Bringing Mindfulness to Aerobic Exercise/Indoor Cycling
For Michael Hosking, the foremost goal of exercising is how it makes a person feel. And that transpires into a bounty of benefits – from more energy to better focus to healthier choices. “Aerobic exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain- it’s proven to reduce depression, reduce stress, activate your frontal cortex, help you sleep, make your more creative…the list goes on and on,” Hosking said. “And the benefits of aerobic exercise for the body are too numerous to mention.”
Seeking to create an indoor cycling studio with an emphasis on the mind-body connection, Hosking tapped into his knowledge as a scientist and an athlete. By being present and focused in the moment is when “our minds are calm and our worries disappear,” he said. And that’s what Hosking wants for his clients at Revocycle, an indoor cycling studio started in 2012.
“We want our clients to use mindful exercise to bring health and happiness to their lives- the rest will follow if you build an exercise habit by focusing on how it makes you feel. We want people to enjoy being here and for that joy to bubble up in the rest of their life,” Hosking said.
Each chapter of Hosking’s life has contributed to him to create Revocycle. He ran track his first year in college and raced bicycles on and off road for 12 years. He earned his biology degree at Creighton University and his PhD in evolutionary biology at Indiana University. He was teaching at Davidson College in North Carolina when he decided he wanted to move to Portland to start Renaissance Education Group in 2001.
Hosking shared his unpleasant experience taking an indoor cycling class where the music was loud and the room was crowded and hot. “The instructor was yelling at the class and asking us to do things like jumps and hops,” he said. “I hated the class.” Wanting to ride inside, Hosking asked if he could use an indoor bicycle when there wasn’t a class. This experience was a spark in designing the type of experience he wanted to create for his clients at Revocycle.
His interest in the mind-body connection led him to study the science of exercise and the brain, where he discovered a book that provided a wealth of information and inspiration. Reading John Ratey’s book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Hosking explained, taught him how neuroscience is showing that focused and mindful exercise contributes to health and happiness.
Wanting his indoor cycling studio to have the calmness and peacefulness of a yoga studio, Hosking has carefully considered each detail at Revocycle – from the type of indoor bicycles he uses to where the fan and speakers are placed to the choice of music that will uplift and inspire. Hosking said most “spin” bikes used a fixed gear attached to the flywheel, which causes the legs to be spun around. The beauty of his bicycles, he explained, is it allows the rider to pedal in circles, rather than a stomping, square movement-all the muscles of the legs are engaged for much more mindful pedal stroke and a better workout. “We are very unusual in that we focus on proper form and fit on the bike, allowing our mind and body to connect in harmony to perfect the movement,” he said.
When you were first pitching your concept to new clients, what did you say?
We told them we are a new way to approach indoor cycling, one that focuses on proper fit and form, and mindfulness, in just the same way that yoga classes are all about proper positions and tuning in to your body. We are taking a radical new approach to indoor cycling by following safe and effective techniques while creating a calming and peaceful environment.
When someone asks how you went from being a college professor teaching biology to owning a cycling studio, what do you say? How do you explain how the two combine?
My interest in science and the body, and my 12 years of racing, enabled me to fully understand the mechanics of proper of proper positioning, form and technique in the cycling motion. That same interest in science led me to begin studying why I felt so good during hard climbs up Skyline Boulevard or after a ride. That’s when I found John Ratey’s book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Most of what he covers is completely new since I earned my PhD, and much of it completely overturns what we thought we knew about the brain. I began reading everything I could about exercise and the brain and ended up studying with Ratey at Esalen in Big Sur, California. A quick look at the catalogue of workshops will give you a feel for the place- it’s very new age, spiritual, much about the mind and body and the connection between the two. As a scientist, I first was skeptical of it all but then after spending the week there I came away convinced that mind-body exercise is important and profoundly healthy, and I realized that my many years of riding had already been that- a way of calming my mind, reducing stress, and feeling good. So Revocycle was born out of that mix- a way to bring the science of health and happiness of aerobic exercise to the public by combining proper cycling form, fit and technique done safely with mindfulness techniques from Esalen.
When you are teaching a class and you see someone who has reached “mindfulness,” or see someone pedaling along and singing – how does that make you feel?
We love it! Our goal is to make sure people leave more relaxed than when they came in, even though they just worked out very hard. For many people that seems contradictory, but the science is clear- aerobic exercise reduces the stress response, and mindfulness as we work out contributes to that effect. Our whole approach- the gentle guidance through the various parts of the class, the very high quality sound system, the uplifting and positive music- every part of the Revocycle experience is about getting lost in the moment, and if someone is singing to themselves we know we have done our job!
Share your passion for music and how the music is chosen to go with the cadence of the pedaling?
Music is a huge part of what we do. I’ve been a musician for decades and a music lover for just as long. We humans invented music as a way to stir our souls, to feel deeply. That’s why we invested in a world-class sound system, that’s why we carefully measured for the placement of the speakers. Our goal is to envelope you in high-quality sound, and positive, inspirational music so that you feel the emotion and are inspired- it’s an integral part of our approach.
Some fitness clubs market to people’s insecurities – get the perfect, fit body – what made you to go in another direction?
Exercise is health care. We love exercise for how it makes us feel and we know that it is the single best thing we can do for our health and happiness. So we want to share that with people; expose them to the radical concept that exercising can be about feeling good and becoming happier rather than build the perfect body or looking like a reality TV star. If all the health benefits of aerobic exercise were put into a pill, it would be the most significant drug ever developed.
Studies show that one of the worst ways to build a lifetime exercise habit is to focus on short-term physical effects like getting sexy arms or losing a pant size. These same studies show that if you simply notice how good you feel after exercising, pay attention the wonderful feeling when you are in the moment and feeling alive, you will seek that feeling out again. That’s why tens of millions of runners, skiers, hikers, paddlers, riders, climbers, even dancers head out every day, rain or shine- they know that feeling and are seeking it out. And once you have built that habit, everything else will follow- the weight loss, the improved body, the reduced pant size.
When people walk out of your cycling studio after a workout, what do you hope they take with them?
We hope that they feel energized and alive and recognize that they just did the single best thing they could do for their health and happiness. We end every class with a few moments of tuning into that feeling of being awake and energized, recognizing it because it’s so easy to run out and get on with your day and miss it. We sometimes ask the class to remember how they felt when they came in- were they stressed, worried, tired, anxious? Now, we ask, how do feel at this moment? Take that with you.