04/01/2016 12:12 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2017

Become a Mindful Athlete Through Meditation

When I was in high school and college, I played basketball and loved it. My roommate in college was Dr. J and we played together often. An injury took me out of the game for good, and the pain from the injury led me to drugs. It wasn't until I was in my early 30s that I found a 12-step program and mindfulness training (my mentor is Jon Kabat Zinn). From there I became a sports psychologist and mindfulness teacher.

When Chicago Bulls' former head coach Phil Jackson was looking for a mindfulness teacher, he came to me. He knew how important it was for each player to be connected to something even greater than himself. He dealt with the whole player and the whole team. Most of the team saw benefits right away, including basketball great Michael Jordan, and there was power and camaraderie in that they were all learning this together. I don't think you can be mindful on the court and mindless off the court. When you're in the game, distractions are the enemy. You want to be able to play well and that takes concentration and focus. Meditation trains us for this. Most athletes will see improvement in their performance on and off the court. In sports, we talk about being "present" as being "in the zone." In this moment, we are more relaxed, less self-conscious, and there's a sense of effortlessness that takes over.

When I talk about being mindful, it's about being fully engaged right now in the moment. I describe this more in the podcast interview I did with Untangle by Gaiam. When you're alert and in tune with what is happening you have the capacity to choose the most productive response. This is when we're at our best.

Since writing The Mindful Athlete, I've met several mindful athletes from across the country of every shape, size, color, and age. Whether we know it or not, we are all mindful athletes. Life is a marathon. We go and go, others running alongside us. In order to run this marathon, we need to train in the same way any other athlete trains to compete effectively. Without awareness and clear intention, we may start off too slowly, not finishing the race in a timely and respectable manner. Without diligence and practice, we may go too quickly, burning out before we were able to get what we hoped for or wanted before we make it to the finish line.

Our challenge and our opportunity is to mindfully train so we find our own optimum pace. That pace is the place where you are able to notice and navigate what is currently in front of you and at the same time be open to learning and exploring what comes next. My hope is that the exercises and ideas in The Mindful Athlete help you move forward with ease and curiosity. It is that sweet spot of relaxed readiness that I've found leads to peak learning and performance. Noticing, finding, and cultivating that sweet spot will help you succeed in whatever field you're in.