By Kristin Keim
Today I was personally and professionally inspired to sit down after a long bike ride with some amazing cyclists to write about an aspect of mental training that I am extremely passionate about, which is what we, in the field of Sport Psychology, refer to as Centering.
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, then you’ve probably heard about centering and working from your core center of energy. I like to think of centering as a means of anchoring yourself and performing at your optimal level; regardless of various external and internal distractions that might arise you always have your center to come back to.
Centering involves the process of learning to direct your thoughts toward the center of gravity in your body. The center of gravity is a point just behind your navel where your breath flows from your diaphragm. It’s the location where you can anchor your feelings of being strong and confident.
The holidays actually provide a wonderful opportunity to focus on the basic elements of centering which involve feeling strong, confident, and in touch with one’s own mind and body connection. The hub is the center part of a bicycle wheel, and this concept can relate to focusing in our your own center of gravity. It’s important to have a type of anchor or what I like to call “your personal hub” where you can draw positive energy to help you stay focused, motivated, and inspired to face the tough training days and other obstacles you might encounter. I mean let’s face it, life is not always as great as Lance Armstrong’s Twitter updates and when life throws you a bad lemon you will have to find a way to center, cope, and persevere. Some of the key elements that should make up your hub are personal relationships with family, friends, and teammates that you can count on through the good and bad lemon days and keep you inspired to stay focused on your Goals.
There are three aspects to centering that I like to refer to as the…
ABC’s of Centering for Cyclists:
♦ Attention: centering allows you to focus your Attention; it is a way of maintaining control over tension and concentration under pressure especially in high-pressure races situations. You can bring your attention to your personal hub.
♦ Breath: the use of Breath is the key to unlocking the art of centering and will help you become more aware of your own mind/body connection.
♦ Control: centering can help you Control your thoughts and feelings, it’s a great way to create a positive mindset before and during a race.
Learning to use your breath as a centering tool can help bring your mind and body together in order to stay focused, present, and inwardly calm while racing your bike.
One of my favorite breathing techniques that I use on a daily basis is called Circle Breathing. This is a type of breathing that allows you to relax. It helps to calm your nerves and stay focused on positives cues that you are in control of…a way to bring you back to your hub. Circle breathing can be used whenever you are feeling nervous, before a race or any situation in life where you need to be focused, confident, and collected. Circle breathing helps regulate breathing and heart rate. I can also help you lower arousal levels and reach your optimal level of performance. When your body is relaxed, your mind will follow. An important element is the concept of breathing from the diaphragm (or belly) instead of the chest, as this produces feelings of being calm and centered.
Circle Breathing Directions:
1. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 3-5 seconds – feel your chest gently expand top to bottom. Now feel your belly push outward as if you were inflating an invisible balloon.
2. Hold for 2-3 seconds before exhaling – concentrate on feeling calm, present, and centered to your personal hub.
3. Exhale slowly through your mouth for 5-6 seconds. Feel your belly flatten. Feel the muscles in your neck and shoulders relax while your body gently anchors into the ground. Let your mind and body enjoy this moment of relaxation.
4. Take a moment to focus completely on your breath and how centered and strong you feel – as you begin your next circle breath.
The process of centering and circle breathing is a conscious act that can be done when and wherever you feel as though you need to channel positive energy, increase confidence, calm your nerves, and focus. When centering and bringing your focus to your personal hub it can also be beneficial to picture something that makes you smile, maybe you winning a past race, your favorite food for after the race, or anything that produces positive feelings. Remember, following the ABC’s of Centering can help give you momentary control over concentration and tension…using your breath and positive image will enhance your confidence and focus.
“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” ~ Laozi
Kristin Keim is a graduate student at John F. Kennedy University where she is currently working on her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. After racing a couple of seasons as a Cat 1 road cyclist on the NRC circuit, Kristin decided that it was time to pursue a new adventure in life and is now studying to become a Sport Psychologist. Her main focus is to help her fellow athletes become more aware of the mental tools they can use to reach their full athletic potential. Kristin currently lives in Pleasant Hill, CA where she is also a member of the Wells Fargo Pro 1, 2 Women’s Racing Team. Follow her on Twitter – @thek2