By Laurel-Lea Shannon
A few years ago I took up meditation again after a hiatus of almost two decades. After first trying Zen, then mindfulness meditation I finally settled on Vipassana or insight meditation.
Meditation involves two practises: a formal one that happens while you’re sitting still on a meditation cushion or bench, and an informal one that takes place during the remainder of the day, as you navigate your way through your life observing your body, emotions and mind states.
What does mindfulness or meditation have to do with cycling? I asked myself that same question. While out on the bike, some days for hours at a time on my own, could I practice mindfulness while cycling? How would that work? This spring I decided to give it a try.
Cycling with awareness
Meditation has been described as paying attention on purpose, or being mindful in each moment. So before starting my ride I attend to my bike carefully. Making sure my tires are pumped up to the right pressure, checking them for any extreme wear that could cause problems out on the road. Are the quick releases down? Running my fingers along the frame I check for any cracks. While doing that I notice the chain. It doesn’t have much wear but it sure needs cleaning after many early spring rides, on roads still messy from winter maintenance. I’ll clean the bike and chain on a warmer day. The brakes I test by spinning the front and back wheels and pressing the levers. They check out fine. Okay, ready to go.
Before mounting the bike I tune into how I’m feeling. Energetic, excited, maybe a little bit nervous as I sometimes am before a longer solo bike ride. I take a deep breath and head off.
While cycling I become aware of my sense impressions—feeling the wind cool against my face. There’s not much exposed skin today except my face. I’m covered up with tights, a beanie, booties and a jacket. We’ve hit another cold spell. The temperature is 5° C (42° F) and there’s a north wind. Through the tights I can feel the wind slightly. I hear the wind too as it whizzes past my beanie and over my helmet. Next I become aware cars. There are more than I expected on this route because of a road closure somewhere else.
After 30 minutes I notice I’m hunching against the wind, and the tension is making my shoulders sore. After making a few adjustments my shoulders relax. Now, out on a country road I hear different sounds: dogs barking in yards that I pass, birds busy building nests, singing in the trees. I see farms with sheep and cows, some with horses lying down in a field—don’t see that too often.
I’m aware of my body on the bike sailing through space, and what a beautiful space it is. Cool but sunny and bright. After about 90 minutes I stop to eat a banana and drink some water. I pay attention while I eat — feel the soft texture of the banana and experience the explosion of flavour as I chew. Wow, bananas taste great! The water from our well is cold and refreshing. I take a deep breath while taking in my surroundings.
Now, it’s time to head back home.
Paying attention on purpose
Practicing paying attention did make this ride different. Even though it was quite cool outside I enjoyed the ride and felt mentally renewed by it. Often when I cycle my mind wanders to thoughts about what I’m doing after the bike ride. Or it natters away about my latest worry or concern.
Staying present while I cycled made me feel safer because I was more aware of what was happening within me and around me (including traffic), and happier because being present just naturally leads to a greater sense of well-being. And in the end, isn’t that why we cycle?