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A Journey from Mental to Mindful

Sometimes you just have to do it to find out how it’s going to go

There was a lot I knew heading into our Dalmatian Islands bike trip. I knew I love to be outside. I knew I love coasts of all kinds. I knew I love to be active – in motion, doing something. I knew I love to explore new places. I knew I love to revel in the magnificence of nature.

However, there was one key thing I did not know. I did not know if I would enjoy riding a bicycle. Which, upon reflection, seems like a pretty big unknown given that most of the days of our week-long ride included 30+ miles on a bike.

As the pressing question “Will I be able to do this thing I’ve signed up to do?” began to cycle (see what I did there?) through my head at warp speed, I tried to add all kinds of bolstering thoughts into my mental chatter. I’ll be on an electric bike – how hard could it be? I’ve purchased padded shorts and a padded seat – how sore could I be? I walk the dogs for over an hour a day – that counts for something, right? I can do this, right?

None of these questions – especially the last one – had been answered by the time I stood awkwardly by my bike for the first time. It turns out, I was just going to have to get on, start pedaling, and find out. So, I did.

All my questions were answered in the doing: (see above) Pretty hard, actually. A little sore, but survivable. Yes, I could. Plus, one other question my anxiety had not allowed me to ask – Would I enjoy cycling? (Drumroll please) I loved it!

The yoga of bike riding

I loved it for reasons that did not surprise me – see the above list of things I knew before the trip began. But mostly I loved it because it created the same state of mind that has kept me unrolling my yoga mat for 20 years – one of being 100% engaged in exactly what I’m doing for every moment that I’m doing it. In other words, I accidentally discovered another mindfulness practice.

You see, as a novice cyclist you cannot be daydreaming or problem solving or worrying when you’re riding a bicycle. It is simple not safe to be distracted as you pedal along the shoulder of coastal road with a steep drop off and a flimsy excuse for a guard rail. It is even less safe to not be 100% present as you careen down wicked steep hills riddled with hair pin turns and switch backs while trying to maintain a speed that makes you feel a teensy bit under control.

Also, for the record, it was impossible to be distracted by my far-away life while immersed in breathtakingly beautiful scenery. The clear, turquoise waters of the sea. The soft greens of lavender fields about to burst into bloom. Ancient, terraced fields filled with olive trees. Cobblestone streets in quaint island villages. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Being mindful feels good – emotionally, physically, and mentally

It is such a relief to be fully engaged in exactly what you’re doing that I cannot help but believe that we are meant to live like that. When I am fully present, my emotions are calm, centered, and a little care-free. I’m not worried about what might happen. I’m not clinging to the beautiful moment that just ended. I am content.

Physically, when I am fully present, I also feel profoundly good. On our rides, I could feel my heart beating with every pedal – whether rapidly on the climbs or slowly on the descents. Sensing the strength of my heart made me feel strong and confident. Much as I am on my yoga mat, I was aware of my breath which helped me to stay in the moment. Another yoga trick served me well – I paid keen attention to the level of my effort by relaxing muscles that did not need to be working, allowing all my energy to flow into keeping my bike moving.

Mentally, being mindful is freeing. When you are thinking only about what you are doing, you do that thing really, really well. Because I am new to bicycling, it was easy for me to stay in “beginner’s mind.” For the whole week, I was open and curious to the unknown (of which there was plenty on this trip). This left me embracing every experience – even ones I might have resisted had the thought to do so crossed my mind.

My (do-able) homecoming intention

It is fairly typical of me to return from trips determined to maintain a vacation state of mind. This time, however, I have more confidence in my intention. As amazing as the setting was, one of the best parts of this bike trip was that it highlighted how very good it feels to live the way my daily practices are meant to help me live. It was proof that mindfulness and presence are keys to a life, a week, a day, or a moment well lived.

This time, not only do I want more, but I know how to give it to myself.

If you, like me, would like to live more mindfully, allow me to help you explore yoga, philosophy, or spirituality. Reach out to set up a time to talk.