Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cycling and life

This is the second of the articles I have written for the Indoor Cycling Association. I know that the last three paragraphs may come across as a little strong if you are not immersed in the world of 'spinning' instruction. There is a growing tendency in the industry to encourage exercisers to exercise at a very high intensity without reference to the skills which are actually applicable to biking up a steep hill - or taking on a life challenge. I think my current situation gives me a unique opportunity to educate and also, I'll admit, to shame some instructors just a little. In the end, I think those who just rely on high intensity and charisma to attract and maintain students are lazy. I don't have a problem if they cringe a little inside when they read what I have written.   

I sent it off with a different title and was interested to see how it eventually appeared

We Are All Beginners at Some Things

It is the day of a meeting with a new doctor and a novel procedure. The date has been on the calendar for awhile and I have been looking forward to the answers it will provide. But now it is here and the thought of it seems too much to bear. It would be easy to let anxiety take over. But I know another way. 

Today will actually be composed of a series of events, not one horrible experience. I need to break it down, set some goals and get on with it. When I look at it that way the day doesn't seem so daunting. I know how to dress myself. I know how to drive. I have methods for dealing with the stress of the waiting room and even the procedure itself.  So I begin. Here's a peek at my thoughts through the day.

Get dressed. Check.

Drive to the health centre. Check. Nope - not quite. The anxiety is bubbling up. Work on something. Become mindful of your breath. Establish a pattern and stay with it. Your goal is to keep your heart rate low.

At the front desk. Put a smile on your face. It will make a difference to me and them. Keep smiling. Don't worry about the fact that you are the most cheerful person in the waiting room. You are doing what works for you. 

Waiting. You know how to sit in a chair. Focus on your spine. Keep it straight but relaxed. Sit deep into the chair - don't perch, you aren't going to fly away any time soon. Good. Deep breaths, long slow exhales. Read your book - you brought the tools so use them.

Meet the nurses. Smile. Walk tall, drop your shoulder blades. Form matters. Talk less, breathe more.

Doctor enters. Not so bad. You have this thing.

Procedure begins. Here it is - the steepest part of the climb today. Breathe. Relax - tension will get you nowhere. How about a tiny smile? Time slows down. Slow your heart rate with it. Focus on your breaths. Count. Just one more and then another and then another. What will help me sink into this? A babbling brook, hemlock trees, a picnic, a child - I'll go there. It's over. Really? That wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

Results. Bad news. Not so scary though. Just another hill to climb.

The rest of the day. This feels like riding downhill after a hard climb. Everything is a bit blurry and feels rushed but maybe it is just that time has returned to normal.

I survived that day and could almost say that I thrived. On reflection I have two sets of observations relevant to coaching indoor cycling and other activities. First, over the course of a couple of hours I used almost all of the body and mind management techniques that I coach (and which were highlighted in many of the recent ICA summit sessions.) If you feel awkward discussing some of those topics or it isn't part of the culture where you teach, please consider my example. Do you want to deny your students access to information and techniques which are truly life skills and have application to so much more than just cycling?

Second, every activity or behaviour can be broken down into component parts. Those steps seem much less daunting in isolation. On my difficult day success at each step set me up for the next one. We know this in the abstract but do we consistently apply the principle in our classes?  Do we treat every one of those steps as equally important and celebrate success as each is achieved? Do we focus too much on the outcome or final step and neglect to acknowledge all its precursors?

Perhaps you are thinking "Yes, I break things down for the novices or newbies in my classes." My message for you, based on my experience in the last few weeks, is that everyone is a novice or unskilled at something; everyone struggles with at least one aspect of his or her performance. You won't always know which aspect is most problematic for any individual. I don't think I look or act like a novice cancer patient but that doesn't make any of the steps I am taking less difficult or less worthy of celebration. For that reason you should not make assumptions and skip steps or fail to reinforce small achievements. As an instructor/leader/coach in your classes that's one of your most vital roles - to identify and describe the steps and mark your students' progress as they climb them.

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