The catch word “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.
Being mindful isn’t necessarily an exercise you can do three sets of ten a day of and expect immediate change from, but it is similar to how I prescribe movement as part of a larger lifestyle. Integrating mindfulness and meditation (or breath work) into our days can drastically change our health, our mental and physical performance on all planes of existence, and especially our riding.
One of the simplest ways to begin your mindfulness routine is to dedicate small periods of time to the breathing process. I often have clients begin with five minutes, 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, right? I can guarantee you this is called a “practice” for a reason. If five minutes seems like too much, start with 1-2 minutes 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 the thoughts and feelings that come up. Remember to maintain a mindful approach to them: allow them to pass by without judgement or bias.
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.
I can feel some of you thinking, “this all sounds fine and great, but I don’t have time and I don’t see how this is going to tangibly improve my riding.” My response to that would be that I have yet to meet someone that is too busy to find 1-2 minutes to breathe a few times a day (hint: for every five Instagram stories you watch, add in a minute of breathing). Second, 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?
Additionally, 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 effective in all realms of sport psychology and performance across the board.
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 1-2 minutes a few times a day.