EARLIER THIS YEAR, I wrote an article for Outside magazine about some neat neuroscience research from Martin Paulus’s group at the University of California, San Diego. Part of the research involves using advanced brain imaging to look for differences in brain function between elite performers – Navy SEALs, multi-day adventure racers, Olympic athletes, etc. – and the rest of us. Sure enough, they’ve found some distinctive patterns in how elite performers respond to stressful situations. The other part of the research involves trying to figure out how to enhance or develop those traits. Interestingly, one of the techniques they’ve had success with is distinctly low-tech: mindfulness training.
It turns out the researchers are now taking this approach into the field (or the stadium). This UCSD press release is a couple of months old, but it describes how researchers from Paulus’s team, led by postdoctoral fellow Lori Haase, have developed a program called mPEAK: Mindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness and Knowledge (they’re also on Facebook) aimed at athletes. Apparently the program was developed at the request of James Herrera, the USA BMX team coach, after reading the Outside article. (Yes, I’m patting myself on the back. I’ll try not to dislocate my shoulder.) The mPEAK program is based on the standard eight-week mindfulness program, and is also designed to take eight weeks. The pilot group that took the course swept the top three places at the U.S. BMX national championships, according the UCSD article.
Anyway, I thought it was interesting to see this research making its way into the real world. If you’re interested, the mPEAK page has a more detailed description of the program and how it works, and the Outside article has more background information on the research behind it.