The journey to the WorldTour is fraught with ups and downs. As followers of the sport, we only see so much, and every individual’s story to reach the top is different. One thing that connects these riders to the big league is that it’s not just a question of physical ability and talent but also mentality.
Having previously not been recognized enough, the events of the last two years have shone a light on the importance of mental health and being present for everyone, not just athletes.
One technique for achieving this is mindfulness, and it’s easier to practice than you might think, in fact, you may already be doing it.
Defined as the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, mindfulness is about not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by events happening around us. Your Bike as a Buddha shows, cycling can be an exercise in mindfulness, but it all starts with learning how to access it.
One such person who has connected the mindfulness dots is Henrietta Christie, a promising climber from Christchurch who joined Human Powered Health™ in 2022. At just 20 years of age, the New Zealander is at the very beginning of her WorldTour adventure and brings with her a daily meditation practice she developed during her racing career.
When she first went overseas to race in 2021, Christie began to suffer from nerves. “I got to the stage that I felt so anxious that I felt sick before races and then my performance went downhill.”
Then her coach suggested an app to help her breathe on the start line, something the then-teenager had previously done through high school before exams. Christie’s technique became simple and is now easily repeatable.
“Before warmup, I will just sit there and focus on my breathing. I put music in and drift away but remain present. Then on the start line, I take nice, deep, calm breaths and visualize everything to come. In the race, taking those deep breaths when I’m still learning something or I’ve made a mistake or even when I’m in a good position, is crucial.”
A mental health coach at the Upper South Island Performance Hub, John Quinn, then taught Christie that, “mindfulness can be anything. It can be your exercises, your yoga or just reading a book for 30 minutes.”
Christie describes the process as if it is a whole-body morning stretch. “I get worked up and anxious quite a bit when I have lots of things on my plate so for me it’s about being able to come away from that and focusing on something going for myself.”
It’s good for everyday life and even if you’re not an athlete, there are huge advantages to trying to be mindful.”
As if to prove the point, Christie got her mom into practising yoga with her, making the 10,000 miles that separated them feel a little smaller.
“It’s something that is completely different to sport and everyday life, so it’s nice to come away from those things every now and again,” explains Christie. “Doing it with my mum has been fun. It’s a bonding time for us because we both found it difficult with me being away.
“I have a diffuser that we use and smelling candles, everyone’s different but for me, I really love doing it outside, so I can connect with the outside environment,” Christie says.
Mindfulness isn’t just something only athletes can use to benefit their performance and you don’t need to master the Adho mukha svanasana either. At the risk of sounding like Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, inspiration can be found all around us.
“If you think you’re bad at it, it doesn’t matter, if it works for you, that’s what’s important,” added Christie. “It’s trying to keep consistent, go on the internet and google a breathing exercise activity you can do, or even download a meditation app and start doing the activities they have on there.”
There is an advantage to having the privilege to carve out ten minutes in your day to practice being present, but even on a busy schedule, similar goals can be met.
“If you’re able to sit down and do a minute of really concentrating on your breathing and trying to slow everything down, 100 per cent that minute is worth it,” says Christie. “It’s really about getting to know yourself and what works for you.”
Finally, as with so many parts of mental training, consistency is the key.
“Being like ‘okay let’s do this once a week or every time I get stressed, let’s take five minutes away and get really try to reconnect.’ Do those breathing exercises and slowly build up the consistency because that’s what makes it happen. If you’re enjoying it and you’re taking the time to do it, that’s all that really matters.”