Hacking Your Senses

When I was in University I wrote a paper comparing the neuroplastisty of the child and adult human brain. The research indicated that the childs brain was better at recovering and relocating functioning from a damaged area if the amount of damage was large. The adult and child brain were about equal for small amounts of damage. The paper wasn’t very well received because it went against the traditional understanding that neuroplasticity effectively stops around age 12. Regardless, I learned something even if it was only that the adult brain can relocate brain functioning if it receives a small injury.

A lot has happened in the years since I graduated. The Internet exploded and information about everything is available all the time. Undoubtedly, the consumption of information is going to have an impact on me. It’s going to increase the amount interconnection between the brain cells because I will be learning a lot more (the interconnection between brain cells is one of the outcomes of increased learning) assuming I choose to consume the information.

Recall my post about the Maclean.ca article on Keeping Your Brain Functioning All Life Long, the one that reveals that even adults in their senior years can improve their brain function and take years off their mental age? That means I’m right in thinking that the impact of the Internet will continue to impact my brain well into my life, given that constant use helps to prevent mental aging.

But “Mixed Feelings” by Sunny Bains in Wired.com adds another layer of complexity and optimism to the mix. The article reveals recent research findings that our brains are able to hack our senses by interrepting information from on sense modality that codes for something else entirely – they talk about using a belt rigged with a number of vibrators and having the one that is pointing north shake. This will allow the wearer to know which way they are facing; basically giving the user a directional sense by hacking their sense of touch. It’s very interesting. What’s more, the directional information becomes part of the users consciousness and eventually unconsciousness. The constant influx of information will promote neural branching as the brain adapts. The brain is going to grow more dense in area that is devoted to sensing this directional ability. Wow!

To draw this back to my paper, if the adult brain has the ability relocate function in response to small brain injuries, does it have this ability to relocate function even if their is no injury? More so, what will it do with this new information that comes in that indicates something other than the raw sensory experience?

Further, what is the potential for sense hacking with a young brain given that it does have better neuroplasticity for large brain injuries? What impact will this have on developing neural density or even on localizing new sense functions to other unused regions of the brain?

Do You Know Art When You Hear It?

“Pearls Before Breakfast” is a Washington Post article about a qualitative research experiment to see how commuters would respond to professional musician Joshua Bell playing his $3.5 million Stradivari violin beside a garbage can in the L’Enfant Plaza in Washington D.C. It’s a high pedestrian traffic area and more than 1000 people pass him during the 45 minute free concert.

The findings did not support the predictions of how people would respond and only one group of people consistently noticed him and it isn’t the group you’d expect to take notice:

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

The article follows up with a lot of the people who passed him by and they offer up a variety of reasons why they didn’t stop and pay more attention. Time constraints were cited as the most common reason for not stopping, but watching the videos, it seems more likely that the people were not open to the experience of observing fine art during their daily commute.

What I found very interesting from watching the videos is that even when someone did stop, it didn’t seem to motivate others to stop. Very often we use the principle of social proof to determine what is appropriate behavior in unusual circumstances, this didn’t occur here. Even when others gave them permission to stop, people just kept on going, ignoring the free show by one of the worlds best violin players.

I’m not sure why children were the only group to consistently take notice of him, and the article doesn’t go into this finding. It could be that they have yet to learn appropriate commuter behavior, it could be that this was their first real life experience with someone playing a violin or it could be that they heard beauty and Joshua’s playing struck them significant enough to warrant their full attention. I kind of hope it’s the last one and that the innate tendency to identify and appreciate art is something that we unlearn as we become more socialized because then all we have to do is stop unlearning and enjoy. But I’m pretty skeptical of this hypothesis. Most likely the children look because a guy playing a violin is an odd thing to come across on the way to day care.

The Discipline High – Part Two

After I wrote The Discipline High – Part One I ended up talking to my brother about it. The discussion moved very quickly from does it exist to what it is?

Initially I had thought that I had somehow been able to create something out of nothing by fostering a positive feeling by NOT eating. It seemed a reasonable assumption because I do feel a sense of pride / accomplishment whenever I’m able to eat appropriately. The truth is, during bike season, I don’t need to be very mindful of what I eat because I’m very active – eating a box of cookies is excessive, but so is riding for 4 hours. In fact, some have said that I don’t really have a choice BUT to eat a box of cookies because I may utilize more than 2000 calories in a day in just exercise (the average 300 gram box of cookies has a little over 1200 calories). I need recovery sugar and while cookies do not supply you with dextrose or maltodextrin, the two sugars that replenish and boost muscle glycogen the most efficiently, they do contain sucrose with will help refill drained muscles and they taste pretty good. It’s a very bad idea to diet during the season because you may be denying your body the energy it needs to fully recover, which will result in an over trained state which will hurt your performance.

The discipline high only comes into play in the off season, between November and mid April because I scale back my activity dramatically. I do more resistance training to build muscle and strength, and this activity requires a lot less energy than riding; my estimate is about half the energy. Since my activity level decreases dramatically in the off season, I have to watch what I eat a lot more closely. When I mentioned this to Des, our understand about the source of the high became obvious. Why do I try to build muscle? Some of it is to help my cycling, some of it is to make moving around easier, some of it is to make my activities easier, and some of it is to have a body that looks nice. But having a strong core is very different from having a wash board stomach. A strong core allows you to drive more power to the legs by having a solid foundation from which to move so less energy is absorbed by movement of the upper body. Having a 6-pack is not necessary for this. I could have a strong core even with 20 percent body fat (many power lifters are just like this). The fact is, during the off season when weight gain can be an issue, I diet to keep the weight off and stay lean.

So my desire to have 6-pack abs is fueled by something other than athletic performance. It comes down to the motivation for wanting them and what they represent to me. First off, I have associated leanness with beauty, youth, and vitality because most lean people do have a look of vitality that is attractive and young looking. I have this association so it’s reasonable to assume that my desire to have them stems from my desire to be viewed as attractive and youthful with a lot of energy. Given that I’m pretty modest about my body, I’m not actively seeking other peoples approval or recognition for looking a particular way. But I feel that if I remain lean and well muscled, I have done everything that I can to remain attractive and young. In the event that my body ever becomes a deciding factor in anything, and I can’t ever see that happening, I have the peace of mind knowing that I have done my best. Wash board abs represent my knowledge about fitness and the human body and the level of hard work that I’m capable of. I regard them as a window into my brain and my personality and not something to be looked at as nice. I think they look good because they reveal who I am and not because they appeal to some primal urge.

What does this have to do with the discipline high? Well, I think the discipline high is just another form of delayed gratification; in this case, social recognition for achieving something that requires a lot of effort. I know that answer is a lot less appealing than my “something out of nothing” hypothesis but this explination is a lot more reasonable and I like its compatibility with evolutionary psychology. Only the social survive.

Keeping Your Brain Functioning All Life Long

Imagine reseachers finding out that you can teach an old dog new tricks, uncovering the aging brains ongoing ability to sense, encode and assimilate new information and redevelop previous connection between brain cells to maintain and consolidate knowledge. Well you don’t have imagine because that is what they have found. The Secret To Not Losing Your Marbles by Lianne George of Macleans.ca tells you how.

It used to be held as religion among neurology experts that the brain was plastic, or malleable, in our infancy; after that, its infrastructure was set. “Within the last five to 10 years, I used to teach — we all used to teach — that when you’re older, your brain is finished, kaputsky,” says Stuss. “[This idea] was actually the basis of a Nobel Prize that was awarded to two scientists from Harvard — David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel — and it was largely horses–t,” says Merzenich. “Their notion was that the brain developed into mature functionality by the end of this critical period and beyond that period, it was like a computer — every neuron knew what to do.” A person had a finite number of brain cells and once they were gone, they were gone. But if this were true, says Merzenich, how do you account for learning? “You can learn to play the piano if you’re 70 if you really want to, through driving your brain to master that ability. The brain is plastic through a lifetime.You never lose your ability to acquire ability.”

This lifelong ability to adapt, called brain plasticity, and the ability to generate new brain cells, called neurogenesis, are now heralded as the twin pillars of aging smart. Research conducted by Merzinich and others in the ’80s and ’90s was among the first to prove they work. In early studies, they observed the deterioration of aging rats. “They gradually lost their ability to control their paws,” says Merzenich. “They struggled to feed themselves by manipulating food and ultimately, they lost control of hind limbs, dragging them around.” Using brain imaging technologies, scientists found that part of the problem was the poor quality of sensory information the rats were receiving at this stage of life. When the rats were directed to perform certain activities in a particular manner and order, Merzenich and his colleagues found they could help them recuperate their motor skills and prolong their lives by 15 to 20 per cent. “The rats didn’t lose their mobility for an extra three months,” says Merzenich. “And when you looked inside the brain of the rat, you had actually restored substantially the quality of information that was coming from the paw. The point is, these kind of experiments demonstrated that you could take these very old brains — rats, not humans of course — and you could drive them to learn things and acquire new skills.”

As a 34 year old, I’m grateful that this research has come out now while I’m still young enough to do something about it, but the finds are very encouraging for the older generation too, in fact, even more encouraging. I’m active, healthy and still learning, this is one of the most enlighening periods of my life so I’m feeling pretty confident about the present state of my cognitive functioning. The future is bright with technological discoveries so there’s a good chance they’ll come up with something that will help my ailing brain when the time comes. But for older people who have been burned with the “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” stigma, the findings are great news, provided they are willing to invest in getting their brain functioning back. Like most changes, it is going to require effort but while your brain isn’t the sponge it used to be but it will still absorb whatever you immerse it in.

Interpersonal Synergy In Friendships

Recently I made friends with someone new, Rachel. This happens less and less as I get older, most of the people I met now are activity partners (people to do stuff with), romantic partners or co-workers. There is a purpose to these interactions and each of us play our role. But with Rachel it was different. We’re drawn to each other in a natural way that seems to foster an interpersonal synergy that fuels thought and positive action.

As a result of spending time with her I’ve become more aware of what I look for in friends. First off, while I do activities with my friends, they serve a social function and are not the purpose of our visits. For example, I don’t have any close friends who I ride with. I really like the guys on my cycling team, but we know each other BECAUSE we ride together. A couple of my friends snow board and a few of them work out, but by in large, other than the bike races, I do my activities by myself. It’s hours a week on the road, the trails or the gym by myself because that is what I like to do.

When I’m with my friends, the activity is just a back drop on which to have an experience. Most of the time we just talk in the kitchen while making dinner or have a couple of drinks. As an outsider watching these interactions, I can’t imagine them seeming like they are very purposeful but I have no doubt that they would see that we’re having a good time and that there is a high level of engagement. The conversations vary from talking nonsense (humor type improve about whatever comes up), to information exchange to idea exchange. The information exchange type conversations do not get my full attention. I’m not sure why, but I tend not to pay much attention to this stuff. I place a much lower value on this type of information, likely because these are the types of conversations that I have with activity partners and co-worker. These are just the details you need to get by and I find most of them pretty uninspiring.

The nonsense talking gets us laughing which is fun and feels good (all of my friends have either a good sense of humor or a great ability to laugh). It also helps to consolidate ideas or turn thought fragments into ideas. Given that I do not feel any judgement from my friends, I am completely free to say whatever I feel like. Sometimes I just need to say things out loud to make them more real in order for me to think about them clearly. My friends are often the first and only people to hear article ideas, workout programs, training tips and jokes. However, the biggest benefit of nonsense talking is its ability to open the mind through a sort of mental lubrication. Whenever you are engaging someone with the pure intent of having a good conversation, you open yourself up to all the possible directions that the conversation may take. A lot of the time we don’t stay on topic and will hop all over the place in a seemingly random fashion. The only pattern is that we are open to whatever the other is saying. It’s like good improv, it may not go the direction that you think should, but it goes somewhere and if you let it, it keeps on going.

As some point, the conversation will usually drift back to a more purposeful interaction that is focused on a single idea or point. It will still have the same sort of freestyle stream of thoughts to it, but they will all be related in some way to a key idea. These are the best conversations because they are free flowing, spontaneous and enlightening. There is a interpersonal synergy generated that allows each of us to consider topics in ways that are different from the norm. Patterns and the interconnected nature of ideas become evident were only randomness existed before. I find these conversations to be invigorating and I leave them feeling uplifted and with my head spinning.

I have some friends where all of our conversations are like this. We rarely discuss details about life or if we do, it is just to get the conversation going as to why things are that particular way. It is pretty amazing because I discuss certain topics with certain friends but regardless of what we talk about, the experience is the same and I leave the conversation feeling great and thinking that I’m a little better off because of it.

It wasn’t until I met Rachel that I realized that I was this way with my friends. I had often wondered if I was too serious all the time because of my passion for training and the intensity at which I seek out information that I am interested in, but I now realize that too serious and not serious enough are basically the same thing to two different people. I am the way I am and some people are going to be drawn to that while others will be repelled. It is not uncommon for someone to tell my that talking to me is draining, that they feel I am analyzing them and that they need to be on their guard. They are sort of right, I am trying to figure out why they do the things they do, but it’s only to get the conversation going. It isn’t judgement, it’s just how I talk to people.

What it comes down to now is that I’ll most likely go right for the guts of the matter and alienate people as I go. I’ve found that if they don’t get what I say, they don’t get me. If they think I’m judging them, it kills the conversation immediately. There is no changing this. The connection is either there or it isn’t. And no matter what the intention or desires of each one of us, there really isn’t any point in existing as a friend around someone who you don’t gel with. It isn’t anything personal to me or them, it’s just the way the world works. If you want to be happy, you need to engage the people who make you feel happy and for me that means the people who I feel an interpersonal synergy with.

Too Many Lifting And Fitness Tips To Count

4 Days in 15 Minutes A Summary of the 2007 Health & Fitness Summit by Chris Shugart of T-Nation has so many tips in it that you really don’t have a choice but to read it; well, maybe you can attend next years summit.

  • Textbooks are often wrong by the time they’re published. Textbooks are not “evidence.”
  • The body is built to walk 3.5 miles per hour, or about a 17 minute mile.
  • Just 17 minutes of physical activity a day can lead to a pound of fat loss a month.
  • The first step in playing fast is to eliminate excess body fat.
  • Too busy to eat breakfast? Then you’re too busy to be good!
  • Grape juice is just as good as wine when it comes to antioxidants.

This is one of those threads were it pays to read the comments as well. There’s a lot of wisdom there for the taking!

Ride Lighter – Getting To Race Weight Quickly

It’s early April! All the snow has melted and the day-time high is finding itself close to 10 degrees. New life begins again as the dawn of the bike season nears. If you weren’t disciplined this winter and let your weight creep up a little too much, here are my recommendation for you to get to race weight fast by eliminating some of that body fat!

  1. Eat to lose weight. Correct eating patterns that are increasing fat gain. A lack of exercise is only a small part of excessive off season weight gain. Poor eating is the real issue. Consider adopting or returning to a more efficient way of eating and change some of your habitual eating practices to provide your body with the fuel it needs to perform and look its best.
  2. Set a goal. We can safely lose between 1-2 pound of fat per week. That means you have enough time to be 10 to 20 pounds lighter for the first week of June if you neglected your diet over the winter. But you need to start now! Write out your goal.
  3. Set a time frame. Regard your fat loss as a two to three month all out effort that will press your body to adapt and find a more efficient state. The improved cardiovascular and performance benefits are secondary to your goal of burning fat. Beside your fat loss goal, right the end date of your war on fat.
  4. Start to train at a higher intensity TODAY. I recommend this for three very important reasons: 1) you need to change your behavior TODAY to start getting different results TODAY, 2) training at a higher intensity is the best way to burn energy to create a caloric deficit and 3) you ride at a high intensity when you are racing so start training with a high intensity.
  5. Figure out how you’ll maintain your goal weight. Avoid the same thing happening next year by adjusting how you eat. Consider adopting the newstasis.com weight management approach to change some of your habitual eating practices and provide your body with the fuel it needs to perform and look its best.

Become An RPM Fitness Instructor – Personal Account

I decided to become a group cycling instructor. I selected Les Mills International’s RPM program. The training consists of 2 8 hour days of practice and lessons. There were about 17 people in the group and we had 2 trainers. There were about 10 people who were already teaching another LMI discipline and there were a couple of cyclists in the class. It was an eclectic bunch of people, not quit random, but very nearly. The only thing we all shared in common was an enjoyment of cycling (indoor or outdoor). The weekend was amazing and I’ll write more about the specifics in another post.

After the training weekend, the real work began. I wasn’t a fitness instructor and before I would be able to teach I needed to find out why I was doing it, how I would know when I was successful, what I expect to get out of it, what I expected out of the participants, what I was trying to bring to the experience that was uniquely me and what was the biggest thing that I needed to work on.

Initially – before I taught a class

  • Why I was doing it? Since I think my purpose is to try and help others actualize some of their potential I thought that was a good reason because many of the participants aren’t as hooked on exercise as I am. When I’m in front of the group, I’m trying to lead them to a place were they find the strength within to work harder than they believed possible, were they move more efficiently than they did before and when they find enjoyment in the physical sensations of working hard were none existed before.
  • What I expected out of it? A free membership and permission to ride the bikes to practice.
  • What I expect out of the participants? To listen to what I say and try to work hard.
  • How do I know when I’ve been successful? I am successful if I deliver the participants to a place where they make the decision to work instead of stopping. I am successful EVEN if they decide to stop because they make the decision. My success is determined by my ability to get them to see that there is a decision.
  • What I bring to instructing that is uniquely me? By teaching with passion I will be giving permission for participants to be better. I have a belief that if people copy what I do in the gym, on the bike and if they eat like I do, they will enjoy the same level of energy and passion that I have. I try to model passion to let them know that there is nothing wrong being good at giving something your all.
  • What do I need to work on? The choreography and knowing the music.

But something happens when you actually do something, you realize what the experience is really like and your reasons for doing it will change. You may still hold on to some of the initially reasons and add to the list, but one thing is certain it will be different once you have lead a class.

Evolving reasons – 1-3 classes

  • Why I was doing it? Once I started doing it, I realized that it’s fun and it feels good because it’s exercise. There is a part of the experience that is immediately gratifying and that is something that I’m going after now. I maintain my initial reason to help people find success, it’s just fun as well.
  • What I expected out of it? To get a bit of a rush from performing and leading the class.
  • What I expect out of the participants? To give me feedback of things I was doing wrong and to fix their form when I coached them.
  • How do I know when I’ve been successful? If any of the participants took my coaching advice or if they were able to follow the flow of the class.
  • What I bring to instructing that is uniquely me? Hopefully someone will see me NOT feeling shame for trying to be better and will join in.
  • What do I need to work on? Voice qualities should match expected perceived exertion. I need to lower my effort because I am working way too hard.

As you gain more experience, you get better at it and can start to focus on improving certain parts of the process. As certain parts of it become automatic (the choreography or form on the bike) the liberated energy is directed to other areas.

Evolving reasons – 4-10 classes

  • Why I was doing it? I do it because it is fun and because it helps people, but now I want to get better at it for the sake of improving. I’m starting to get a feeling that if I pour myself into it with all of my passion I could become very good at it which will increase my chances to do it. The more I can do it, the more fun I’ll have and the greater the impact on other people. I want to be the best at it not to say that I am the best at it but to enjoy the rewards of being the best.
  • What I expected out of it? I’m focusing on delivery now – precuing and cuing and the performance aspects of instructing. I expect these things to improve with each class.
  • What I expect out of the participants? To learn what they view as success and work to achieve it. I’m delivering an experience template, they are filling in the work and determining their effort. I expect them to actually consider the workout in terms of what they can get out of it, how they need to behave to attain it and finding what they need to follow through on these predictions.
  • How do I know when I’ve been successful? I’m feeling comfortable with the template that I’m delivering to the participants so I feel successful when I see the results of their hard work (sweat, breathless states, eye contact and facial expressions that indicate a high level of engagement and effort) and when they give me feedback that indicates that they got something out of it. I will know that my performance is improving when the participants are doing the choreography the same way I am – the precuing and cuing are sufficient to help the participants find the flow of the class.
  • What I bring to instructing that is uniquely me? The understanding that I need to be seen as vulnerable by some of the participant. I had the realization that I am a lot fitter and better at RPM than 95% of the people who take the class, so a little dorkiness in the presentation is going to endure me as an instructor.
  • What do I need to work on? Lowering my effort level. I’m still working too hard. I’m very nervous before each class and have learned to direct that energy into working hard. It’s hurting my ability to connect and communicate with the participants.

What now? Well, I record and submit my video to get my certification. I start teaching my own class on Saturday mornings starting in April. I’ll try to create interest in group cycling at club so they offer more classes and I get to teach more. I’ll start to bring more of myself into the classes and try to create a community of cyclist at the club so I’ll have people to ride and train with this summer.

One thing that is certain, RPM is becoming part of my goals and it’s going to be interesting to see how they evolve as I actualize some my potential.

5 Advanced Mountain Bike Racing Tips

1) Give your brain the information it needs to guide you through the race

Your brain knows everything that you do. It may seem like a silly statement but many people will ignore what they spontaneously think in favor of something they consciously think. Don’t look at rocks and think “there is a rock”, scan along the trail ignoring what you see. Come back to the rocks only if your eyes come back to them, but it is most likely that your brain will determine a better line and look at something other than the rocks. To do prime your brain with sensory input, deliberately move your eye fixations back and forth along the upcoming trail allowing the sensory input to flood into your brain. Doing this will give your brain the best chance of creating an accurate mental image of the trail that it will then work with to determine the best line and effort level.

Doing this requires a lot of focus and it is pretty draining. The good news is that you’ll only need it when you are going very quickly or riding on pretty technical terrain.

2) Do not pay attention to things that you cannot impact

When you are riding fairly quickly, there is little point in looking at what you are about to ride over because there is very little you can do about it – if you cannot react to what you see, you are not looking far enough ahead and you shouldn’t be aware of it.The same applies to other riders. Do not count on them to make a mistake or call you round because that takes the out come of the race out of your control. Your goal is to get to the finish line injury free and as fast as you possibly can. Anything that takes away from that goal should be eliminated from your race behavior. Flawless riding will get you to your goal and that will only come to be if you focus on the riding.

3) Start your nutritional recovery as soon as you cross the finish line

You should consider consuming dextrose / maltodextrin during the ride. This will allow you to take advantage of the window of opportunity for increased cellular transport.If you have no idea what dextrose and maltodextrin are you should read my post on Post Workout Nutrition. It represents the most up to date science available for body building nutrition and deals with getting the most amount of recovery sugar and protein to the muscles to promote the fastest recovery. Studies have shown that there is a finite absorption rate for each macro nutrient and my recommendations are based on these values – bring in ONLY what your body can use per unit of time. If you bring in more than your body can use you are increasing the likelihood of fat storage. While still unlikely after intense racing, it is possible when you are dealing with high GI carbs like dextrose.

4) Follow an adequate training tapper before your races

If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, just make sure you are well enough rested on race day to perform will as much intensity as you need. Athletes and their coaches tend to come up with complete ways of describing their simple behavior and for they’ve come up with the term tapper to mean a reduction in training before a competition to ensure complete recovery.

Depending upon the event you are participating in, you will need to vary the amount of rest you get. Cross country racers will need to about 2-4 days of dramatically reduced work load before a race because this event does not rely heavily on coordinated muscular strength or power; you are basically holding your top maintainable pace for the duration of the ride. Downhill racers may need to reduce work volume in the week leading up to the event to make sure the nervous system is completely recovered allowing for improved muscle coordination and synchronous firing that can be needed for aggressive down hill racing.At the very least an athlete should not ride with full intensity in the 3 days leading up to an event and they should focus on nutritional recovery after any training or pre-lap rides they take.

You are going to need to experiment with the volume and duration of your tapper for find the perfect balance between rest, recovery and performance. When you find that sweet spot, I’ve found that most of the nervousness about racing goes away because you know you are as well prepared as you can be.

5) Train all year round

This will have more impact on your racing results than anything else you can do. While less important for younger riders, the over 27 crowd doesn’t have a choice in the matter. If you are close to your 30’s, you are going to lose cardiovascular functioning during the off season UNLESS you train with high intensity for 30 minutes 3 times a week. Note, this is just the maintenance level. Improvements are very unlikely with 90 minutes of training per week – think about the gains you make during the season, they are based on riding almost every day. The rule of thumb is the more you train the more you will improve, both in skill and in your body’s ability to adapt to the work.The training needs to be varied and you will benefit from cycling through different phases – strength building, cardio building, maintenance phases, and race tappers.

During the race season you should continue to perform some resistance training to maintain muscle and connective tissue strength. This will help you stay strong throughout the season and avoid injury. It has the added benefit of helping to burn up any extra calories that you may consume after your rides. 4 or 6 sets per body part per week should be sufficient to allow you to hold on to your strength and size.

Priming Your Brain With Sensory Input

Sometimes when I’m trail riding a tough rocky section I notice nothing at all. I see but I do not narrate, my mp3 player is wailing but I hear silence, there’s a shaking in my body but I feel nothing. It doesn’t last very long. In fact, it only lasts as long as my fear, so until the tough part is over. I’ve noticed the same thing with snow boarding, at some speed it stops being snow boarding and it starts being a state of pure awareness. Csikszentmihalyi referred to this as the flow state and outlined the benefits of functioning in this state.

What I like the most about this state is that there seems to be no separation between what I see and how I interact with it. I can’t use the word react to it because the actions have a mindful quality in that they do not cause a fight or flight reaction that one would expect from sustained fear. My brain is processing the sensory information and directing my body to perform the correct action, or at least one that doesn’t see me falling. The key part is that my consciousness does not have to control the seeking of information part, looking at the trail, and it doesn’t need to be involved in the processing and syntheses of a solution, assessing the obstacles and determining the best available path. My brain will do this automatically whenever it has to.

Over time I’ve experimented with this state and have tried to deliberately engage my conscious mind with very poor results. It dramatically disrupts the flow of the experience. On the bike I hit things, my peddles will crash off of rocks, my back tire will find grooves and I clip out or fall when the front tire runs into something that I should have avoided. The bike awareness I have seems to disappear almost completely. It seems that I am aware of ONLY what I am deliberately looking at and commenting on. The creation of the mental map that my brain uses to determine the best route is severely impaired. My involvement in this process is definitely not needed. I’m better off if I let my unconscious brain solve these types of problems.

So, how do I increase the likelihood that my brain will come to the right conclusion and direct my body to perform that correct action? Step one is practice so you teach your body how to move on the bike / snow board / your legs. This step takes a long time depending upon the complexity of the task. Once you are well versed in the movements needed to perform that task effectively you move on to the next phase. Step two deals with providing your brain with the sensory information it needs to create an accurate mental map of the environment on which to base solutions. Think about it this way, if you know 10% about something, what are the chances that you will be able to answer a question on that topic? About 10%. As you increase your knowledge, you increase the chances that you know the answer to the question. This is pretty much the same thing, with one big difference, this information only needs to exist as information in your brain for a very short time therefore a verbal representation is not need because you do not need to repeat it in to memory. That means you simply need to bring the information in and your brain will filter for relevance and encode meaning.

To ensure that you give your brain enough information to come up with the best solution you need to deliberately scan the environment in a mindless fashion. Normally we look at the world in terms of patterns or things we recognize as meaningful somethings. For example, you don’t need to know that the car that is approach is a Ford to know that if you get hit by it you will get injured, you just need to know that something big that is moving can be dangerous so you take appropriate action to avoid the collision. With flow sensory priming you just need to keep scanning the approaching area of the trail or somewhere were you MAY end up going. Very often your brain will find a tight line that is fairly straight, but occasionally you’ll find yourself darting to the other side of the trail and following a better line. You won’t know that you have seen it until you start to change direction and then as you begin to ride the better line you’ll notice it. The key is to continually scan the terrain bringing in as much information as you possible can.

Initially it is very draining to do this but once you find yourself in the flow state it becomes effortless because it is what you do when you are in that state.

It is worth directing you to Steve Pavlina article 7 Rules for Maximizing Your Creative Output because it’s an effective way to help you achieve a creative state of flow. Sports participants take notice that by virtue of the fact that you are participating in a sports activity (e.g. snow boarding or mountain biking) you have already taken the 7 steps. With a little bit of increased intensity (speed) and deliberate sensory priming you should be well on your way to finding that state of being one with the bike, hill, board.