I'm An Olympian. Here’s How Meditation Helped Me Tune Into My Body
When you’re busy with work, family, and life, making health a priority can sometimes seem impossible—too expensive, too time-consuming, too complicated. But in reality, every tiny step you take toward wellness makes a difference. That’s why mindbodygreen and Lorissa’s Kitchen are celebrating the #SmallWins that make healthy living attainable to anyone, anywhere. Here, an Olympic swimmer shares how she fits meditation into her schedule and why she’s a better athlete because of it.
During my peak training for swimming, I was often told to incorporate meditation practices into my daily routine, to structure my unstructured time. I was told it would not only improve my performance in the pool but also calm and strengthen my nervous system so I could have a mentally stable mind going into intense competitions.
“Meditate? Yeah, structuring that doesn’t really work for me.”
So I thought.
At the time, it was a struggle to sit quietly and meditate without any prompts. Having always been a coachable person, I expected more of a visualization exercise. I wanted to be coached—to be told what to do and how to do it.
The simple change that worked for me: meditation
Since then, I have absorbed that meditation is what you create it to be. This mental shift around the purpose of meditation was a life-changing #SmallWin. You choose how you want to reflect and restore. By exercising my power-of-choice muscle, I am able to take ownership of my #SmallWins in my very own way.
My meditation practice occurs wherever I energetically resonate in a given moment.
Here’s an example: I am driving along a beautiful cliff overlooking the vast ocean, and I have an hour to kill. Instead of picking up my phone to see what I can get done, I stop, drop, and meditate. I pull the car over to simply sit on the grass and relax without any technology or noise. I don’t need to do anything extraordinary except to just be.
Meditation has helped me develop a better relationship with my body, and it reminds me to take care of it. This reminder, which takes no time, is a major #SmallWin; my body truly is my temple. By lying on a foam roller for 15 minutes upon waking to open up my back and hips, I feel centered. I become at peace with my mind and body in the early morning hours when I am preparing for the adrenaline rush that comes with a 6 a.m. workout.
Listening to my body also reminds me to fuel before my workout. By choosing nourishing meals and healthy snacks—like Lorissa’s Kitchen premium protein product—I feel strong and ready for any challenge. Starting my day with meditation and healthy proteins are #SmallWins that help ensure an energy-filled, positive day.
Make your own #SmallWin: Structure your unstructured time
Learning to structure my meditation has been a long road and a series of #SmallWins. Transitioning to the real world after being an Olympic athlete would not have been as easy without finding inner peace through meditation.
There is no perfect way to meditate. In fact, when you “try” too hard to meditate, it takes the intention out of the practice.
Regardless of how you choose to meditate, you should first get comfortable. I prefer to lie on my back on a hard surface with a prop such as a foam roller or block underneath my spine. I do this anywhere—a perk of keeping fitness toys in my car!
Then, set an intention. I often focus on my breath, as I tend to stop breathing when I feel pressure or stress. By doing this, I remain in the present and home in on the beautiful process of relaxation versus focusing on the unknown outcome of whatever I am feeling.
If I have time, I simply allow myself to be until I feel my nervous system calm and my heartbeat slow. If I have to be done by a certain time, I count my breaths and usually do around 50 slow inhales and exhales.
The main thing I realized through this process? Simple is best. Less is more. Find your happy place(s), and go there, regardless of whether it is your bathtub or a yoga studio. Structure your unstructured time.
Caroline Burckle is a native of Louisville, KY and is a 2008 Beijing Olympic Bronze Medalist in the 4x200 Freestyle Relay, alongside Katie Hoff, Allison Schmitt, and Natalie Coughlin. She has a Masters Degree in Sport Psychology from the University of Tennessee, and is co-founder of RISE Elite Athletes—a mental training and empowerment online platform for athletes. She inspires individuals through the power of goal coaching on a personal level at CarolineBurckle.com. You can connect with Caroline on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.