For as cognizant as we’ve seemed to become in modern society about the mind-body link and the importance of physical well-being to success, the poker community still largely ignores it. As a sedentary skill game that often requires relentlessly long sessions and focuses on bottom-line results, poker players tend to forget to take care of both their bodies and mental health.
With poker having more analytics and solid strategy than ever, improving your stamina and focus may be one of the last undiscovered ways to get an edge on your opponents.
Introduction to meditation as a tool for poker
As a poker player I would highly recommend that you start a meditation practice. It can be very short, like five minutes a day. As long as you do it every day you will see benefits. To start with, you want to train yourself to be an observer and not as if you’re caught in the middle of it. That’s what meditation teaches.
A real quick thing that you can do is just step back and say, “I notice that I’m feeling really stressed out about my relationship,” or “I notice that I’m thinking these thoughts that I wish I could get off of work so I can start my poker game.”
When you frame it like that you almost take a step back and then you can realize wishing that what’s happening in your life would be something other than what it is is a sure recipe to be upset and stressed. You just really have to learn a little bit more of an acceptance before you take decision-killing stress into your poker game.
Making meditation a habit before playing is key
From a habit-building standpoint consistency is key. When you want to make something into a habit, you really would like to be consistent and do it at the same time every day. Most people have really good luck doing it first thing in the morning, before you know everything gets crazy.
It’s beneficial any time, but where I think poker players new to meditation mess up is they thing, “Oh, I’ve got to meditate and I need to meditate for an hour,” or some long period of time. What happens is you just don’t do it because you’re busy and an hour is an overwhelming proposition.
Try doing it for even 60 seconds before a poker session
So if you say, “I’m going to meditate for one minute, but I’m going to do it every single day for 30 days before I sit down for an online poker session,” you really get that installed as a habit. Then you can always tack on a little bit more time, but incrementally.
If you do it for one minute a day every day this week, then maybe next week do it for two minutes a day, but don’t go so huge that you’re not going to be consistent with it and you’re never going to get the habit installed.
Using apps to get meditation started
You can get apps like Headspace that walk you through mindfulness meditation. The basis of mindfulness meditation is there’s something that you’re putting your focus on. Generally, it’s a number, but it could also be a word. Let’s say you’re using a number: what you want to do is:
- sit comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor, with your hands resting on your lap
- close your eyes or take what’s called a “soft gaze”, which means you’re not staring really hard at the wall or the floor, but you’ve just got a soft gaze.
- when you breathe in, imagine you’re using numbers
- every time you breathe in you think of the number one and every time you breathe out you think of the number two.
What’s going to happen is at first you’re going to settle yourself down, which can be incredibly valuable before you start a long commitment like a tournament. You’re going to breathe in and you’re going to be thinking one, and then maybe two, I should breathe out. Then you’ll think, “Did I remember to let the dog out? Oh, I should’ve done the dishes…oh wait! What do I have going on today?”
The purpose of meditation is to notice when those thoughts start coming like that – and they will -but then return to your focus back to the breathing and the numbers. And mindfulness meditation is simply a process of doing that over and over again for the amount of time that you’ve allotted for your poker session that day.
Making sure not to fall asleep
A lot of people do set a timer to go off after meditating as some people fall asleep, which could actually make you more groggy when you want to be sharp for a play session. You can mediate while lying down but the danger is that you might fall asleep, especially if you’re sleep deprived. Just that idea of learning to refocus over and over and over again. That’s what meditation is actually about, in part.
Another part of it is to make you aware that your mind is always working. We always have thoughts coming and going, we always have feelings, emotions, sensations, and urges. They’re always coming and going, coming and going.
Where we mess up is we think that we have to react to them. What meditation teaches you is that thoughts can come and if you don’t react it will just go on its way just like a cloud in the sky just floats on by. You don’t have to do a thing about it!
The mental side of poker is huge
The main takeaway is that you shouldn’t underestimate the mental side of poker. It’s huge. It enables you to make the best decisions at the table. Don’t discount it because you think hypnotherapy is silly or meditation is wishy washy. I think that’s simply caveman mentality and you should really be embracing any edge you can get.