The catch word of “mindfulness” has been floating around a lot in recent years, but I still come across many athletes who haven’t been introduced to the basics of mindfulness.
Being mindful isn’t necessarily a exercise you can do three sets of ten a day and expect immediate change from, but similar to how I prescribe movement as part of a larger lifestyle and performance based change modality- integrating mindfulness and meditation (or breath work) into our days can drastically change our health, mental and physical performance on all planes of existence, but especially our riding.
One of the simplest ways to begin your mindfulness integration is to dedicate small periods of time to the breathing process. I often have clients begin with 5min, twice a day. Laying or sitting comfortably and placing one or both hands on the stomach and simply breathing. Set a timer and/or play some relaxing music and just exist with focus on the breath. You’ll likely notice that almost immediately your mind wanders onto any number of topics. This is the first step in developing mindfulness.. allow those thoughts to exist but resist the urge to focus on them. Imagine them as clouds in the sky, popping up and floating by.
Sounds easy, no? I can guarantee you this is called a “practice” for a reason. If 5minutes seems like too much, start with 1-2minutes a few times a day. Try adding this in before a ride and after a ride, and be open to the thoughts that arise.. you may even begin to notice certain body sensations alongside thoughts and feelings that come up.. remember to maintain a mindful approach to them: allowing them to pass by without judgement or bias.
I can feel some of you thinking that “this all sounds fine a great, but I don’t have time and I don’t see how this is going to tangibly improve my riding”. My response to thoughts like that would be that I have yet to meet someone that is too busy to find 1-2minutes to breathe a few times a day (for every five instagram stories you watch, add in a minute of breathing…). Secondly, the art and sport of riding requires us to be connected to and in the moment with another living being. We all have experienced how easily our horses pick up on our emotions and thoughts during a ride. How could something as “simple” as practicing awareness for our own thoughts and emotions not affect our riding ability for the better?
As an aside to this, being able to still the mind in this fashion will greatly enhance your memory, help with anxiety and mental performance, improve recovery from workouts and injury, and statistically has been shown to be hugely affective in all realms of sport psychology and performance across the board. As you practice there are many ways you can begin to use imagery and visualization in more specific ways in this meditative practice to improve details of your performance (practice tough turns, recover from the trauma of a fall or injury mentally, deal with performance anxiety, etc)- and these we will go over in future articles this winter.. for now, see how 1-5min, 2x/day feels and develop the foundations of mindfulness.
There are many useful apps to utilize to begin your practice, however I highly recommend the challenge of sitting with yourself and using your own mental discipline to get into it. Be open to what comes up, and keep a journal on your experiences- even if you are starting with as little as 1-2min a few times a day!