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‘Bikefulness’ – when cycling becomes meditation

Health & Fitness
access_time 6 minutes
person by Fiona Smith

“It’s taken longer than hoped to write this. I paused; I ignored Einstein’s words of wisdom. I stopped, I lost momentum, I lost balance, I neglected to keep moving. Life might well be a bike but life, like cycling, can be hard.

Coming up is the hardest part; euphoria waits in the distance but there is a challenge in the journey to get there. The rise is mirrored by an increase in the body’s temperature; a swell in blood pressure forces your heart rate to quicken. It is impossible to ignore physical sensation, your attention is acutely drawn to individual beads of sweat as they form and flow. At the beginning there is doubt, your breath deepens, the tension rises from your feet until you feel your chest tighten; teeth grind within a clenched jaw determined to overcome. The strain creates anxious thoughts of those around you; have they reached enjoyment or is their suffering similar?

In the pursuit of bliss, you call on all available resources. To attain the heights you’ve reached before, you are drawn inward. Deep breaths bring comfort and measure the passing of time as you climb towards elation. You become centred, focused on  the self, the noise around you is just traffic. It becomes a question of balance, to overcome, you have to keep moving. Cycling up hills can be hard but cycling offers its own antidote.

Whether consciously or otherwise, cycling at its most difficult, becomes meditation; it becomes the practice of Mindfulness, a tool widely promoted to improve mental health. Defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”; ‘bikefulness’ is not the abstract application of ancient religious principles to overcome the hardships of modern living, it is actual, it happens in real time and it works.

The distance covered is the past, the summit ahead can only be reached by absolute focus on the present. Each turn of the pedals drives you forward, the physical hardship unavoidably draws one’s attention to experiences occurring at the present moment. Pedal stroke becomes a mantra; the painful repetition of rotations per minute an inward sacred utterance.

You can practice mindfulness anywhere; I do mine on a bike. Science has proven meditation to reduce stress and anxiety, enhance Self-Awareness, decrease blood pressure and control pain. Its application during physical exercise is a perfect example of how focus on your mental well-being builds strength and helps overcome the obstacles on a wider journey. The science of cycling allows for a heart rate monitor to gauge and display beats per minute on a bike computer; concentration, focused on your breathing can be relayed to the cyclist in real time as you watch your heart rate fall. Deep breaths combined with rhythmic peddling, generate intense self-awareness; the calm acceptance of  immediate discomfort rises as your shoulders fall in a relaxed grasp of what is required to continue, you control the pain.

At the summit, this conscious, continued, inward view is rewarded as the view opens up around you. As the countryside expands, your focus broadens with it; self-awareness gradually gives way to an elated appreciation of the wider world and an opportunity to pause and reflect on the journey.

Life may well be a bike but without the rider the bike is inanimate, it is a tool that drives us forward; mental strength gives us the stability to maintain the balance required to press on.”

See cycleagainstsuicide.com and mensproject.eu for more information.