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Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)

 

CLEMSON - Amari Rodgers' cellphone only had 7 percent battery power remaining, just enough juice to scroll through the pages of his home screen and locate his new favorite app. The one he's been using on a nightly basis for several weeks.

Clemson's wide receiver and punt returner had been trying to verbalize just how Headspace, a worldwide application that guides users through self meditation, works to help calm him down before bedtime. But after a few minutes of trying to explain it, Rodgers decided a visual show and tell might be a little more enlightening. So he went straight to the source.

"It's this," he said, pointing to his screen as Headspace opened up. "I click on it and then there are different categories and you can click on a different one every night and do it.

"It guides you through (general meditations) or you can have (specific) packs. My packs, I do Basics, Motivation and Patience. Those are the main three that I go by."

Rodgers said meditation has made a huge difference for him. And he's not alone.

The entire Clemson football team also has been meditating. The Tigers have team sessions on Thursdays, and many of the players meditate by themselves on a daily basis.

Clemson's team psychologist Dr. Milt Lowder, who visits the team every Thursday during football season, introduced the players to the Headspace app.

The Tigers do basic, all-encompassing meditation for about three minutes a week to help clear their heads and learn how to relax. The app can cater to each football player's specific needs by asking him a series of questions: What brings you to Headspace? Is it to sleep better? To be less stressed? To find calm and manage anxiety?

And when do you want to mediate? Is it in the morning after you wake up? In the evening after a shower? The questions go on.

It then uses those answers to formulate a specific plan for each user. As of Wednesday, nearly 650,000 people around the world had logged on to the app.

It is Lowder's hope that Clemson players will realize how calm they are when they are focusing on their breathing, then take those exercises onto the football field before a snap, or in Rodgers' case, before a punt return.

If Rodgers breathes exactly the same way before he fields a punt as he does when he meditates, his body and mind can automatically associate that breath with a sense of calm

"We play our best when we play free. Well, how do we create that?" Lowder said. "For us, my model is focus, relax, engage and enjoy. And so I've been walking the team back through. Hey, let's focus on our 'why.' Let's focus on being our best. Let's focus on what we can control.

"The relax part of that lesson is, 'How do I quiet my mind and quiet my body?'"

The app was first introduced to Lowder by one of his partners in Greenville and another Clemson athletics sports psychologist, Cory Shaffer. Shaffer did a pilot study with the Clemson men's soccer team in the spring. The project was successful, so Lowder decided to extend it to the football team.

The concept of Headspace was the idea of 46-year-old Andy Puddicombe of London. He went to college to study Sports Science, but decided in his early 20s to instead travel to the Himalayas, where it all began. He spent 10 years traveling the world to study meditation and eventually was ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India.

After completing his monastic commitment, he wanted to take what he had learned in his meditation practices and make that information relatable and accessible to anyone.

Headspace has partnered with the NBA to bring meditation to professional basketball and many NFL players use it.

Rodgers does it every night, as does Clemson junior cornerback Trayvon Mullen. Lowder said research suggests that meditation might actually help increase pain threshold, too.

And perhaps most importantly, Clemson is having fun with it.

Earlier this week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney joked that he knew Clemson was going to "smash N.C. State" because as the entire team was meditating the Thursday before the game, he saw defensive coordinator Brent Venables in the back of the room ferociously scribbling down plays.

"Brent ain't got no time for Headspace," Swinney laughed.

Swinney said some players fall asleep during the sessions, but most get into the spirit of the practice. Rodgers hasn't dropped a punt since the Syracuse game in September, meaning he hasn't muffed one since he started meditating.

"We do it every Thursday," Swinney said, as he playfully imitated the calm voice that tells them to sink their feet into the floor and let their minds wonder. "We sit in here and go, 'Om ...'

"You're basically just chilling for three minutes ... and you kind of come up and you go, 'Man, I feel kind of good! That's kind of nice!' It's so funny."

And, apparently, so helpful, too.

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