By Team ICG® Master Trainer Joan Kent

What does mind/body training mean to you? Which activities count as mind/body training? Yoga and t”™ai chi almost certainly. Weight lifting? Why or why not?

Some would submit that almost any activity can be a mind/body workout, depending on how it”™s approached. So maybe it”™s best to ask what a mind/body approach is.

Jim Karanas and I wrote a post some time ago (The Tao of Training, parts 1 & 2), outlining the differences between exercise and training, and suggesting that the primary distinguishing element of training is consciousness. It”™s a short leap from that to a discussion of mind/body training, since bringing conscious to an indoor cycling class would most likely make it a mind/body activity.

It”™s almost impossible to discuss the mind/body approach without including focus. When some (maybe most) people exercise, their focus is not on what they”™re doing. They may be thinking about work, calls they need to make, plans for the weekend, anything but the workout. This type of focus is called “dissociated.” It takes no practice because it”™s our default whenever we”™re not disciplined. Dissociated focus, I was taught, has no place in training.

It recently came to my attention that dissociated focus is actually taught in indoor cycling certifications. It”™s a method of getting cycling participants to work harder by taking their minds off the discomfort of hard cycling. Because my first certification was quite some time ago, this surprised me. What I was taught to do is keep my focus on exactly what I”™m doing. That type of focus is called “associated.”

Associated focus can be external or internal. External focus includes anything going on in the room: the instructor”™s voice, the sound of pedals turning, whatever”™s in your visual field. Internal focus pertains to what”™s happening in your body: sweating, body temp, the feel of clothing against skin, heart rate, breathing.

Associated focus may be wide — taking in as much information as possible regarding what we see, hear, feel and so on — or it might be narrow — zeroing in on one thing, such as the pedal stroke or even one segment of the pedal stroke, e.g., the upstroke. In either case, the key is not to attach a thought process to it, but to “go sensory” and experience it through our senses.

I was taught to approach hard training by being aware of all that”™s happening — in the muscles, with heart rate, with the breath, and more — but not to think about any of it. Jim loves to say we defeat ourselves mentally long before we”™re defeated physically. He teaches us to feel everything, and then transcend it. “It”™s not that it doesn”™t hurt, it”™s just that it doesn”™t matter,” he said one day during tough, big-gear climbs. I immortalized the saying on a boxful of t-shirts.

As great as transcendence sounds, it didn”™t always work for me. I would find myself “striving” to get into that transcendent state, then striving to stay there. The striving itself was antithetical to the state. It also linked “good” or “bad” with whichever state I was in at any moment. If I felt discomfort, was I doing it wrong?

My solution came from a non-cycling environment, a workshop with Zen master Genpo Roshi. I modified one of Roshi”™s techniques, and discovered the key to keeping my focus associated during hard efforts. (For those who might want to try it or teach it, it”™s helpful to practice first during moderate-intensity cycling.)

The Zen behind this is No Attachments, No Aversions.

Visualize a triangle superimposed on your body. The lower left corner is the part of you that feels the discomfort or pain and reacts to it: “This sucks. If it hurts now, what will it feel like in 5 more minutes? Why did I come in today?” And so on.

The lower right corner is the part of you that transcends the pain/discomfort and rises above physical limitations.

Now bring those two points together at the apex of the triangle, directly over your head. Clear your mind of thought, and train with absolutely no preference.

With no preference, there”™s no striving to reach the transcendent state. One moment you might transcend the discomfort. There”™s no attachment to that, no holding onto it because it”™s better. Experience it for as long as it happens.

The next moment, you might find yourself feeling the pain, or reacting to it. If that occurs, there”™s no resistance — either to the pain or to the reaction. Experience it with no aversion and let it pass through. Whatever happens is absolutely okay.

The state of No Preference is the ultimate mind/body state, or more accurately the no-mind/body state. In a very real sense, there is no emotion, just energy. Appreciate it; let it happen and pass through.

Using this technique, I can stay connected, associated with what”™s happening. Because any state is okay, I don”™t strive, fight the moment, or resist what is. I never feel I”™m doing it wrong.

When students started asking me to run through “the triangle” during classes, including classes I subbed for Jim, I knew it worked for others, too.

This method is in the moment and fully conscious. There”™s no fear of difficulty, because it truly doesn”™t matter. Whatever happens is okay.

If you try this, please let me know how it works for you.

Originally posted 2012-11-19 05:22:53.

Joan Kent

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