How Meditation Can Help You Get in the Workout Zone

While at a three-day cycling camp with Carmichael Training Systems in Tucson, AZ, I had the sudden, inexplicable urge to cry. Our group had just finished a tough hill-climbing workout in the morning, and we were all sitting down to a post-lunch meeting before our afternoon ride when I started to feel lightheaded and panicky, which caused my eyes to well up.

I'm not sure where all these sensations were coming from. Perhaps I was a bit dehydrated and tired but nothing too serious. I'm in the middle of training for the 545-mile AIDS/Lifecycle Ride, so I didn't think the workout was more than I could handle. Clearly, my body had a different opinion.

When I told a coach about how I was feeling, the dam holding in the well broke. Within seconds, my cheeks were damp and I felt so embarrassed that I was speechless. So I hid in the massage room and let it out, thinking that letting it out might help me regain control. No such luck. I continued to cry for the next three hours. At one point, I had to pull off to the side to collect myself. Two coaches came over to console me, telling me that I “hadn't quit yet” and that all I had to do was focus on the road. I appreciated their attention and hugs, but the more I tried to stop myself from crying, the worse it got. The hardest part was that I couldn't make sense of any of it. I felt fine. Nothing hurt. The camp had been going great. I had no complaints. So what gives? Why the waterworks?

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Just a few days before the camp, I had experienced my first-ever acupuncture appointment with Gabrielle Francis, DC, ND, LAc, an NYC-based holistic physician who uses chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, oriental medicine, and massage to treat her patients. During my 45-minute acupuncture sessions, she had placed needles on my body in a specific way to help me relax. Wondering if her treatment had somehow induced this tear-jerking response, I emailed her as soon as I returned home.

“The acupuncture may have allowed some release of pent-up emotion," Francis assured me. “I'm speculating that the extreme exertion may have pushed your nervous system over the edge and triggered a panic or anxiety reaction,” she added. She's right. The camp did push me, but what I found most surprising was my mind-body disconnect. Why weren't my brain and muscles on the same page? I assumed that they always worked in unison. This disturbing revelation pointed to a solution that I knew would help prepare me—all of me—for the grueling AIDS Ride: meditation.

For the next five weeks leading up to the main event, I've vowed to meditate for at least 20 minutes a day using the mantra given to me during my four-day transcendental meditation training course at Manhattan's David Lynch Foundation in January. Having practiced this form of mind-clearing exercise for several months now, I know the blissful benefits firsthand, including the focus, calmness, clarity, and mental flexibility that I'll need to power through when the going gets tough during the seven-day trek from San Francisco to L.A. When I told my designated meditation teacher, Joanna, my plan, she and her team immediately supported me.

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"Mental stress undermines physical performance,” said Bob Roth, the David Lynch Foundation's executive director. “Stress weakens resilience and resolve and fuels anxiety and fatigue. Transcendental Meditation is a 'warrior's meditation' that is practiced by thousands of professional and amateur athletes as well as active-duty personnel in all branches of the military to increase energy, focus, and power." I know now that it is one of the key elements that has been missing from my training routine. Fitness is not just about building a strong body but also a strong mind. One week into my practice, I already feel much better—although I'll admit, I did get a bit weepy while watching The Voice.

For daily updates on my training, follow me on Twitter @CDGoyanes.

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