Going to extremes

Here’s a question for you: What do mountain bikers, snowboarders, rock climbers and other extreme sportspeople have in common with meditation gurus?

Still thinking? Let me tell you a story.

Last weekend, a member of my team took a much-needed break for a snowy long-weekend in Thredbo. Despite enjoying the best snow the resort has seen in ten-years, I really wasn’t expecting Christie to come back to work feeling recharged or refreshed. My line of thinking was more exhausted, more tired and potentially nursing the mandatory skiing bumps and bruises.

After all, with 14-hours of mind-numbing driving time and three full-days of lugging a heavy snowboard up a mountain before sliding precariously back down again, there wasn’t really going to be much time for her to relax. Right?

Apparently I was wrong. When Christie showed up to work on Monday morning she looked calm, relaxed and seemed even more focused than usual. When I asked her about it, she responded that she hadn’t thought about work once in the entire time she was away and that she felt mentally refreshed and energised.

But how could this be?

Dr Arnie Kozak, a mindfulness-based psychology expert, has investigated the same phenomena in a book called Mindfulness in Sport and Exercise.

“All athletes have experienced a meditative state worthy of a Buddha. Sometimes athletic activities pull you into a natural state of mindfulness. Sport becomes a form of meditation when you engage in it with your full attention,” he writes.

Kozak is not the only one to have noticed this pattern. Researcher G.E Brymer showed that extreme sportspeople experience freedom from everyday thoughts because being involved in extreme sports or a highly skilled activity left no cognitive room for any other thoughts. They were in the moment.


Formula 1 racer, Jochen Rindt, once said that “when driving you completely ignore everything and just concentrate. You forget about the whole world … It’s a very special feeling”.

Whether you’re flying down a mountain on a snowboard, running the last kilometre of a marathon or kayaking through a river with a grade 5 difficulty level (translated as scary), you’re so focused that you are actually practicing a form of meditation – moving meditation.

Moving meditation is the feeling you get when you are completely aware of your breath and your thoughts are aligned with what your body is doing. You might be skateboarding, hang gliding, doing kettle-bell training or skiing down a snow-tipped mountain – if you are totally in the moment and fully engaged in the activity (sometimes referred to as being ‘in the zone’, ‘flow’, ‘switched on’, etc.) then you are practicing moving meditation.

When I think about this it really does make sense and even solves a problem for me.

I know the benefits of meditation and we even have a meditation guru at our clinic. I know it calms my mind and helps me to focus - allowing me to be in the moment so I can go home to my young kids full of energy and with a reservoir of patience. It also helps me to maintain good posture and avoid stress during tough times.

But as a high-energy ‘sports/jock’ type of guy, there are times in my life where I struggle to sit still for five-minutes and slow my breathing, stay calm and meditate in the traditional sense.

Now I know that I can grab my surf ski, rig up my mountain bike or throw on my running shoes and still experience the same benefits of psychological disconnection as I would through a sitting meditation, I realise how easy it really is for me to add ‘moving meditation’ into my life. (Note: The research shows that you are best to try and incorporate the two different types of ‘moving meditation’ – extreme sports/movement for a shot of adrenalin and energy to the system and to help you recharge and freshen the mind; and the more traditional relaxation activities like yoga, tai chi and deep breathing to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system, or off button, and help the body to recover physiologically).

So next time you find yourself dreading the thought of sitting still for five-minutes to meditate, I suggest you take a leaf out of the extreme sports handbook. Throw yourself into something like mountain bike riding, surfing or kayaking that takes you out of your comfort zone.

And if you really need a recovery break and an energy boost – why don't you try a mountain biking holiday in Italy, a mini-break in the snowy mountains, or perhaps a white water rafting expedition instead of a poolside blitz in Fiji with full mobile connectivity.

How do you switch off and forget about the stresses of the day?