Meditation is an ancient art and practice thought to of arisen in India, at least 5000 years ago. In these cultures – and many more still active around the world – meditation is a practice used to strengthen religiosity and achieve states of enlightenment. In the western world, many teachers and scholars have adapted this ancient technique to bring health, vitality and mental focus back to the masses, often through mobile phones and applications. Meditating is a practice of attention or mindfulness which is used to focus on a specific thought, feeling, object or sound which is used as an anchor to keep the mind subtly guided, but actively trains attention, mental stability and clarity.

A paragraph in, and the reader may ask themselves, ‘what relevance does this have to my experience as a cyclist?’. Indeed, one may have thoughts of enlightened individuals sitting on lilypads with legs crossed when thinking of meditation. However, the truth is meditation can take almost any form you want it to, particularly when we think of cycling. You may have heard anecdotally whilst hanging on the back of chain-gang about how individuals often try and visualise pain as on the tip of one toe, or ignoring the pain by anchoring themselves to their breath. Naturally, as cycling is quite an embodied experience, we often become very aware of the body in times of exertion, and may even keep ourselves away from feelings of pain and exertion by visualising a circular pedal stroke. It is throughout these practices of focused attention, that we may have inadvertently been dipping into meditative realms without realising by giving our own mind something to ‘anchor’ to in times of discomfort.

In a much broader sense, meditation can give a lot more than a distraction or occupation of the mind, and experts would argue that this is against the principle. Arguably some of the most lucrative benefits of meditation come when we allow a set time of day to give perhaps 5 or 10 minutes to anchor our mind to a sound, object or the breath and reach a state of alert relaxation. It is in these moments we gaze out into a sky – sometimes full of clouds, sometimes clear and crisp. As the observer, we don’t bat away the clouds agitatedly akin to swapping a fly – we aim to slowly recognise the clouds – or thoughts coming into the mind – address them as thoughts, then focus back on our anchor keeping us to the ground. 

Have you ever found yourself driving to the shops or back home from training, only to arrive at your house with no real memory of having got there? It is this lack of attention and mindfulness in our everyday lives which feed into our preoccupation with thought. For those who have struggled with mental health issues and personal troubles, it is all too easy to live almost all of our time in the situations, issues and experiences that have caused us distress by reliving them in the mind. Like the clouds in the sky, these thoughts will always be there, but through the practice of meditation we may give ourselves a better chance to have an ‘anchor’ to come back to when our mind serves best to distract us. It is through keeping in contact with our breath, sound or object that we can keep in the here and now, and gain a much better control over our inner chatter.

The use of meditative practices during recovery from sessions and at the end of the season when motivation is low and fatigue is high is crucial to building a healthy relationship back up with our beloved sport. Meditation in this context provides a release from the mental stress of training, tracking calories, failure, injury and all of the other ills that come with cycling. However, meditation is also a valuable tool in engaging the parasympathetic nervous system or the ‘rest and digest’ system, crucial to recovering from our bouts and efforts. Having something we can do in our down-time also allows us to get a better perspective of our live as a whole, aswell as healthily designating a set time of day to worry, release and re-shape. In much the same way as we schedule sessions, it is vital to also schedule time for yourself, and your mind. When clients have asked me in the past what they can do to take their performance to the next level, I always express that more sessions might not necessarily be the answer – but focusing all their energy on optimising their recovery time can be incredible. It is these practices, particularly with on-the-go apps which can really transform an athlete’s potential.

From my own experiences as a cyclist, I often used to get extremely stressed during times of competition, and also experienced a lack of self-esteem when not riding my bike, along with guilt for missing the odd session. In reality, this highlighted my lack of clarity around cycling and the pressures I had put on myself. Only in my absence from racing and structured training have I taken on more meditative practice, which has garnered me a much better perspective of my life as a whole. When we stack a lot of importance, money and time on a goal, anything less than 100% success often feels like a total failure, and we fail to see the positive steps along the way. However, having a practice which keeps us grounded is invaluable to maintaining the sense of clarity, and allowing a more non-biased approach to observing our life as a whole, rather than just our athletic pursuits. 

Meditation will be discussed in-depth on our BeSpoked podcast as part of the lifestyle and wellness series – don’t miss it!

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