Mindful cycling road

Yesterday, I had one of those days where nothing seemed to go well.

I woke up tired after a hard ride on the weekend and I knew I hadn’t eaten well after the ride so I was suffering from that too.

I couldn’t get my head in gear whatever I tried and spent a lot of the day being frustrated with myself and procrastinating.

Luckily my lovely daughter came home from pre-school in a fabulous mood and gleefully exclaimed ‘cheer up Mummy’ in a way only the innocence of youth could get away with.

(If my husband had said it, then I’m not sure he would have survived the night to be honest!).  

I woke up this morning with a little trepidation but some added motivation. With the glorious sun shining, even though a flippin’ ramp test was on my training plan I decided to scrap that idea and go out for a ‘mindful morning spin’. 

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I do these every so often. They allow me to get out on my bike with zero pressure and give me to time to reconnect to my thoughts, concentrate on my body and the environment - so I thought I’d share the experience with you and how you can have your own mindful reset ride. 

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There are only a few ‘rules’ for a mindful reset ride.

First, choose a route you know well so you don’t need your GPS or a map - preferably something that involves a lot of green space and countryside. Scientists have already shown how exercise undertaken in predominantly green spaces provide a more enhancing experience, so keep that in mind.

Second, put your GPS/Garmin/Wahoo in your pocket. I like to keep track of my mileage, but on these rides it’s important to ignore the numbers. You don’t need to know your average speed or your watts on these rides - that’s not what they’re about.

Last, before you leave take some deep breaths and give yourself 2-3 minutes to simply think about the subjects that are bothering you. Then, give yourself permission to let go of them for the duration of your ride.

I’m not suggesting you brush any challenges under the carpet, but with a ride like this - you’re trying to put yourself into a more constructive headspace to deal with them when you return. 

Jeni Sanderson mindfulness cycling VeloVixen

Mindfulness is something that has been shown to help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.

If that isn’t enough, then greater general wellbeing should push you over the edge in wanting to give it a go!

Mindfulness is a form of meditation, but I like to see it as a sliding path towards meditation as it can be done anywhere, anytime and with a little bit of practice it becomes comfortable.

The act of mindfulness is simply being aware, being present and paying attention to thoughts, behaviour, feelings and the environment around you.

So, in the context of this type of cycling, here are my thoughts, tips and experiences to get the most from a mindful reset ride:

 

1. Ignore the numbers

As I said earlier, this isn’t about an average speed or keeping your watts up.


2. Keep the cadence high

Use an easier gear than you are used and keep the legs moving, even when you would normally be coasting. This is purely for rhythm, find one that makes you feel in total flow.

Lower-resistance cycling requires less muscular force for each pedal stroke, which helps to keep fatigue at bay.

Higher cadence is also a really good skill to practice for great developing a nice pedalling technique and improves your aerobic strength.

Laid back gear for a reset ride


3. Keep your gears easy

Don’t grind up a hill just because you can, always be one or two gears easier than you normally would be.

Remember, you know this route, so you also know how you’d normally pedal - no excuses!


4. Notice how your body feels

Do a body check whilst you’re riding, starting with the top of your head, notice where the helmet/cap touches your head. Then where your glasses sit on your nose, keep moving down your body.

Where (if there is any) is the tension in your shoulders, chest, stomach, legs etc… all the way down to your toes?

If you find any tension, pressure or ‘angry bits’, take a deep breath and on the out breath, breathe into those areas of tension. The intention of breathing the tension out helps to release it.


5. When you do have to, put a little effort in

Let’s be honest - there are very few routes that won’t involve ANY short hills.

Keep it as easy as possible and as the tension starts to build in your legs, notice where in your legs it starts and how it spreads.

We don’t usually take notice of this when riding as we’re concentrating too hard on bashing up those hills, but it’s good to actually understand where the tension starts and spreads for you.

Equally, once at the top, drop down to an easier gear (if you can) but KEEP pedalling and then take some time to also notice how the tension dissipates and how long it takes. It’s all good information.


6. Savour the environment

Most of us will love the fresh air element of our rides, but how many times do you really take notice of what’s going on?

On my ride today, I decided to count butterflies (including the kamikaze ones aiming for my face!). I started to lose count at around 60, there were loads and they were so beautiful, enjoying the sunshine and chasing each other.

I also noticed the noisy crickets (not the Men-in-Black version, if you’re old enough to remember that reference!) in the fields and the buzzing of the electricity pylons as I rode underneath them - which made me think about all the energy they possessed.

This was just stuff I hadn’t really taken much notice of before and not only did my ride fly by, my sense of tranquillity was sky high.

Mindfulness coffee cycling


7. Stop for a coffee!

I’m not always keen to stop for a coffee or a break when I’m out usually, mainly because the ‘cafe legs’ set in and I find it difficult to get going again.

But here, we’re not in any rush - so find somewhere you’ll enjoy visiting and treat yourself to your favourite drink! Maybe lay off the gin at this point though!


8. If you don’t enjoy riding alone...

... that’s fine too. But make sure both of you are aware this is a mindful ride and give each other plenty of silence.

There is beauty in being able to share silence with another person you care about. Maybe agree on being silent until a certain junction and ask each other to notice something specific about how you feel or count the butterflies and then spend a couple of minutes afterwards discussing what you thought about.


9. Use your breath or pedalling to centre yourself

If you feel your heart rate rising or your speed pick up, drop into an easier gear and focus on your pedal stroke.

Then take a few deep breaths and exhales to find that calmer balance again.


10. When you get home, don’t rush

I like to do a few yoga poses and stretches - you may actually find you’ve worked harder than you thought because you’ve been focussing on other things rather than performance, so don’t neglect the post-ride routine.

I like to do a little sequence of yoga poses that stretch my lower back, my hips and legs before hitting the shower. 

 

So, there you have it. Since I got home, I’ve been a productivity machine and I’ve worked through my challenges.

Sometimes we just need to give the training plan a heave-ho and listen to what our body and mind needs. Equally, we always need a ride or two (or more!) where we kindly ask the inner voice telling us 'go faster up that hill!’ to leave us be for a bit.

You can see my mindful morning ride here, just to prove I practice what I preach!

I find it fascinating that I achieved some second-best PR’s on this ride as I was in mindful heaven – this is what I mean by ‘you may have worked harder than you thought’– when you concentrate on being in the moment, your body is more capable than you think.

I’d love to hear if you’ve given this a try and what you discovered about yourself and your riding, please do come back and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

About Jeni Sanderson: Jeni is a Positive Change Consultant specialising in using positive psychology and appreciative inquiry to energise positive change in both individuals and organisations. She offers life coaching for those looking to find clarity or to ‘discover their positive core’ in order to flourish and is a keen cyclist both on and off road, competing with our very own Fran in the Central Cyclocross league and enjoys the road and trails as well. when not working or on the bike, she spends time with her husband and daughter in a village just outside Bedford. You can find out more about Jeni on her website: www.jenisanderson.com