Exercises for Gamers: MEDITATION


If you’re a gamer that’s trying to be healthy, meditation may be the most appealing way to start. After all, isn’t meditation just sitting?

But wait, is meditation really an exercise? Meditation is an exercise for the mind and offers many benefits for competitive gamers and esports athletes.

Any gamer would be foolish to skip a simple exercise like meditation considering the potential it has to increase competitive performance.

Meditation can help athletes perform at their best, esports athletes included.

HOW TO BE A HEALTHY GAMER

This is a frequently googled phrase by gamers. At one point or another, lots of gamers start questioning their health. Perhaps your wrists and hands are hurting, or perhaps you tried something physical and realized you weren’t equipped to handle it.

Whatever the reason, don’t worry. If you’re a serious competitive gamer, you’re not competing to see who’s the healthiest, you’re trying to be the best in your esport.

Here at Cyber Athletiks, I promote esport specific training not because I think gamers need to be more “healthy” in the generic sense, but because training specific to a sport will increase performance in said sport.

Meditation is a great place to start for esport specific training. It’s not intimidating, it doesn’t require much time and the benefits can be experienced relatively fast. Plus, you already have everything you need.

In case you were looking for something more on the physical side of training, check out the Athletiks page for more esport specific training.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS FROM MEDITATION FOR GAMERS?

In case you aren’t convinced, let’s look at the benefits gamers can expect to receive from meditating. I’m sure you’re aware by now, but just in case, competitive gaming requires a lot of mental capacity. Esports themselves are extremely taxing on the mind, that’s why I’m such a huge proponent of recovery and wrote a post about it.

#1 – Reduce Stress

Probably the most common reason people start meditating in the first place is to try and reduce stress. We all experience stress and competitive gamers undergo a significant amount of mental stress.

Esports requires non-stop mental alertness and focus. Even in titles such as CS:GO, dying can mean even more stress, as your forced to watch a teammate make an avoidable mistake.

Competitive matches can last a long time. In chess, mental alertness and focus are crucial, but you can also spend as long as you want to make decisions if you’re not playing with a timer.

Even if you are using a timer, it’s nothing compared to what esports demand from the mind in terms of taking in mass amounts of information, processing it and then making split second decisions, over and over.

So ya, competitive gaming is stressful and that stress only increases the higher the level of competition gets.

Stress can mess up a lot of things in people experiencing it. It can cause an increase in the stress hormone cortisol and this can cause a release of inflammation-promoting chemicals called cytokines.

An interesting point for gamers is that an increase of cytokines is associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Basically, the more stress in your body, the more difficult it is to heal.

Another negative effect from stress is its fatiguing effect. Stress can cause us to feel more fatigued than we normally would. Competitive gamers should be very wary of fatigue, as the slightest bit gives their opponent an edge.

Studies have shown that meditation can decrease stress, especially in individuals exhibiting the highest levels of stress. In fact, meditation can help improve stress-related medical conditions such as PTSD.

#2 – Reduce Anxiety

I remember a period in my life where I was suffering from a lot of anxiety. I tried turning to gaming, something that always provided me with an outlet to unwind and to focus on something else, even when competitive.

During this time, I found that gaming was causing me even more anxiety. Instead of having fun, I was worrying and causing myself to become more anxious. If I had been competitive at the time, it would have completely derailed me.

Well that’s what happened to Justin “Plup” McGrath, a professional Super Smash Bros. Melee player. Plup was competing at Evo 2018 (Evolution Championship Series), also known as the biggest fighting game tournament in the world. Plup experienced a panic attack during the event and it could be argued that this cost him making it to the finals (he took third).

Not long after, Plup explained the incident to his fans by tweeting this:

I had a panic attack for the first time in my life during evo, and I’ve been a mess ever since. It’s quite disconcerting knowing I could start spazzing out any time I get on stage. It’s one more thing to worry about for tournaments, and just writing this is making my heart race.

The importance of physical health in esports is still in the early stages and I think the same could be said for mental health. If you’re interested in reading more about esports mental health, check out my post mental health in esports where I discuss how gamers, especially competitive gamers, can take proactive steps to staying mentally healthy.

So how does meditation help with anxiety? It can help reduce the symptoms of different types of anxiety disorders like panic attacks. Meditation can also help lower overall anxiety levels and reduce work related anxiety.

Competing at home in the comfort of your room with no audience or spectators can be fairly relaxing. Once you attend your first match or tournament where people are watching and your competitors are in the same room as you, you’ll require a new set of skills. Implementing mediation now will help build a stronger mind later and help you feel better prepared as competition gets tougher.

#3 – Increase Focus

Focus is fundamental to esports. Without it, you won’t fare well in the competitive scene. Competitive esports require long periods of focus as many matches are played, and winning a tournament often requires a best of three of five against multiple teams or opponents.

Think of your attention span like a muscle. The more you strengthen it and train it the stronger it’ll become and the more endurance it will have.

Competitive gaming is like any sport, you need to be good consistently. That one awesome play you made won’t cut it during a league, season or tournament.

Meditation has been shown to improve and maintain attention in individuals. Additionally, meditation can contribute to less mind-wandering and better attention.

I know some of you probably reach for coffee or energy drinks to increase focus, but that’s a short term solution that can lead to a long-term problem.

The great thing with meditation is that even short amounts can have positive effects and there’s no negative side effects.

#4 – Improve Sleep

In case you haven’t read it yet, I wrote a whole post on why sleep is critical for competitive gamers.

If you could only prioritize one thing as a gamer to improve your health and, more specifically, your recovery, it should be SLEEP. Better quality sleep is one of the best things you could do outside of your esport to improve inside your esport.

One of the major causes of vehicle accidents is sleep deprivation and its impairment on the brain can be just as bad as alcohol. Imagine purposefully drinking to the point of intoxication before a competitive match? Gl;hf.

A lack of sleep means a lack of performance for competitive gamers, especially over the long term.

Rather than search for some over the counter sleep aid with harmful side effects, consider meditating. Meditating can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

#5 – Relieve Pain

Esports and competitive gaming requires you to be sedentary. There’s no fixing that anytime soon. Being sedentary comes with a whole host of health complications, and one you’re probably familiar with the associated aches and pains.

Tight shoulders, neck stiffness, achy hands and wrists become frequent visitors for competitive gamers. That’s ok, every sport has an inherent risk of injury.

Marathon runners mess up knees; power-lifters tweak their lower backs; baseball pitches ruin their shoulders and esports athletes can get repetitive stress or other types of injuries.

A study found that patients who were meditating were able to increase activity in their brains centers known to control pain and thus reported less sensitive to the pain they were experiencing.

For more on pro gaming injuries, check out my post Pro Gaming Injuries – What Gamers Need to Know.

HOW GAMERS CAN START MEDITATING

Now you’re probably thinking you need to sit cross-legged for several hours each day to achieve some of the mentioned benefits associated with meditation.

Where most people go wrong when beginning their meditation practice is trying to do too much too soon. It’s like with dieting, people start some insane restrictive diet, stick it out for a few days or weeks until it’s unbearable, then quit.

Similar to physical exercise and diet, consistency is key with meditation. You’re much better off committing to five minutes a day than one hour every now and then.

I personally found committing to five minutes every morning a great way to start implementing meditation. I would wake up, have some coffee then commit to five minutes.

Meditation Technique

If you google how to meditate you’re going to end up going down a rabbit hole. There are many different types of meditation and different ways to meditate. At the end of the day, just do it.

What I found effective at the beginning was just sitting cross-legged with my back against the wall in an upright position. I found without backrest I became too focused on my posture and trying to maintain it. If this is at all uncomfortable, start off with just lying down.

From there, I started to focus on my breath. I wasn’t trying to change my breath, but just become aware of it and the bodily functions associated with it.

If you do want to become more focused on your breathing, like how you can improve it and the benefits this can have for competitive gaming, check out my post on the importance of optimal breathing.

It’s important to note that all of this may sound easy, but I assure you that it’s not. When you first start out, you are going to notice all sorts of thoughts. You’re going to feel like you’re not “doing it right” and that you can’t “clear your mind”.

Clearing your mind isn’t necessarily the objective. Instead, you are paying attention to your mind. You start noticing all of these thoughts racing around your head, and you just acknowledge them.

Buddhist monks spend their lives practicing meditation. Don’t expect to sit down a few times and be able to clear your head of all thoughts. You wouldn’t expect to bench press 315lbs. after a few months of lifting weights.

This stuff takes practice and consistency is where you’ll find results. Five to fifteen minutes of daily meditation over the course of months and then years creates a compounding effect.

This is in line with what I tell my clients who want to build muscle. I get them to think about the long term, like one-three years, when they have particular body transformation goals. Those who are consistent with exercise and diet always come out on top.

Although benefits can be achieved almost immediately, these benefits get better and stronger the more consistent your practice is.

Don’t Overthink It

Before you start looking into ways you can enhance your meditation, develop a routine. Sit and pay attention to your breath for five minutes a day. Commit to this for two-four months, every day.

Slowly, as you find it less painful, start increasing the time, say one minute each week or month, until you get to fifteen minutes or whatever time your schedule allows for.

You’ll be surprised by how the very act of disciplining yourself to create this new habit can bring benefits. You’ll create a better sense of self-worth and more confidence as you incorporate healthy habits like this.

The only “extra” I will suggest is using audio. I found using something like this (opens youtube link) helped keep out distracting noises and also helped my focus. I just converted into an mp3 and play it every time I meditate, using headphones that help block out surrounding noise.

I would suggest using the same audio each time as this will help cement the habit.

IF YOU’RE A GAMER—START MEDITATING

Given the above-listed benefits and the countless others you can read up on, it would be foolish to not at least experiment with meditation.

Competitive gaming requires a sharp mind and meditation can help improve this. As esports continues to grow, the pool of competitors will continue to grow. This means that competition will only continue to get tougher.

Assuming you’ve already got a lot of innate talent and skills in your esport, training outside of your esport is a great way to get an edge over the competition. If there’s a team who has perfected their training outside of the esport going up against a team that only trains by playing their esport, I would wager for the former, especially when looking about long-term success.

Meditation, along with other tips on the Athletiks page can help you with implementing some esport specific training. Esports is currently stuck in some early phase of sports science where coaches and players think that “more is better”.

More is often not better. There is only one way to train, the optimal way. The less time you can spend practicing your esport while still progressing in skill, and the more time you can put into training, injury prevention and recovery, the more likely you are to last longer as a competitor and to have optimal performance.

ARE YOU A GAMER THAT WANTS TO TAKE MENTAL TRAINING MORE SERIOUSLY?

Maybe you’ve already been practicing meditation or maybe you implemented some of these suggestions and have returned looking for more.

Hopefully, you’ve realized the impact that the training outside of esports you do will carry over to your performance inside of esports.

Many top-level esports teams are hiring sports psychologists to help boost performance by building a more mentally resilient and healthy team. Even a team of star players can choke to a lesser team due to mental weakness and a lack of psychological preparation.

I have one primary recommendation if you want to up your mental game, and that’s to check Weldon Green over at mindgames.gg.

Weldone Green has a master’s degree in sport & exercise psychology and works with competitive gamers and esports teams on both personal development and improving performance.

I’m a big fan of Weldon and the content he puts out. I think he has a good head on his shoulders and has a passion for improving performance in esports athletes. He also promotes a similar message that the training you do outside or your esport can be just as important as the training you do inside.

Weldon Green has put together an online course called MAC: Mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment. He also has a podcast with tons of episode that can be listened to here.

CAFFEINE AND OTHER DRUGS FOR GAMERS

Perhaps some of you are thinking that if focus and alertness are so important for competitive gamers, surely caffeine and other drugs will be better than meditation.

There’s been plenty of coverage on esports athletes using Adderall for a competitive edge. And of course, caffeine is probably the most used performance enhancer by competitive gamers.

The only issue I have with using substances like these to give a player a competitive age (and I have a pretty liberal opinion on this topic) is that substances like these are often a short term solution that can lead to long term problems.

Stimulants like caffeine and Adderall work amazing at the beginning, but like any drug, the positives soon wear off as your body attenuates to them. Speaking with regard to competitive gaming, stimulants won’t work forever, and can even cause negative effects in other areas such as chronic fatigue and poor recovery.

There’s also the risk, especially with illegal drugs, that you find yourself without them when you really need them. If this were to ever happen before a competitive match or tournament, things probably won’t go well.

That’s why I recommend starting meditation as early as you can in your competitive career. By laying the groundwork down now, you can start setting yourself up to receive greater and greater benefits from it as you continue building your mental capacities. Think of it like this, if you know you want to be a varsity rugby player, would it be better to have one year of weightlifting or five years of weightlifting under your belt before you tryout?

Strength, whether physical or mental, takes time to build. Stimulants and other drugs can offer a temporary shortcut, but they can never replace actual strength acquired through training.

 

gl;hf

Stuart

I love gaming and spending time on the computer, I even competed in esports in the early 00s. But I'm also obsessed with fixing the damage heavy computer use can cause, and this is the place where I share these two passions.

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