What Does John Steinbeck Have to Do with Mindfulness in Indoor Cycling?

It’s an indescribable feeling, but once you feel it you want more.

Some call it mindfulness.

John Steinbeck called it a “glory.”

Can you help your riders find their glory? The answer is found when you practice mindfulness in indoor cycling.

My glory was a sense of oneness with the bike. It was like the bike was an extension of my body responding to my very soul. It was a feeling that I could do anything on my bike. It was an unforgettable reward for patient and persistent training.

The feeling is so profound, so central to our being, that words can barely describe it. John Steinbeck succeeded in East of Eden:

“Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of
the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then -the glory- so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.”

A glory can be found in any aspect of our life. Musicians in a symphony may find it as they get lost in their music. Runners might find it in the famous “runner’s high.” Golfers in the perfect swing. Mindfulness in indoor cycling can be another manifestation of a glory. The feeling is hard to describe, but it can be replicated if we commit ourselves wholly to one thing.

Can you help your students find that magical place where the world drops away and only the glory remains?

Can you find it as an instructor? I believe you can.

While there is no magic formula to find a glory, I have observed some common elements in the ones I have seen or experienced. For me, they have all involved concentration, awareness, and movement.

It occurs to me that these elements are closely linked to those associated with mindfulness. If creating a glory is based on a foundation of mindfulness, then what are the elements of mindfulness? Thich Nhat Hanh identifies five elements in “Five Steps to Mindfulness” (https://www.mindful.org/five-steps-to-mindfulness/).

  1. Breathing
  2. Concentration
  3. Body awareness
  4. Releasing tension
  5. Walking meditation

It is striking how relevant those criteria are to the environment of an indoor cycling class. Using these criteria may help you build a “glorious” atmosphere in your class.

Here is how I believe you can help your students find their glory.

  1. Breathing. If breathing is a necessary element of mindfulness, certainly it is a necessary element of indoor cycling. Many instructors teach breathing techniques in their classes. We should teach our students to focus consciously on their breath by encouraging them to take full exhalations all the way down to their diaphragm. We show them how to find a rhythm that coordinates their exercise and their breathing.
  2. Concentration. This is another area commonly practiced by indoor cycling instructors. I often teach concentration drills in my classes. I will break a long, sustained effort into 1-minute increments where each minute has a special concentration focus assigned to it. Initially that concentration may be on technique or breathing. Later on in the effort, I may ask them to visualize the successful achievement of a goal. These practices increase our students’ abilities to give their undivided attention to the subject at hand.
    • To achieve concentration, we must provide a classroom atmosphere free of distraction. It’s another reason to discourage talking, texting, and other unnecessary interruptions.
  3. Body awareness. One way to do this is with pedal stroke drills. We teach our students to use all of their leg muscles to pedal in smooth, round circles
  4. Releasing tension. Just as with body awareness, we teach our students relaxation. One way we do this is to encourage them to relax their upper bodies, allowing energy to flow to their legs. Holding that energy in the upper body discourages the flow that is necessary to finding a glory.
  5. Walking meditation. While the author uses walking, other rhythmic motion works as well. It seems to me that the moments of glory most often occur when the body is moving and the mind is in alignment with it.

To these five criteria, I would add a sixth: patience. A glory can’t be forced. It won’t come on demand. You must work toward it over time. Finding a glory is similar to developing physical strength; committing to persistent practice over time. Quality is more important than quantity. It can be sought if we know how.

I believe that a higher level of enjoyment and engagement can be found in our classes and help create more mindfulness in indoor cycling. If we can help our students find this higher level, then we will have done a far greater service than merely supplying an opportunity to sweat to the music.

Thank you, John Steinbeck.

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