I have written about mindfulness over the last several weeks. The writing has touched on the generalities of the practice. As I mentioned previously, mindfulness is certainly not an easy practice to master. It takes practice, consistency, and perseverance. The work required to achieve mindfulness is frustrating because it is a concept that appears relatively simple: “just be in the moment”. Unfortunately, it is not simple at all. That is why I want to describe how I practice mindfulness on the bike.
To achieve mindfulness we want to get out of our own heads. We need to clear our minds of stress, worry, regret, and all the other thoughts that are taking up space. When I say clear it, I don’t mean to just discard it forever. That would not make sense. We want to put it aside so that we can refuel ourselves. For me, the best way to escape my mind is to climb into the saddle. Riding my bicycle provides a nice escape from the depths of my mind.
I begin by reminding myself that my ride is for a specific duration of time. This could be 5 minutes to 5 days. Allotting a specific amount of time to the ride allows me to put my worries aside, knowing that I will be returning for them. In a way, this is like a temporary storage facility. My worries, stress, and regrets are safe, but I can be without them for a while. With my stress locked away safe and sound, I begin to ride.
I take note of all that is around me. I take note of the nature, the pavement, the sounds, the smells, and the noises. I feel my fingers against the handlebars and my feet clipped into the pedals. I want to be fully immersed in my environment. I do not want to overlook anything. I also focus on my breathing. I carefully inhale and exhale in a manner that is very much scripted. I actually feel the breaths entering and exiting my lungs. All of this focus keeps me in the present. I don’t have time to worry about the future or past. All that matters is that moment.
I also take note of my emotional status as I ride. Oftentimes, we can’t actually determine what emotional state we are in because our minds are clouded with stressful thoughts. With those thoughts at the door, I have the mental capacity to reflect on exactly how I feel. Am I angry?, am I sad?, am I happy?, am I tired?, etc. I simply reflect and feel. I do not spend time analyzing why because that is for after the ride. If I am angry, I will allow myself to feel the anger and to release it through the exercise. If I am full of joy, I will feel that and allow it to permeate. Again, the question of why we feel our emotions does not have to be part of the mindfulness. That process can be done separately after we have learned to simply recognize and sit with our emotions.
Finally, I remain thankful and appreciative for the fact that I am on my bike. I remind myself that moments to be mindful are precious. They become harder to find the older and more immersed in life we become. No matter the emotion, the exhaustion, or the weather around me I am appreciative that I am out riding. This mindset makes it a bit easier to remain mindful.
So there it is. There are three main categories I go through. I focus on the world around me, I attempt to harness control over myself (breathing posture, etc), and I attempt to identify and sit with my current emotional state. I can not always grasp all three, but that is ok. Mindfulness takes time. Even if you are only able to control your breathing and remain bombarded by thoughts and emotions, that is ok. With practice, you will gain more control. With more control, you can be in the moment. If you can be in the moment, you can relieve stress. If you can relieve stress, you will be happier. So go out, ride, and be mindful.