A while ago I went on a yoga and meditation course at the idyllic Sharpham House in Devon. As well as doing yoga and meditation - and spending considerable lengths of time in silence - we also had the chance to sit down and talk about how we were finding it, and ask questions.
The topic of being 'in the zone' in sport came up with considerable discussion over whether or not that 'counted' as meditation. For those who aren't into it, meditation (or mindfulness) is about being able to live in the moment. The discussion ended with someone with years of meditation under their dismissing the possibility of being in the zone being meditative because it's too easy to get there.
I'm still a bit annoyed with myself that I didn't challenge her on this. It wasn't until I was driving home that I started thinking about it. Is it really that easy to be in the moment on a bike?
It's certainly desirable to be in the zone - or on a mountain bike we might be more likely to call it in the flow. That time when you and the bike are one, you're floating over everything that appears in your path, your mind and body are as one. It's the ultimate in feeling good on a bike. But it's not the norm for most of us.
I don't know about you, but I have days when the chatter in my head is non-stop. It might be about the shopping that needs doing, the ad I haven't written yet, the other endless to-do items that clog up our brains. Or if I'm not feeling my best I might be muttering to myself about not being able to keep up with a friend, or stopping at an obstacle I know I can ride. Or whingeing about walkers that aren't in control of their dogs. Being in the moment isn't easy, whether your meditating or riding your mountain bike.
However, I've learned a few tricks along the way that help me get closer to the goal:
1. Look up. Obviously this is a good idea anyway, as you don't want to bump into a tree and it's best practice to look as far down the trail as possible. But I find that when I've got a lot going on in my head, I'm more likely to find that I'm also looking down. Just lifting my head gives me more perspective. If I'm on easy ground I distract myself by looking at the trees, the view, damsel flies, clouds etc. It's amazing what a difference it makes. If it's more technical I focus on looking further ahead and picking the best line and my nagging voice will find it harder to get a look in.
2. Don't compare yourself to other people. We all learn at a different pace, and have different natural abilities.
3. Get to know your inner critic. Does your inner voice tend to be kind and encouraging or is it more likely to focus on your failures? In mountain biking our inner voice can often get in the way. If it's telling you that you've never been sporty, or that you won't get down that rocky descent, or that everyone is better than you, it's going to make it much harder to improve your skills and build your confidence.
One way to deal with it is to think of the voice as a gremlin. When it is criticising you, remember that it's your gremlin speaking, not you. You can have a chat with it. Ask what it is trying to accomplish for you by being so critical, what is its reason for criticising you, what is its positive intention? Is it being negative? Telling you what not to do? Ask it to frame its advice differently, to tell you how to achieve your goal instead of how not to do it.
I hope that you will find these tips helpful too. They just as relevant off off the bike too.