We all know that cycling is a great form of exercise for the physical body. But it’s just as good, if not better for the brain. According to this article, and numerous studies, cycling is one of the best things you can do to banish a bad day! Here are three (more) reasons to get on the bike to improve your mental health.
Cycling, whether indoor or outdoors, requires focus on what is happening here and now. In yoga, the practice of Dharana, or one pointed focus, helps to quiet the mind and allow the practitioner (in this case rider) focus on what is right in front of them. Instead of focusing on the flame of a candle, we can focus on the breath. I like to breathe in four pedal strokes and out four, keeping a steady flow of breath that becomes meditative and calming. Or, we can place attention on what the body is feeling, here and now. The ball of the foot on the pedal. Sitting bones on the back of the saddle. Light hands on the handle bars. The temperature of air on the skin. All of these help us be more present, and more focused. On the bike, and in our lives. If you’re trying to focus on a project, paper, or even just an important conversation, cycling can help you be more focused.
There are two kinds of stress…Distress, the kind of stress that has us living with high blood pressure, muscular tension, anxiety and lowered immune response. The second kind is Eustress. The good kind. Stress that expands our capacity both physically and mentally. Think of lifting weights, or learning a new language. Cycling is a great way to stress the body and mind in a way that helps lower the bad kind of stress. Our nervous system loves the endorphins released in a good ride. Cycling helps our immune system function more optimally, helps us sleep better, works wonders with the brain chemicals that improve our mood, and might even make us a kinder person. A study by the International Journal of Workplace Health Management shows that riding your bike to work can help even more!
Mindful Ride, Mindful Life
Mindfulness is something that can be learned, developed, cultivated. Cycling is a mindful, focused activity that can actually help de-complicate our lives off the bike. Cycling clears the mind, and demands that we are here, in the present. For me, and so many others, any problems we are faced with are far more solvable when we arrive home. Once we clip in, and hit the road, we are invited to focus the mind, pay attention to the body, and breathe. Problems fade away.
So before your next ride, try this. Before you begin, pause for a moment. Take in all of your senses. What do you hear, feel, taste, and see? As you saddle up and get comfortable, take a few deep, slow, rhythmic breaths. Start to pedal, and match breath to movement. Stay present, stay focused. There you go…you’re doing yoga on the bike!