Part of the reason why cycling has been and continues to be such an important part of my life is how I feel when I ride, but also how I feel when I finish and continue to go about my day.
Evidence has shown that exercise, including cycling is great for the body and mind, to destress, circulate blood, boost the immune system, build muscle, burn fat, improve sleep and can even reduce the symptoms of depression. When you add in a massage after a big event, great eating plans and gentle stretches to warm up and cool down from your rides, you have the perfect combination for a happy, healthy you.
I’ve really been thinking about all these benefits and why and how they occur, because in most cases there are still no hard conclusions from science as to why all these great things happen, just that they do.
One thing I’ve noticed time and again is the days when I go for a morning ride I am calmer, relaxed and able to think more clearly than those times I have a morning off or go riding later.
Initially I just put this down to being out in the fresh air, blowing out the cobwebs and the social aspect that encourages mental growth and capacity through exercise, but more recently I’ve been digging a bit deeper into why and I think it comes down to a better frame of mind, through meditation.
When I get completely absorbed in my ride, I feel like I'm in a better zone to process life's hurdles. When I get home it’s not a case of hitting reality and having it all flood back to me, rather, everything is manageable and well paced. When I was talking to a friend about it she exclaimed, ‘that’s just what happens to me when I meditate’. So am I actually in a meditative state when I ride? I think there’s a pretty good argument here that it’s possible.
I think rather than meditation, which is quite a conscious effort, cycling is more an exercise in mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you are in the present moment and completely at one with your body, you pay attention to your senses, rather than your thoughts and emotions
It’s a state of mind that occurs naturally when we are focused on something physical, and brings the same effects as meditation that include:
To me, when I’m cycling, I have to be in the now in order to maintain my ride, my tempo, a consistent effort and flow, as well as avoid accidents that might crop up unexpectantly at the last minute. In order to achieve this I am aware of the conditions ahead and what is happening around me. As well as smells and scents in the air I am tuned into the smallest sensations, the wind on my skin, sunlight, shadow and sweat. Any change to my environment is obvious straight away and my thoughts are a million miles away.
For me, the effect of mindfulness is strongest when I’m on an empty road surrounded by nature, it’s early morning and just me and the bike. I would even say it’s blissful, losing myself and gaining clarity in this way. I’m absorbed in the kinaesthetic motion. The repetitive movements become rhythmic and soothing, the fixed position on the bike is similar to that fixed meditation position, you are literally locked into cycling mentally and physically, and over time you train your mind to reach this place of mindfulness and be in that space for even an hour or more.
The part I like is that in that moment, with my focus on all these elements, it's a great way to release our problems, fear, frustration or stress. The ability to think about the future or beat yourself up about the past dissolves and effectively move forward.
Interestingly, people I’ve spoken to who love mountain biking say this is the number one reason they hit the trail, to get completely out of their head and go to that place of zen.
In meditation breath work is very important. Usually we don’t think much about how we breathe, even on the bike. I guess the next level, if we really want to be more aware of the mindful element of cycling would be to really focus on our breathing, to take deep, slow breaths and be conscious of the intake and outflow. Slowing our breathing might just make it possible to connect to more energy and a deeper state of relaxed awareness.
I guess that overall, the health and wellbeing benefits of meditation are just as proven yet also just as mysterious as those of cycling. To me, if the activity I’m doing feels great and my body responds positively, I’m all for it. I’d love to hear your take on this idea and any mindful experiences you have had when out riding. For now, meditation is just another reason to get out on the bike and get active.
Managing Director of Body Torque
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