To many, mindfulness sits in a murky world of levitating, meditative smuggery, #CleanEating and crystal hugging. However, the humble message of mindfulness is simple: it’s about paying more attention to the present; being aware of our thoughts, our bodies and our world.
But why should you care?
Because if a new book by cycling journalist Nick Moore is to be believed, cycling is the very essence of mindfulness. “It is, above all, about awareness. The modern world sometimes makes this difficult, with its constant distractions, pressures, demands and expectations. The bike gives us so many other, different things to focus on. How the legs are feeling, the texture of the road, changes in temperature, an approaching vehicle, a wild creature briefly glimpsed, a new sound from the transmission, a tight bend on a steep descent – all bring us back to the immediate moment. And when we’re in that present, mindful state, all else fades into the background.”
What’s more, the modest act of being a little more mindful can massively enhance the way we ride our bikes. To Nick, “to develop a deeper awareness as you’re riding, and be fully present in the moment” could mean “learning to embrace the heat, the cold, the rain. Dealing with punctures or getting lost. Noticing and appreciating the natural world. Getting up hills. Or simply being conscious of how your body and bike are working together as a single, beautiful biomechanical entity.”
I don’t know a lot about biomechanics, but I do know a thing or two about road-rage, rain-rage, rage against the invisible hill (the wind) and puncture-on-a-busy-day-rage, so I picked up Nick’s Mindful Thoughts for Cyclists, which aims to put a different spin on common two-wheeled traumas – the elements, the terrain, the traffic, the inevitable breakdowns, the dark – so we can enjoy and appreciate our ride just that bit more.
Here are some of our favourite thoughts for city cyclists:
Half man, half bike
“The divide between ourselves and the bike becomes blurred. We provide the basic power, but it’s the bike that converts it into motion. Together, we comprise a single, biomechanical entity, in a partnership based on interdependence and mutual benefit. Without our power, the bike simply stands still (or falls over). Without a bike, we’re limited to the speed and range imposed by our own limbs, genes and metabolism. It makes us, in a word, superhuman.”
“Avoiding hills is a bit like going out only on sunny days; there’s nothing wrong with it, but it is to miss out on a crucial dimension of cycling, and life. Mindfulness requires us to tune into one thing – usually our breathing. Happily, this is also the key to riding uphill, so every climb can truly become a meditation. Regulate your breathing and your legs will find their own rhythm. Feel your diaphragm rising and falling, steady and powerful. Try consciously ‘inhaling’ the road, physically pulling it towards you with each in-breath, then use the out-breath to push yourself forward. As in yoga, maintaining a steady, focused gaze ahead aids concentration. Fix your eyes on a spot on the road about a bike’s length ahead, and what lies beyond ceases to exist, or matter.”
“The wind is not an opponent, or some malevolent force out to spoil our fun. It is simply the movement of air between areas of higher and lower pressure. It has no agenda or intent, bears us no ill will. It merely obeys the higher laws of energy and motion: we cannot control it or conquer it through clever kit or clothing. What we can do instead is feel it, embrace it and learn from it as a natural, ever-present part of the ride.”
“Riding in a biblical downpour is not especially pleasant or pleasurable. Neither is it fun in any conventional sense. But is is deeply, viscerally real. On a bike, you’re completely encompassed – from above by the rain falling on you, from below by the spray fountaining up from the wheels, and from all sides by the slipstream of passing vehicles. There comes a point where you can’t get any wetter. To give into this, to accept and embrace it, brings its own kind of pleasure: a physical and mental unshackling from deep-seated inhibitions, fears and prejudices. You are truly at one with the weather, fierce and indomitable, a force of nature in your own right. Any lingering feelings of misery or dejection are banished. You are self-sufficient, truly alive and discovering the true, perhaps unexpected, extent of your own physical and mental resilience. By accepting whatever the elements throw at us, we grow as cyclists, and as people.”
“Few things are more dispiriting than a puncture. To observe and accept this turn of events without judgement demands a singular effort of will, the more so if it’s raining. However, I’ve slowly learned that a flat can be a kind of meditation, and bring new and positive insights into the cycling life. For instance, consider how amazingly frequently punctures don’t happen. A few millimetres of rubber stand between the precious, pressurised air that makes cycling possible, and the numberless sharp objects trying to rob us of it. That these often unseen enemies succeed so rarely is almost miraculous.
“Perhaps most importantly, dealing with a puncture restores a sense of self-reliance and self-sufficiency we’re rapidly losing in today’s hi-tech world. Any automotive problem more serious than a flat battery usually means a trip to the local garage; similarly, if something shuts down or goes haywire in your phone, computer or washing-machine, it almost inevitably requires professional intervention. A picture is one thing we’re still able to fix ourselves, using basic tools and inexpensive parts we can carry with us. Sore thumbs, oil-stains and arriving home a bit later than planned are a small price to pay for the warm sense of self-sufficiency that comes from getting yourself and your faithful companion back on the road. From disaster, triumph; from defeat, victory; from despair, hope and faith renewed.”
“Cycling trains the mind as well as the body, making it stronger and more resilient. Overcoming hills, bad weather, mechanical problems, close encounters with cars – all require us to draw on our reserves of fortitude, patience, hardiness and courage. Just as exceeding our muscles capacity makes them stronger, so stretching our mental resources helps them grow in size and power – a training that equips us for life itself.”
Published March 2017, Leaping Hare Press, £5.99
Illustrations: Lehel Kovacs