For most of us in the western world there is no cause to worry about the basic necessities of life (food, shelter, security). As a result, as if from boredom, the brain has invented a game: anxiety simulations.
Floating anxiety in people is a tendency for a person to overestimate risks and the likelihood of a bad outcome. Anxiety and stress are slow killers. They have three direct consequences for an elite athlete: slower recovery time, longer healing process when injuries occur, and reduced immune response, not to mention reduced happiness.
We have the ability as an organism to develop glucocorticoids. These are essential and involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats and they also play a role as an anti-inflammatory. Glucocorticoids will be essential when you compete and you need to bring energy to your muscles.
At rest it is a different story. In every mammal, including us, the level of glucocorticoid at rest is directly related to the level of anxiety. Thus the goal is to reduce the level of glucocorticoid in our bodies as quickly as possible when the stressor (in this case, the competition) is over.
To add to the damage that glucocorticoid can do to the body at rest, we must see how it impacts memories and fears. Glucocorticoid has the tendency to increase the networking of the amygdala (fear and anxiety center of the brain) and reduce the activity of the hippocampus (long term implicit and explicit memories). Thus it makes you more anxious and diminishes your capacity to access implicit memories.
All these hours of training that athletes spend practicing to make their forehand so natural, their swimming stroke so perfect can be destroyed by glucocorticoid simply because they can’t access so easily these implicit memories.
Mindfulness meditators develop less glucocorticoid at rest and more GABA modulators (a kind of neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that the brain uses to communicate with its different parts). GABA makes the muscle tone of athletes more relaxed at rest, thus improving implicit and explicit memories and reducing anxiety.
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About the Author
Pierre Gagnon practised concentration and insight meditation intensively from 2010 to 2012, then went on to study meditation at Wat Suan Mokkh with the venerable Ajahn Po from 2013 to 2015. As well as his own practice, he has coordinated meditation retreats in the south of Thailand which were attended by more than 1,000 people.
Having a great passion in the field of neuroscience, he likes to integrate these concepts into meditation practice. He believes that much of our life is lived resisting and defending against internal and external experiences that people perceive as threats. Through the development of concentration and meditation, we can insightfully see that all experiences are harmless and there is no need to defend of contract around them. Pierre has experience coordinating concentration and insight meditation retreats, teaching the relationship that exists between Buddhism and neuroscience.