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Meditation, Visualization, and Performance

Abe Maynard on May 13th, 2022

Visualization, Meditation, and Skiing


The other day, my jiu jitsu professor asked the entire academy to close their eyes.  He then instructed us to imagine that we were in a certain defensive position anticipating a counter attack on our opponent. He proceeded to verbally describe the moves we should make in order to defend our position successfully and advance our attack.  Our professor asked several students to share their experience with the class.  Many people described the situation from a third person perspective. That is to say they imagined themselves as a bystander, watching the series of movements unfold in front of them. I found this fascinating.


When I closed my eyes, I envisioned myself in the first person.  I would look down in my imaginary visual headspace and see my own legs, my own hands, and the mat in front of me with my imaginary opponent. I remember this same feeling as a skier visualizing my competition run the night before in the hotel. My years as a competitive skier had lent themselves unexpectedly to a new situation: jiu jitsu.  The ability to visualize movements, patterns, and mechanics from a first-person view can have a massive impact on one’s ability to learn and execute new skills. Professor later went on to describe a change he experience during his thirty years as a jiu jitsu practitioner who apprenticed directly under Gracie Family jiu jitsu royalty, Ralph, Rorion, and Rickson Gracie .He spoke of the first time he was able to shift his visualization into the first person instead of seeing movements and scenarios from the third person. But why am I explaining all this?


When you want to improve your skiing ability, master new movements in the gym, or improve your strength, you can use visualization in the first person to your advantage.  It’s no surprise that millions of athletes around the world dedicate time to visualize their performance. Many martial artists will simulate entire competition scenarios from walk out to actual fight bell ringing. This prepares them mentally for what’s ahead of them, minimizes surprise and nerves, and allows them to work through “sticking points” and mental blocks. Nobody is above this practice, not even the ski enthusiast.


Close your eyes and imagine you’re at the top of your favorite ski run. What color are your boots? Who is in front of you? Are you in your body? Are you watching what you perceive yourself to look like? What din is your binding at? What skis are you on? When you try to picture these questions, what happens? How does your visualization change?


Building mastery in visualization can improve your kinesthetic awareness, proprioception, and improve motor control. Your brain is signaling to your body to perform the movements in real time. So, training your visual field to produce these movements, weight shifts, and actions while your eyes are closed will have a huge payout. I remember closing my eyes before my first olympic weight lifting competition and envisioning my walk out to the bar, what the bar felt like when I gripped it, how the chalk dusted off my finger tips, and then the entire mechanical action of performing the snatch and clean and jerk.  This process allowed me to execute the lifts with clean, powerful form.  Let’s discuss a more applicable situation.


The next time you’re struggling to learn a movement, increase the weight used in the gym, or establish balance, close your eyes. See your foot gripping the floor to create a strong arch under the footbed. Imagine the feeling of executing the entire range of motion without falling over. Imagine your lungs expanding to draw in air and stabilize your trunk, then imagine the exhale, diaphragmatic contraction, and drive through your feet to stand back up. If you can see this clearly, you may even begin to sweat. This is a common outcome with visualization. The act of visualizing can actually produce nervous system responses to the brain activity of imagining. You can create heat, sweat, uneasiness, and fear all from closing your eyes and truly focusing. That’s why it’s so powerful when it comes to motor control and the sliding across the spectrum of cognition from pre-contemplative to autonomous.




For years my mother tried to get me to meditate. I refused. The idea always seemed too woo-woo for me. I laugh now having meditated nearly every day for the past 12 years.  No single thing has positively impacted my wellbeing, mental clarity, and ability to work through complex problems and be present than meditation.  I use The Waking Up app by neuroscientist Sam Harris. I’ve tried them all from Head Space to 10% Happier.  Waking Up is the most pragmatic meditation app with a deep rooted understanding of zen principles and their application. It’s not overly spiritual but rather neutral and concise. The reason I bring up meditation is because I believe it’s the strongest precursor to clear visualization. Meditation can teach you how to better understand your thoughts, recognize them, and allow them to move freely through your mind like cars on a highway, never becoming too attached to one over another. This ability to limit distractions and stay off the highway allows for more clear visualization channels and understanding of your own self, consciousness, and the now.


Okay, we’ve gone to the edge of the galaxy but I assure you we’re coming back. I bring up meditation because if meditation can improve visualization, visualization will become a stronger tool for performance. You can begin to more clearly see everything from your running stride, mountain bike pedal cadence and feature-navigation, to breathing patters and muscle recruitment. The more you can visualize, the more you can utilize. I firmly believe this and I know it has proven its worth as a theory countless times in my life.


Challenge yourself to use visualization the next time you struggle in the training hall or ski hill. Get yourself to see what you want to accomplish with your body before it happens.  Feel the muscles before you use them. Understand the space you’re in before you enter it. Envision a successful lift with heavier weight before you load the bar. And like Professor David Ruiz was explaining, try to see your visualizations in the first person.


Thank You For Reading,

Abe l