The importance of mental and psychological aspects in performance is well documented and publicized; however, very little time is spent improving the mental facet compared to the physical components of training in cycling.
At some point we have all experienced a lack of focus or inability to push distractions out of our head during a ride. For athletes this can result in poor performances despite physical preparedness. For recreational riders it can detract from an enjoyable riding experience. In both cases lack of mental focus can be a serious safety issue for cyclists when you consider riding with traffic and the precariousness of a descent or dangerous road conditions.
We live in a physical world and therefore tend to focus on the physical elements of exercise. If one examines all the moving parts with training there is only enough bandwidth for the body to adapt. By pushing ourselves on the bike our muscles adapt, we improve blood flow to the periphery, increase cardiac output, and ultimately increase aerobic capacity.
What about the brain?
We expect our psychology to naturally fall into cadence with training. Just as we train our bodies through riding, our minds also need training.
Clearly the meditative aspect of yoga is excellent for developing mental focus and channeling our mind. Yoga calms the mind but also trains us to engage our thoughts in ways that direct our experiences vs. being victim to our circumstances. By getting the mind calm and focused on the task at hand (instead of negative, self sabotaging thoughts) we can allow our body to do the work it needs to do in order to climb a steep hill or push through the wind.
Through a complete yoga practice we learn that our focus on breath will calm down our thoughts or at least engage those thoughts that will carry us forward powerfully on the bike. Yoga teaches us to have relaxed and selective thinking!
Here is a simple home practice from YogaGlo instructor and avid cyclist, Amy Ippoliti to get a taste of this:
- Mountain Pose
Stand at the top of your mat with your feet parallel and close your eyes. Listen for your breath. Bring your awareness to the inflow and outflow of your breath. Notice how you can draw the breath in and out actively yourself, and also how the breath comes in and out as it pleases with out your involvement.
- Reclined Mountain Pose
Lay on your back. Bring your attention to your breath. Notice thoughts coming and going in your mind. When you catch yourself having a thought about anything (breakfast, the conversation you just had with your colleague, what you are going to cook for dinner, etc.) welcome the thought, and then shift your attention back to the breath. Each time a thought comes do the same. It is useless to try and turn off your thoughts, just simply acknowledge them and then even for a second, bring your attention onto your breath.
When you’re next on the bike and pushing up a tough climb, go back to the feeling you had on your mat and see if it makes a difference in your speed, endurance or power. Notice if you are more present on the bike and if you are more hyper-aware of your handling and ability to ride safely.
Our practice on that mat can translate to the bike and can result in the following benefits:
- Rider’s high
Regardless if you ride a bike for transportation, recreation, competition, and/or fitness we can all benefit from improved mental clarity and focus on the bike. For more practice ideas and on demand yoga classes specific to cyclists please visit our dedicated online center Yoga for Cyclists!
Please leave a comment below on how yoga has helped improve your mental clarity and focus on the bike!
About Taro Smith, Ph.D
Taro is a physiologist, yoga teacher, and former bike racer. He designs specialty content for YogaGlo to benefit a broad range of yoga practitioners. He is the co-founder of Boulder Cycle Sport, a nationally renowned cycling retailer and 90 Monkeys, a professional yoga school. Connect with Taro on the bike via Strava TSmith and on LinkedIn Taro Smith – See more here.