In honor of Tour de France season, I wanted to share some proven methods that professional athletes use to train their minds for focus, concentration and mental toughness. Competing and finishing the Tour de France is one the greatest accomplishments in all of sports, and no cyclist in the Tour does so without mental training.
I previously discussed why athletes need to develop focus, which is arguably one of the most important skills a cyclist can learn. So how do you create focus? Through mental training.
And how do you train your mind? Well, one of the best ways is through yoga.
While yoga is usually thought of as a physical exercise in which one takes their body through a series of seemingly odd shapes called yoga poses (or asanas as they are called in Sanskrit), its underlying purpose is to train the mind.
In the words of Patanjali, an Indian historical figure credited as the founder of modern yoga, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” In other words, yoga is about taming the thoughts that get in our way, especially the doubts and negative patterns of thinking that prevent us from creating the focus we need to reach our goals.
Yoga is an ancient practice, but it is just as effective at training the mind today as it was thousands of years ago.
Here are 3 proven techniques taken from yogic philosophy that will help you train your mind to focus. Try them all and see which ones work best for you. Remember, the most important part is to practice, not perfection.
1. Create a mantra
You have probably heard of a mantra before as it is a pretty mainstream word, and you might already be using one like many top athletes do. But did you know that it is a Sanskrit word rooted in yogic history and tradition?
A mantra is essentially a word or phrase that is repeated over and over to help with focus, presence and concentration. Many yogis use mantras for meditation, the most famous being “OM,” which is represented by the international symbol of yoga. Just like yogis, cyclists and athletes benefit from matras to create concentration and focus on their goals.
For example, the legendary racer Jens Voigt coined the now famous mantra “Shut up legs,” which has become Instagram hashtag favorite. In an interview for roadcyclinguk.com, Voigt explains the importance of using mantras for mental focus and achieving success in races.
2. Use affirmations
Affirmations are powerful tools that can help you shift your mental dialogue in a way that supports the actions necessary to reach your goals. They are essential for any mental training program, and can benefit you in all areas of your life.
Similar to mantras, affirmations are short statements but usually longer than a word or two. For example, an affirmation could be “I am strong, relaxed, and I will make it to the top of this climb,” or “I believe in myself and my capabilities.”
Even if your legs are shot and your body is about to crack, an affirmation you be the only thing that gets you to the top. Some of them might sound corny but the science says they work.
Affirmations replace negative thoughts and have been scientifically shown to rewire your brain in a way that promotes positivity and motivation.
Yogic philosophy, as well as modern cognitive-behavioral psychology, explain how your thoughts determine how you feel. In other words, you are what you think.
Yoga teaches us that the way we perceive the world around us starts from the inside, and ground zero is our thoughts.
Remember, you have the power to choose your thoughts, and you can’t have two thoughts at once. You can either choose an affirmation or let a negative thought dominate.
Struggling to come up with affirmations for your ride? Check out this list here.
3. Create visualizations
Ok, now you might be thinking that I’m getting a little out there, but the power of visualization to improve sports performance has been well studied and supported by research.
Visualization is a common sports psychology technique in which the athlete uses mental imagery to see in their mind’s eye what they want to achieve. It’s basically a mental rehearsal of what you want to happen, for example, envisioning the perfect scenario in a race or a particular movement you want your body to make.
Visualization techniques also rewire the brain by stimulating the nervous system in a way that mimics the real experience. Envisioning your goals and the physical steps your body needs to take to reach them can help you develop the focus and mental toughness you need to make them a reality.
Yoga can significantly help you develop the ability to create visualizations though the mind-body connection that develops over time when you practice. Some styles of yoga such as Yoga Nidra even use visualizations as part of the practice and will help you develop this skill further.
Practice these techniques and let me know which ones work best for you. Some might stick and other might not. I
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