It's commonly said that sports are 90 percent mental and only 10 percent physical. A lack of focus can result in a missed three-point shot, nerves can cause a gymnast to fall out of her landing, and a momentary lapse in confidence can easily make the difference between gold and bronze. So it's no surprise that some of the best professional athletes in the sports world are turning to meditation -- which has been shown to reduce stress and improve focus -- to boost their game and ease the anxiety of high-pressure performances.
Athletic greats Joe Namath, Barry Zito and Arthur Ashe have spoken out about the benefits of meditation as a tool for athletic success. And even entire teams have been turning to visualization and mindfulness practices.
Click through the slideshow below for seven professional athletes (and one college basketball team) who meditate to improve their game.
In 2009, Lakers shooting guard and NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant <a href="http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/31394714/ns/sports-nba/" target="_blank"> told Conan O'Brien</a> that he meditated with the team, led by coach Phil Jackson, before big games. "[Jackson] said, 'You're a frog on a lily pad...' I'm not making this stuff up," Bryant said.
Miami Heat star LeBron James practices <a href="http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-2470/LeBron-James-Yoga-Is-Secret-to-Endurance.html" target="_blank"> yoga</a> to improve his performance -- and maybe meditation, too. A <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCR7OfRuQd4" target="_blank">video of James seemingly meditating</a> during a time out made its way to YouTube last year.
Sports psychologist and meditation teacher George Mumford worked extensively with the Chicago Bulls while Jordan was the team's star player, helping them to sharpen focus through a regular meditation practice. "When we are in the moment and absorbed with the activity, we play our best," <a href="http://www.mindful.org/in-your-life/sports-and-recreation/the-lakers-meditate" target="_blank">Mumford told <em>Mindful</em> magazine</a>. "That happens once and awhile, but it happens more often if we learn how to be more mindful."
In a piece published by Grantland in October 2012, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter described a <a href="http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/39405/derek-jeters-diary-the-real-season-begins" target="_blank">one-hour solo morning meditation</a> as being part of his day-off routine.
Misty May-Trainor & Kerri Walsh
Olympic gold medal-winning volleyball players Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh have enlisted the help of <a href="http://www.outsideonline.com/fitness/The-Sports-Shrink.html" target="_blank">sports psychologist Michael Gervais</a> to maintain high performance under pressure, Outside reported. Gervais helps the volleyball champs stay mentally sharp through meditation, yoga and visualization.
Former Miami Dolphins runningback Ricky Williams has said that he used to meditate every day and before each game. The NFL star even went on to teach a class on meditation at Florida's Nova Southeastern University. "This is my passion," <a href="http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Meditate-With-Ricky-Williams-96022659.html" target="_blank">Williams told NBC Miami</a>. "I think a lot of people are so used to being stressed, they don't realize they're stressed. And I was one of those people."
Michigan Basketball Team
To help his team get back on their feet after slumps and stay focused on the game, University of Michigan coach John Beilein looks to visualization practices and meditation. "We [meditate] throughout the year, and we try to teach them some things about how to relax," <a href="http://www.annarbor.com/sports/um-basketball/how-does-the-michigan-basketball-team-get-its-mind-right-by-meditating-of-course/" target="_blank">Beilein told AnnArbor.com last year</a>. "A lot of athletes use it, and it's important if they're going to see themselves in positive [situations]."
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Buddhism Boot Camp
In our frantic, fast-paced lives, it can be difficult to completely switch gears and let go of our competitive natures, even when we're trying to slow down and find balance. Touting itself as an "ideal training method for this generation's short attention span," <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Buddhist-Boot-Camp-Timber-Hawkeye/dp/0062267434"><em>Buddhist Boot Camp</em></a> is a new title instructing readers on the basics of Buddhism and meditation using a no-nonsense approach.
If you're looking for a mesmerizing moving meditation, try a practice of walking through a labyrinth. Many churches, gardens and other outdoor spaces feature labyrinths that are available for public use. It's said that the combination of left and right-brain activity required of navigating a labyrinth can <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/13/meditation-tips-garden-meditation_n_1855487.html#slide=1470189">help with problem-solving </a>and can even spur unexpected epiphanies.
Journey meditation can transport your mind, using visualization, to a more quiet and serene state. To try this type of meditation, simply imagine yourself in a beautiful place completely separated from your everyday life; somewhere you feel safe. Try starting for five to 10 minutes, visualizing a garden, tropical island or peaceful mountaintop to slow down the mind and remind yourself of the world's beauty.
Laughter, and even the mere anticipation of impending laughter, can reduce damaging stress hormones -- and it can also <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080407114617.htm">boost levels of healthy hormones</a>. Laughter meditation, then, can be a particularly effective way to relieve stress. The powerful act of mindful laughter anchors us in the present and brings us to a place of joy. Try starting out with a five to 20 minute <a href="http://www.dailyom.com/articles/2005/584.html">laughter meditation</a> by imagining humorous situations and letting yourself laugh fully and deeply, ending with a brief silence.
There are several different ways to benefit from the energy of the fire element in your meditative practice. One <a href="http://www.meditationsociety.com/week34.html">common method</a> is to focus on the flame of a candle that you've placed three to six feet in front of you. After you've gazed at the flame for several minutes, close your eyes and imagine it: Send anything that threatens your balance and peace into the flame, and feel yourself becoming more light and pure. You can also try simply <a href="http://www.dailyom.com/articles/2005/370.html">visualizing a fire</a> and throwing your worries -- and bits and pieces of emotional baggage, no matter how big or small -- into the fire, asking for forgiveness as you go.
We've all heard the old riddle, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" But you may not have realized that this and other philosophical questions can form the basis for a meditative practice called <a href="http://www.wonbuddhist.org/meditation/koan-meditation">Koan Meditation</a>. It's a Buddhist technique in the zen tradition that involves asking a question that cannot be answer through reason alone as a way to see the true nature of the Buddha. <a href="http://www.wonbuddhist.org/meditation/koan-meditation">Click here </a>for a list of potential questions to explore in your practice.
Crystals can be used as part of a meditative practice to help target specific emotions and reach particular spiritual goals. Calming blue stones, for instance, can help clear the mind and body, while purple or clear stones aid in achieving elevated states of consciousness (calcite, for instance, symbolizes enlightenment). If you have a particular goal for your practice, try getting there by holding or wearing crystals with the healing properties that can guide you.