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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mindfulness and Flow in Sports

Mindfulness and Flow Experiences in Sports


Is mindfulness useful to enhance the athletic performance at a competitive level by help[ing the athlete achieve the state of FLOW?

Sports psychologists suggest seeking  'flow'  in sports to improve performance.   Flow refers to a highly coveted yet elusive state of mind that is characterized by a complete absorption with the task at hand, often resulting in enhanced skilled performance. 

The focus of the research in flow has tried to identify the psychological factors that enhance, inhibit or disrupt flow.  Coaches and sport psychologists are trying to help their athletes to achieve these optimal experiences more frequently, which in return will lead to enhanced performance.  Elite athletes report that a pivotal factor that influences flow experiences is focus on the present moment and a singular concentration on task.

Flow experiences and mindfulness both involve focusing on the present moment.  Mindfulness is being completely aware of body sensations, thoughts and elements in the environment and at some point the athlete slips into a state of 'flow' wherein there is no athlete performing a task, just a performance, somewhat like the Empty Mind of Zen and the art of archery.

Recent study*: by Irish and Australian researchers and published in The Sport Psychologist (2011), highlighted that mindfulness training may be beneficial to a broad range of athletes, and not just for those who reported having problems with the mental aspects of their athletic performance. According to this study, the introduction of mindfulness training appears to be an appropriate method to help athletes to achieve flow states, leading to an effective strategy for performance enhancement.


Original article  by Camilo Sáenz M. changed and edited by Positive Psychology blogger who is reading "Flow: The Psychology  of Optimal Experience" by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi and differ somewhat in my interpretation of flow and mindfulness.  They are quite separate mental states with mindfulness possibly engendering flow in some activities.  

Flow to this blogger's understanding, can be more like the "Empty Mind" talked about in "Zen and the Art of Archery". 

The book contains accurate ideas about motor learning and control, that provide useful lessons for learning any sport or physical activity. For example, a central idea in the book is that through years of practice, a physical activity becomes effortless both mentally and physically, as if the body executes complex and difficult movements without conscious control from the mind.

Herrigel describes Zen in archery as follows:
"(...) The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull's-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art (...)"

loaded by on Oct 14, 2006
Clip from The Empty Mind Documentary. This is a rare opportunity to see the great archers of the Japan Kyudo Federation. the Location is the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya.




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The Sports Psychologist

Applied Research
TSP Volume 25, Issue 2, June *The Effect of Mindfulness Training on Athletes' Flow: An Initial Investigation

177 – 189

This study investigated the relationship between mindfulness training (a nonjudgmental attentional training technique) and flow experiences in athletes. Participants were 13 university athletes (M = 21 years), assigned either to a control group or an experimental group. Flow experiences were assessed before and after the intervention. ANOVA (group x time) of global scores on the Flow State Scale-2 (FSS-2; Jackson & Eklund, 2004) showed a significant interaction (F =11.49, p < .05). Follow-up t tests indicated no significant difference (p > .05) between the experimental and control groups’ FSS-2 global scores at the baseline training session, but a large difference (p < .05, d = 1.66) at a follow-up training session. Significant interaction effects were also observed for FSS-2 subscales scores for the flow dimensions of "Clear Goals" (F =18.73, p < .05) and "Sense of Control"(F = 14.61, p < .05). Following an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of this study, the theoretical significance of the results is assessed and the promise for the application of mindfulness training in performance enhancement is discussed.
Authors: Cian Aherne, Aidan P. Moran, Chris Lonsdale