In this podcast I wanted to share my experience with meditation for mountain biking. I’ve been meditating in some way since I was first introduced to it through a Tai Chi class I took in college and I’ve found it to be a powerful tool in helping me perform better.
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Meditation is one of those words that elicits a pretty mixed reaction from people when you bring it up. Some people are totally into it, some people think it is a bunch of nonsense and some people think it might have some benefits but don’t know what to do or where to start.
For those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, it has undergone a bit of a cultural shift over the years. Seen for a long time as one of those things that hippies did that had no real world value, it has been studied and found to have a lot of benefits for health, mindset and performance.
Meditation is something that I have been using in various ways since I was 19. I got introduced to it through a random Tai Chi class that I took during my first year of college along with some of the philosophy behind it.
As I became a strength coach and started to study more about how the human body works and how to improve its performance I came across a lot of ways to train and harness the power of the mind. While sports psychology and meditation aren’t the exact same thing, there are a lot of similarities and both have been used over time to train people to perform in high stress situations.
And while breathwork and meditation aren’t the same thing, there are also a lot of crossover practices and, at its core, meditation is about using your breathing to help control the mind.
For the 40+ year old mountain biker I think that having a meditation practice is as important as strength, cardio and skills training, meaning that if you need to cut back on something else to find time for it then it is worth it.
As little as 12 minutes a day has been clinically shown to make a difference. Meditation has also been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve mood and lower stress.
My goal in this podcast is to give you a broad overview of meditation practices and some practical tips on how you can start using it as part of your training program.
I use meditation in 2 ways – to train my attention and to visualize high stress situations I want to perform well in.
The first thing I recommend you start with is using mediation to train your attention. With this method you want to find something to focus your attention on like your breathing, an object or a sound.
I recommend using your breathing since it is also a great way to train your breathing and work in some breathwork.
To do this you would get set up in a comfortable position – you can be sitting or lying down, just make sure that you are in a position you won’t need to move to stay comfortable in. You don’t have to but I recommend also closing your eyes to help you focus on your breathing.
Set a tempo where your exhale is even with or slightly longer than your inhale. I find that 4-6 and 5-5 breathing work well.
Simply follow your breathing and count off the tempo in your head or using a timer. Feel your breath going into the belly and filling the lungs from the bottom to the top and then feel the breath reversing and being pushed out.
If your mind wanders then just bring it back – this will happen and is part of the process.
You could also focus on an object like a flame or you can focus on a sound/ mantra like “om”.
What you will find is that it is tough at first to sit there and not have your mind wandering around and you will constantly be having to bring it back to your breathing (or other focal point). With practice this will happen less and your ability to recognize it and bring your attention back will be more automatic.
You can create even more of a breathwork challenge by adding in pauses to the top and bottom of the breath, creating Triangle and Box Breathing patterns. This will also help to improve overbreathing and CO2 tolerance by purposefully breathing less than normal, which also creates a slight rise in CO2.
On the trail this will help you to focus your mind when it matters the most and give you a way to use your breathing to help control anxiety in the moment. This can also help you with entering and staying in the flow state since outside thoughts and distractions are a hindrance to it.
Another way to use meditation is to combine it with visualization.
To do this you would want to start out with 5-10 minutes of regular meditation/ breathwork to help you enter into a calm and relaxed state of mind. Once you have done this you can start to visualize anxiety producing situations while focusing on staying calm and using your breathing to help you.
If you start to lose control and feel yourself getting tense and anxious then stop the visualization and go back to focusing on your breathing and relaxing.
For example, if you are nervous about competition you can visualize yourself getting ready for and going through the steps leading up to the start of the race (most athletes report the lead up to competition is actually more stressful that competing so I find that this is what you want to focus on).
Another example would be if you have a trail or section of trail that is extremely challenging or if you have a new feature/ obstacle that you want to do.
You can also extend this practice to things off of the bike like public speaking or having a difficult talk with your boss or wife/ husband. As you can see, meditation is an extremely valuable tool for us both on and off the bike.
It isn’t complicated and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time for you to see results.
Some good books to check out on this subject are Peak Mind by Amishi P. Jha and Psyche by Jud Biasiotti. Another great book on the training mindset is The Book of Five Rings by Myamoto Musashi.
Meditation is something that people have been using for thousands of years and with modern science we have some answers as to how it works. But it is still something that you have to make time for and do.
I promise you, though, that the effort is well worth it.
If you are interested in learning more about how to use breathwork and how to get the most out of your meditation practice then check out my Guide To Better Breathing for MTB.
In it you’ll learn how to assess your breathing and ways you can improve it, along with practical tips on how to use better breathing on the trail to improve your cardio along with how to use it to help you prepare for competition.
I hope this podcast has inspired you to start your own breathing/ meditation practice, let me know if you have any questions I can help with.
Until next time…