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Practicing Mindfulness While Climbing

By Jennifer Sage On May 13, 2013 Under Outdoor Cycling

Tina Centofante is an ICA member and cycling instructor from Burlington, Vermont. In addition to teaching cycling classes, she is an avid outdoor cyclist. The following article appeared in the Muscles not Motors blog this week, and I thought it would be perfect for indoor cycling instructors around the world to see an example of how what we teach in our indoor cycling classes can translate to improving our experiences outside.

The Muscles Not Motors Blog has as its mission:

Muscles Not Motors supports physically, intellectually, emotionally and ecologically-minded individuals who are committed to activities that build healthy lives, sustainable communities, and a reduced carbon footprint though Movement = Action.

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Practicing Mindfulness While Climbing
By Tina Centofante

As a mountain biker, I live for the adrenaline rush of going downhill. There’s just something about finding the flow of the trail, gliding past the trees, and feeling my bike absorb obstacles while my body moves to find balance. This creates a certain sensation that I basically need on a daily basis. But in order to go down, I need to climb up some sort of hill first. And sometimes it’s hard to find a “flow” while slowly grinding up a long hill, whether it’s techy singletrack, muddy logging roads, or steep pavement. And there are some logical reasons why.

The fun part of cycling (I think most can agree on this), the speed aspect, is taken away. The quadriceps and glutes start to suddenly scream in frustration as the demand for pedaling power increases. Our torsos naturally flex deeper over the hips to compensate, adding pressure to our lumbar spine and compressing our chest, making it harder to breathe. Our shoulders shrug up to our ears and we grip the handlebars even tighter. Our heart rate starts to skyrocket, and panic floods into our minds. We start talking to ourselves: “I can’t do this!” “How long is this gonna last?” “I can’t breathe!” and the worst of them all: “Why do I do this to myself? Why do I bike?” When we start to feel the dread rise in our minds, that’s when it’s most important to tune in. We need to find that mind-body connection.

A couple of weeks ago I did the Gravel Grinder dirt road ride. I was stoked for it, even knowing there would be some monster climbs to battle. But as an indoor cycling coach, I had been spinning my legs all winter long, about 5-8 hours/week. I felt ready for some real outdoor climbing. That confidence pretty much disappeared when we hit our first long steep climb. My bike tinkered to a halt, my legs were screaming wildly, and I started sucking wind. “I hate this!” I said it over and over in my head. As a corner approached, I would look up hoping to see the road mellow out. Nope. More negative and inappropriate words would fill my head. I felt awful physically, because of the mental state I was in. But one tiny corner of my mind reflected on the fact that I am a yoga lover, and practice meditation and mindfulness on a regular basis. I even teach to my cycling students the importance of a positive open mind when the going gets tough on a bike. I needed to practice what I teach and set a positive intention for myself if I was going to get any enjoyment out of this ride.

As soon as I set my intention of finding joy and flow while climbing, I started focusing on my breath, since it was short and shallow. I concentrated on deepening my inhale and lengthening my exhale. I felt a small wave of relief wash over me. My grip on the bars relaxed, I slid my shoulder blades down my back, and lifted my torso a bit. I chanted to myself, “Appreciate the fact that you are healthy and able to move. You are outside. The weather is beautiful, the landscape is beautiful.” Over and over. Breathe, chant. Breathe, chant. It worked. My legs found a flow. My breath deepened. My mind relaxed. And I smiled, while climbing. The hill eventually lessened up and turned into a wicked downhill. As my speed picked up and I was flying through beautiful farmlands at the base of the Worcester Mountains, I knew I had won the battle that day.

I may not have won the war with my own personal mental challenges when it comes to all long, agonizing climbs, but it was a step in the right direction. When the going gets tough, whether it be physical, mental, or a mixture of both, smile. Enjoy the moment. Set a positive intention.

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