, sports psychiatrists and psychologists have determined 
that intense visualization reduces stress and virtually eliminates the psychological trauma associated with serious competition.  
When To Use Meditation
The three logical times to use meditation are before practice, before competition and at home. Before a practice session or a competition, 
5-10 minutes of shikantaza will clear your head, center you and psyche you up. You can shed the mental baggage brought in from the outside world and home 
in on the task at hand. Five minutes of shikantaza, breathing and visualization can decimate the distractions and put you into the zone. You step onto the gym floor, 
field, court or whatever with 100% of your available concentration in place and functioning, a huge competitive advantage.  To truly excel, the athlete will have to
 engage in meditation sessions away from the practice area and competitive arena. Done in the comfort of your home, these sessions should last 20-45 minutes. 
The ability to gain access to the zone is a strong competitive advantage. This ability is a learned trait, and meditation is the tool used to enter the zone. 
Practice meditation consistently and watch your athletic abilities take a quantum leap forward.  This information is for educational purposes only. 
It is not medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice or attention of healthcare professionals. Consult your physician before beginning or making changes 
in your diet, supplements, or exercise program, for diagnosis and treatment of illness and injuries, and for advice about medications.  
Source of reference: Internet