Zen and the Art of Bicycle Riding

Mindfulness and meditation are very much en vogue. There’s now an abundance of information available on everything from yoga retreats to Zen Buddhism but could riding a bike provide the same benefits as meditation?

What is meditation?

Contrary to most people’s understanding, meditation is not about clearing your mind of thoughts or gritting your teeth in pursuit of perfect calm, although both are benefits of sustained meditation practice. Meditation is about bringing awareness to our present experience.

Often, in our daily lives, our minds are locked in either the future or the past. In a work environment, we might be worrying about deadlines or a presentation, or we could be dwelling on the past, churning over thoughts of what could have been. But how often do we live in the present and allow quiet to wash over us?

In some ways, cycling is the perfect vehicle for stress relief. There’s a clear body and mind connection and because of the relative speed we have an elevated level of focus, this focus on “doing” rather than churning over daily worries is a key ingredient to de-stressing. It’s this separation from your daily thoughts where the magic can happen.

“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.” (Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre)

Even if you’re new to cycling you can experience this feeling on your first ride. Mountain biking especially, can not only get you “living in the now” but it does so whilst re-engaging you with nature. While we can practice conventional meditation in public places it’s hard to do so without being self-conscious. No such problem with cycling!

“The proportion of young people reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 18% in the period 2009 to 2010 to 21% in 2013 to 2014” (ONS Young people’s well-being: 2017)

When we’re stressed, a response occurs in the hypothalamus, releasing adrenaline and cortisol (amongst other hormones), this is known as the “fight or flight” response. In the distant past this would have helped us survive a life or death situation, today, our primordial selves still react in this way to situations that pose imminent danger but unfortunately for us, this stress response still kicks into action when we are doing something that we fear, even if this fear is completely irrational.

Lee Garrington who is the Head of Marketing here at Islabikes says this of his meditation and cycling practice;

“I have been practising sitting meditation for about 16 years. However, there are two examples of where going out for a ride may be a better option. Firstly, when I’m mentally tired and in danger of nodding off and secondly where I have some adrenaline going on and sitting still for half an hour might not be the best way to deal with it. Going for a ride is a good leveller in both cases, making the physical movement the object of meditation as opposed to the breath.”

In 2015/16, 26% of adults were classified as inactive (fewer than 30 minutes physical activity a week) (Office for National Statistics, 2017)

Lifestyle - Siblings

The problems begin when stress becomes one-way traffic. If your daily life involves highly stressful situations and you don’t have an outlet for de-stressing it can lead to physical manifestations of the burden of stress. Symptoms can include:

·         Low energy

·         Irritability

·         Headaches

·         Rapid heart rate

·         Insomnia

The simple act of riding a bike can have a calming effect, this could be down to the repetitive nature of turning the pedals or it could be an awareness of your breath that encourages this meditative state. A key part of learning to meditate (in the traditional sense) can be to focus on the breath when your conscious brain floods your mind with arbitrary thoughts from the day, the breath is used to bring you back to a singular focus.

When descending a hill on a bike, the potential danger is the only stimulus, you’ll naturally lose unwanted thoughts, the focus on the moment and the here and now is all-encompassing and is necessary to navigate the knife edge of success and disaster. The perfect balance of ability and challenge or the “flow state” as it’s sometimes called.

Conversely, the physicality of ascending a hill can flip this feeling. You’re now moving slow enough where danger isn’t on your mind, the new focal point becomes the physical effort, concentrating on staying at a sustainable level of effort without “blowing the doors off” with a focus on your body that you may not experience in daily life. The feeling of your “head being in your legs” is hard to describe but is as effective at taking you away from your daily worries as a rapid descent and is a feeling that can become very addictive.

It’s not uncommon to feel, upon returning from a ride, that seemingly insurmountable problems can seem manageable. Somehow, by disengaging your conscious brain you can allow your unconscious brain to disentangle the mess. Giving you fresh insight on a problem post ride.

Being a company of cyclists, maybe we’re biased, but the evidence weighs in our favour where mindfulness and mental and physical health are concerned. When all’s said and done the physical benefits alone make cycling a worthy pastime. If you find inner peace and contentment along the way, then we say, all the better.

Choose your Islabikes site

GB Flag

You are visiting the UK-English Islabikes website

German Flag

Would you like to visit our German website?

German site
German Flag

You are visiting the German Islabikes website

GB Flag

Would you like to visit our German website?

English site
GB Flag

You are visiting the UK-English Islabikes website

USA Flag

Would you like to visit our US website?

USA site
German Flag

You are visiting the German Islabikes website

USA Flag

Would you like to visit our US website?

USA site