CBT SoCal’s Dr. Jason von Stietz recently attended a mindfulness seminar led by George Mumford. The seminar, held at Insight LA in Santa Monica, focused on the use of mindfulness in improving not only one’s performance (e.g. sport, career, art) but also life. Mumford gained acclaim as the meditation teacher who taught mindfulness to Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant. Mumford explained that he had the great fortune of learning mindfulness from Jon Kabat Zinn, among other notable teachers. In the early 90’s, Phil Jackson hired Mumford to teach mindfulness to the Chicago Bulls in order to help them manage the stress of success following their multiple NBA championships. Although he had not yet taught professional athletes, the experience he gained in college living with his roommate, Julius Irving (Dr. J), had prepared him to work with athletes at the highest level.
The training with Mumford was approximately 6 hours and included multiple meditations followed by discussions. Mumford discussed Buddhist philosophy, the work of psychologist Eric Fromm, and the divisive nature of modern politics. Most notably, Mumford discussed his experience working with the NBA’s all-time greats. He explained the importance of his student, Kobe Bryant, allowing himself to develop authentically rather than attempting to emulate Michael Jordan. As Mumford put it, “If Kobe tried to be Jordan, he wouldn’t be Kobe.” Additionally, Mumford discussed his experience working with Kobe to relax while performing instead of trying too hard, which hampers performance. Mumford playfully noted that once during a game, Kobe “tried to score all 40 points in one shot.” Seeing this, Mumford stated very simply to Kobe, “the best way to score, don’t try to score.” Upon hearing this, Kobe relaxed into the present moment and went on to score 16 points in one quarter.
Rather than over complicating things, Mumford communicated his messages very simply and in a straight forward manner. When listening to him speak, one feels confident in his teachings, as they have already been tested under the highest scrutiny in professional sports. To learn more about Mumford and his teachings, the first chapter of his book The Mindful Athlete is available for free online.