Like other endurance sports, cycling can be extraordinarily grueling. It can push you to your physical and mental limits, take you beyond what you thought you had the capacity to achieve, and test you at every level.
If you have ever watched the Tour de France, the drama that unfolds every year reaffirms this. What professional cyclists endure and accomplish throughout the Tour is beyond what most people can comprehend as humanly possible.
What coaches and professional athletes know is that mental training is equally if not more important than all any amount of physical training and nutrition planning combined.
No matter how much strategizing and time goes into preparing for a race, the stuff that goes on between the ears (i.e. thoughts, motivation, focus, determination, etc.) is what will set one athlete apart from another. When every cell in your body wants to quit, the mind is what is going to keep you going.
So what’s the yogic technique that Tour de France cyclists have mastered that gets them to the finish line?
Dharana, or concentration.
Learning how to concentrate by training the mind allows athletes to overcome negative emotions, doubts or external circumstances that can become obstacles to an athlete’s goal. Oftentimes the obstacles we put in our own way by getting in our heads are greater than any mechanical problem, injury, or impossible climb.
This is true on the bike, but it’s also true in the struggles we face in life.
While yoga is commonly thought of as a physical activity where you get into poses, the reality is that yoga is traditionally about training the mind. When yoga was created thousands of years ago in Ancient India, the purpose of the poses was to prepare the body for meditation.
Dharana is a part of yogic philosophy that is entirely dedicated to the art of developing concentration or the ability to focus. It is the process of taming the “monkey mind” back to a state of focus over and over and over again. Like a muscle, the more you practice or strengthen this ability, the stronger your ability to concentrate becomes.
Whether through yoga or some other type of mental training, TDF competitors have developed heightened abilities to concentrate and create mental focus under the most grueling, high-pressure situations. Some Tour de France champions like Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins have openly discussed how yoga has contributed their cycling performance, and I’d be willing to bet that their practices contributed to their ability to concentrate.
So you are probably wondering…how can yoga help you develop focus?
In the following series of posts, I will answer this question and give you useful tips and exercises that will help you with your mental training. If you want to learn how to let go of distraction and develop the focus you need to reach not just your athletic goals but your goals in life, join me next week as we dive deeper into this topic.