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The Tour de France offers us an interesting study of the focus skills yoga teaches—skills we’ve looked at in terms of focus.
A mass-start, sprint-finish bicycle race requires this simultaneous awareness. Where are the other riders? What moves are they making? When is it time to push, and when to sit in? Each rider must hold awareness of many factors simultaneously, from his own energy and refueling needs, to the placement of his teammates and rivals, to the hills, corners, and weather.
The Tour’s time trial events, however, require single-pointed focus, with each rider giving everything he thinks he can, moment to moment, to hold the highest average pace possible over the course. As riders (or, for team time trials, a team) begin on their own and travel over a short course, many of the factors of the other stages are reduced. Instead, the internal focus on legs, lungs, heart, and mind requires complete concentration.
As you enjoy your summer outside, consider the demands on your focus. If you’re racing non-drafting triathlons, for example, the bike leg will require single-pointed focus, dharana. If you’re running a series of track races or swimming in a summer league, you’ll likewise need to focus on your own best sustainable effort over the course.
Out on the trail, however, you’ll need to focus on diyana—holding the various factors of terrain, competitors’ placement, and your own variable effort all in your awareness at once. The same goes for open-water swim races, stand-up paddle races, and waterskiing.
Sharpening both skills requires being present in the moment. To improve your steady-state effort, try using a mantra. During your workouts at race pace, repeat your mantra. As you find your attention drawn outward, direct it back to your mantra with single-pointed focus.
To practice holding many things in your awareness at once, during a training session, especially one over uneven ground or in a team setting, continually ask yourself: What’s happening now? Keep your awareness scanning your environment, both internal and external. If you notice yourself spending too long noticing one thing, gently direct yourself back to everything else that’s happening in the moment.
Sharpening both skill sets will improve your performance, whether it’s on the mat, in the boardroom, or in the Tour de France.