The Current

'Staying in the zone': Why Bianca Andreescu credits meditation for helping keep her mind on the game

Bianca Andreescu is one of the many people touting the benefits of mindfulness meditation. But some experts point out that its popularization in North America has primarily focused on affluent, white populations, leaving others behind.

Mindfulness movement in North America is 'a primarily affluent movement,' cautions author

Bianca Andreescu serves to Serena Williams during the women's singles final of the U.S. Open tennis championships on Saturday. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Associated Press)
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Canada's first Grand Slam tennis champion credited her meditation practice to helping pave the way to her historic victory.

"When I'm on the court, in front of these big stages, I'm really good at just blocking everything and staying in the zone," Bianca Andreescu said on Saturday, after her U.S. Open win against Serena Williams

Andreescu said she started meditating when she was 12 or 13 years old, and that it's allowed her to stay focused on the game in tense moments.

"It's getting more popular because I think if you can control your mind then you can control a lot of things," she said.

Meditation is, indeed, becoming more popular in North America, with both athletes and non-athletes.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people who said they had practiced meditation in the past year tripled between 2012 and 2017.

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson says he finds calm by meditating before games. (Jeff Chiu/The Canadian Press via AP)

"It can be incredibly helpful with dealing with distracting emotions," Amy Baltzell, author of The Power of Mindfulness: Mindfulness Meditation Training in Sport, told The Current's Laura Lynch.

Baltzell, herself a former Olympic rower and a sports psychologist at Boston University, now teaches mindfulness practices and meditation to athletes. 

Numerous studies have found that mindfulness meditation — a practice rooted in Buddhist teachings that involves focusing the mind on present experiences — has benefits for concentration, mental health and physical well-being.

Baltzell used to be an athletic coach, and she often felt she had few tools to help her trainees overcome the anxiety, fear and embarrassment they often dealt with.

"You just can't say to someone: 'Just don't think that, just think about something positive,'" she said.

After she incorporated meditation in her own life, she realized it could also be a powerful tool for the athletes she was training. When they learn to meditate, she said, they "can notice the frustration, accept the frustration and bring [their] attention back much more quickly to the game." 

Bianca Andreescu speaks to the press after her 6-3, 7-5 U.S. Open championship victory over Serena Williams. 1:01

Mindfulness 'a primarily affluent movement'

As in sports, mindfulness practices have been adapted in the corporate world to appeal to more mainstream, secular audiences. Many companies, from Google to Goldman Sachs, train employees in mindfulness for stress reduction, and meditation is now estimated to be a billion-dollar industry.

But as that shift away from the Buddhist ethics at the roots of the practice continue, some experts are concerned about who is being left out of the modern mindfulness movement. 

"It's a primarily affluent movement ... [and] a primarily white movement," said Jaime Kucinskas, associate professor of sociology at Hamilton College.

Kucinskas's book, The Mindful Elite: Mobilizing from the Inside Out, traces the rise of the mindfulness movement in North America. She traveled across the U.S. interviewing the leaders of the several organizations promoting meditation. 

She found that, as many of them reached out to wealthy and powerful people in an attempt to help spread mindfulness far and wide, the practices morphed to appeal more to the tastes and lifestyles of powerful and wealthy audiences — with pricey retreats, conferences and corporate events being added to the itineraries.

Richard 'Rich' Pierson, CEO and co-founder of the US meditation application 'Headspace', in Paris on June 4, 2019. Headspace currently generates more than $100 million in revenue per year. (Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images)

"It takes time and money to be able to go to these retreats," she said, making them inaccessible to many low-income people, particularly those working multiple jobs. "Some of the conferences that convene these top meditators cost $1,000, and they're in expensive cities like New York or San Francisco."

The mindfulness movement in North America has primarily been driven by white people, she added, leading to a lack of representation of people of colour.

"When you don't have people from different ethnic backgrounds coming into cultural movements, then you're missing a lot of perspectives," she said.

Some are taking steps to change that. A meditation app called Liberate launched earlier this year, specifically aimed at users who are "Black, Indigenous, and people of colour" and featuring instructors of colour.

One Ottawa-based Buddhist meditation organization called True North Insight also offers meditation retreats for people of colour.


Written by Allie Jaynes. Produced by Max Paris, Ines Colabrese and Jessica Linzey.

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