Most, if not all of us, use cycling as a release in some small way. Be it to burn up energy, release stress or just to grab some rest bite from home life. It is in and of itself a very therapeutic pursuit. It also goes well as a compliment to the in-vogue ‘mindfulness’ movement.
We at OTR are always looking for ways to improve your cycling experience and thought a look at mindfulness and cycling was in order. So, in this piece we will ignore the huge amount of very un-therapeutic time we cyclists spend desperately trying to beat PB’s, shave minutes off segments and generally beat our friends. Underneath all that we’re really very zen, honest…
So just what is mindfulness?
Well in short, it is focusing the mind on individual parts of what you are doing or what is going on around you. Directing your thoughts and energy into observing or doing that one thing in a first-person experience. It broadly comes from Buddhist practices but American professor Jon Kabat-Zinn is credited with bringing it up to date and getting everyone from bus drivers to the Prime Minister practicing it.
The essential idea behind it is to get us off of autopilot and become more present in what we do; to appreciate what is going on around us and connect with ourselves a bit more, and so not just thinking about the past, or focussing on the future, but being ‘in the moment’. Granted it does sound a bit like a new age hippy'ish type of thinking, but trust us when we say this stuff works and could help you both in, and out, of the saddle.
We are all guilty of going 'through the motions' day-to-day and not really paying attention to most of what we’re doing. We tend to only fully engage-brain on high-stress, dangerous or emotional situations. But that leaves us only remembering negative or highly charged parts of our week and we forget the little things that actually feel good and matter.
It’s time to take a step back
When you first wake up, stop for a minute and stretch fully, take in the day and have a couple of minutes of genuine quiet time. Quiet time does not mean reaching for your phone to then scroll through the newsfeed of your social network of choice. And sure as hell leave those emails alone. They can wait.
Take in the flavours of a morning coffee or tea and notice what you enjoy about it and why you drink it. What it’s doing for you.
Switch the radio off when driving and listen to your breathing, concentrate on the air going in and out of your body - this works even better when your morning commute involves a bike, which it ideally should. Watch stress levels drop.
Sit down when you eat and do it away from a screen- be that phone, laptop or PC. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes, stop and focus on eating. And again, watch stress levels drop.
These all sound like simplistic methods to enlightenment but they make a lot of sense when you put them in the framework of an average working day. And you can apply a lot of the same methodology to cycling.
Before you go out on your bike, whether it a social, training or competitive ride, stop and take time to think about what you’re feeling.
Are you bored?
Take in the emotion and figure out what it means. You might be mentally stopping yourself from reaching goals before you’ve even started.
Focus on your positioning and how you feel. Is the seat too high? Are your feet too close to the ground? These are rookie mistakes to make (we know you know that) but eliminating them or addressing them will put you in a better frame of mind.
Before you set off, breathe. Breath deeply. Exhale, inhale, listen to your breaths and visualise your lungs. By visualising and focusing on this you become more in-tune with your breathing and more in control; and we all know that breathing is fundamental to cycling.
When out and pedalling, take in your surroundings and focus on where you are and what you are seeing. Try not to let your mind wander to work problems or family issues, if it does bring it back into the moment and focus on your performance.
If you find you’re getting too obsessed with a time or route segment then ditch the electronics for one ride a week. Get back to basics and remember to enjoy riding.
And when you’re finished take a minute to remember the ride, what you enjoyed and didn’t, what went well and not so well and how your legs feel. It’s easy to jump off and dive straight into the next part of your day without reflecting properly on what you’ve just put your body and bike through.
We know that a lot of these things sound a bit trivial or as we mentioned earlier - ‘new age’, and you probably think you’re a determined, pedalling machine with no time for it all. But remember, every time you are out on your bike you’re already, albeit perhaps unknowingly, practicing mindfulness. We just think if you focus on mindfulness a tad more, by actively practising it, you’ll notice a world of difference!
Finally and it may sound counter intuitive to recommend digital apps as a way to help you practice mindfulness – given that the bombardment of digital information is likely what is causing you stress! – But Headspace is a great app to use as an introduction to mindfulness. It’s free to use to begin with, and then you’ll reach a point where you need to unlock the ‘advanced’ stages, where it’ll cost you an affordable monthly fee of between 5-8 quid - the equivalent of a few cups of coffee…
You can find more info about headspace, here.
Now, go get yourself in the moment!