It may not make you levitate, teleport and breathe fire like it did for Dhalsim back in our Street Fighter days (see picture above, courtesy of Meditation Pictures), but meditation is a powerful tool for any poker player. Poker is a mentally strenuous game, and meditating helps you maintain focus and ease stress, giving you that extra force to carry out whatever "destroying" it is you wish to do at the table.
Whenever I'm feeling all worked up from a bad run, I find that the perfect way to de-tilt and move on from the event is through some simple breathing techniques or meditation. Nowadays, the term meditation is less and less thrown into the “tree-hugging-hippy” or “too-hard” basket and is widely used in the mainstream medical community as a stress-relieving benefit. Assumptions that meditation was something that needs to be taught by gurus is a way of the past. It’s a simple practice that can be done anywhere that you can take a seat and close your eyes, even if it’s just for five minutes.
The broad word “meditation” can mean many things, but in simple terms, it’s a calming exercise for the mind, which in turn, relaxes the body and eases stress and anxiety. Psychologist and author of Beginners Guide to Meditation, Dr. Joan Borysenko, describes meditation as "being pleasantly anchored in the present moment.”
It’s as easy as focusing on something and keeping mindful of it for as long as you can to create a calming effect on the mind and body. Meditation is a state of altered consciousness where your brain slows down from its normal, beta-wave activity to a calmer alpha state. (Source: Wellbeing Magazine) By doing this, when you come out of meditation you'll find yourself more relaxed, focused, and alert to continue with, or start, your poker session.
Using some simple, deep breathing techniques has an instantaneous affect on anxiety and stress. There are all sorts of free tools on the Internet to guide you through a meditation, especially on YouTube or your mobile app store, where you can find some music and an audio guide. Before you do that, begin with this basic breathing technique that I was taught by life coach Karen Burgess and I love to use it anywhere, at anytime.
Close your eyes and give it a go right now:
- Breath in for three-seconds through the nose.
- Hold the breath for three-seconds.
- Release the breath for six-seconds.
I have no doubt you felt the relaxing effect after the first breath. To get a basic sense of what exactly deep breathing does for the body, here's a diagram courtesy of Roots and Rooted:
To really achieve effective mediation, here are a couple of pointers to get you started:
Timing and Position
Choose a time when you’re alert. Meditation is not about falling asleep, which can actually be hard to avoid for beginners. If you find yourself falling asleep, that’s a sign that you are mentally fatigued with all of your day-to-day clutter, which is even more reason for you to continue practicing. Ensure you are comfortable and sitting with your back straight. No slouching. Not only will this stop your back from hurting from bad posture, but this keeps your spine straight to encourage the above pictured movements.
Clear Your Mind
The goal is to clear your mind of thoughts. You will realize when you try to do it, just how hard that is. At first it feels almost impossible to stop thoughts from coming into your head, which could lead to frustration. It's not necessarily about eliminating thoughts altogether, but more so turning your thoughts inward to your body rather than to all the external stresses from your day-to-day life, donkeys at your table, and your world of bad beats. A great way to ensure that your mind remains inward is to focus on your body, whether it be focusing on your lungs expanding with each of your slow breaths or focusing on relaxing various muscles.
Poker player, and author of Elements of Poker, Tommy Angelo has a really interesting blog that offers plenty of meditation tips and techniques. I found the following passage from his blog to be brilliant. It’s a perfect description of how the mind wanders while trying to meditate. It helped me realize I wasn't crazy after all!
"I sit straight and I settle my body and my mind. I settle my body and it settles my mind. I settle my mind and it settles my body. I settle, and next I am less settled than I was the moment before, so I notice this, and I return to more settlement, and that lasts for some amount of time, and then it ends when mental or physical disturbance prevails, but then, in time, because I am sitting still, I notice that I have strayed from the task of becoming more settled than I was the moment before, and I return to it. And that is how it goes when I sit straight and settle.
And how is all this settling accomplished? By the way, the only way, the necessary way, of following the breath. Why would you expect or want there to be more to it than that? To find the answer to that question and all others, breathe."
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