With boxer Darren Barker turning to meditation and yoga in preparation for his upcoming world title attempt, is there any real benefit to preparing your mind ready for a physical battle?
Darren Barker has his second chance at a world title when he challenges Daniel Geale for his IBF middleweight belt in Atlantic City on August 17.
The 31-year-old has turned to yoga to help prevent the injuries that have hampered his career and also meditates to focus his mind on victory.
The Australian boxer said he was doing a lot of yoga and meditation to keep him clear in the head – describing it as a holistic approach. He practises three or four times a week, for maybe five or ten minutes at a time with no distractions. He added: "It's giving me a clear head and it's giving me a sense of direction."
So what do we know about yoga and meditation – and what are the benefits?
It increases happiness and keeps depression at bay – Research has shown that people who are at high risk of depression may benefit from some mindfulness yoga.
It reduces stress and anxiety- Meditation and yoga helps you to clear your mind of the troubles that build up during the day. By clearing yourself of tension and nervous thought you become more relaxed, and this can significantly help you to manage stress levels.
You can gain inner peace and tranquility – Many say that meditation and yoga can help you “find yourself” as you take the time to stop and listen to your own body, which we so often don’t have time to do in our busy lives. By channeling your thoughts and listening to yourself, you may well find your own inner peace.
Improves your mental, emotional and physical self – By having a better connection with your own body and mind then it impacts on your physical life, as you are more energised and motivated to keep healthy and take up exercise. Being aware of yourself means that you know how to push yourself and when to rest.
Gives you a sense of heightened spirituality – You don’t have to be religious to benefit from mediation. For many it is a way to gain spirituality within themselves and their own surroundings. By being more self-aware it is said you become more aware of the world around you, gaining a better insight into the world.
Increases confidence and self-esteem – If you give yourself time to reflect and understand yourself better, it stands to reason that you will start to like yourself better. Feeling more relaxed, less stressed and having a positive body image will all help to boost your confidence and self-esteem. This in turn can help you to perform better in other aspects of life.
Encourages restful and refreshing sleep – A clear mind means that you won’t be tossing and turning at night worrying yourself over the problems of the day. In turn, a good night sleep makes you feel good anyway and with better rest, you’ll feel better about yourself generally.
Increases your focus, concentration and memory – Going hand in hand with better sleep, the meditation and yoga can help you improve your memory. Like the philosophy that we can train our brains to keep dementia at bay, by doing crosswords and brain teasers, meditation is a way of training the mind. Concentration in meditation can help to improve the concentration in daily lives. And the benefit of more restful sleep helps with focus and memory.
Obviously sportsmen and women cannot rely on meditation and yoga to see them through and to win world class contests. They still need to put the effort in at the gym, training for their particular sport and remaining strong and supple. But by adding in the elements of yoga and meditation it can give them the upper hand mentally.
Sometimes it’s the contestant that is better prepared mentally who becomes the victor.
Anyone can meditate – it is not exclusively for world class athletes and sportsmen, but young, old, able and disabled, can all reap the benefits of the practise. Even if you only meditate for a few minutes a day you can see how it makes you feel more relaxed and refreshed, with a clearer outlook on life. There are many yoga and relaxation classes that take place at gyms and health centres across the country, but the real joy of it is that you can do it just as effectively by yourself. As long as you have access to somewhere peaceful and quiet, and you can shut off from everything else, there is no reason you cannot practise meditation by yourself for a few minutes each day. Tai Chi, for example is a practise which many Chinese people take very seriously, and incorporates elements of meditation. For them, it is to be practised every day, and benefits their minds and bodies.