With due deference to those many people unfortunate enough to suffer from a real diagnosable mental illness, we all, me very much included, go through periods of what psychologists call ‘low mood’. We have to, I'm told by those who know: it’ part of the normal ebb and flow of the mind and it’s not natural, or possible, to be in a constantly steady mental state.
As a coach I’m interested in the psychological make up of my riders – it means I can better tailor a sustainable training plan to their needs and make the hard work satisfying and enjoyable (to a point…!) As an individual I am interested in my own mental health and recently whilst chatting to a friend of mine who happens to be a psychologist, I was pointed in the direction of Mindfulness. You may well have heard of it, it’s the ‘latest thing’ in mental health I guess.
Mindfulness is defined as ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.’ Importantly, not dealing or trying to resolve difficulties or thoughts, just being aware of them. It’s basically achieved by meditation (have a look at Headspace – it’s a free downloadable App if you’re interested). I gave it a go. Fascinating experience and very enjoyable for me although I've not quite worked out why yet!
All very good but what has this got to do with cycling I hear you ask? Good question. I’ll try and get to that.
The meditation involves getting comfortable, being aware of your surroundings, deep breathing and then internally scanning or monitoring how your body is feeling – not trying to alter it, just becoming aware of it. This is followed by rhythmically counting your breaths from 1 to 10 then starting again at 1. Pretty quickly I lose focus but the geezer on the App reminds you to start counting again.
After a while you let your mind wander for a short time before App Geezer reminds you to re-focus on your immediate surroundings a little more. It’s a cathartic and cleansing 10 minutes and nobody has even lit a joss stick man.
On reflection, I've lost count of the number of times I've wholly unintentionally achieved this kind of mental state whilst riding. The rhythmic nature of the pedalling and breathing, the awareness of my surroundings coupled with a peaceful mental state where my mind is free to wonder. Every now and again something brings me back to focus on the immediate - a traffic junction, a bleep from the Garmin, a beautiful bit of scenery, some asshole in a tractor trying to kill me - but pretty soon I’m back to that peaceful mental state.
Regularly I’ll get home after a couple of hours riding but be unable to tell you what I’d thought about during that period. Dirty on the outside and cleansed mentally perhaps? I wonder if that's why some of us are drawn to cycling? I dunno, but an interesting connection for me and it might go some way to explain the hashtag #therapy I seen on some cycling related tweets.
I’d be fascinated to hear your views or thoughts.
Thanks for listening. And oommmmmhhhhh….. ting!
The ramblings of a cycling coach...