A professional cyclist will be very aware of the way they sit on their bicycle. Aero – dynamics are very important in helping to shave seconds off in time trials and races. Hunched low over the handlebars, elbows tucked in, wearing specially designed helmets racing cyclists spend hours training in wind tunnels and on static bikes working out how to maximise their body’s power.
I’m not that kind of cyclist, and neither, I am guessing, are you. But lately I have become much more aware of my body on the bike. Here’s why.
When I saw my psychiatrist back in the autumn he recommended that I go on a Mindfulness course. I dutifully agreed to look into it, and did absolutely nothing about it until he asked me how I had got on with it the next time I saw him – which was in December.
So, in January, at the same time I left the depression support group I had been attending for the past couple of years, I started an 8 week Mindfulness course. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, Mindfulness is a meditative practice which aims to help the person practising to steer their attention away from the cares of the world, of the hurly – burly of the here and now and focus on neutral sensations, usually one’s breathing. Naturally, the mind butts in and thoughts intrude, but the idea is to gently acknowledge the thought and see it on its way as we return to focusing on attending to our breathing.
One of the reasons my doctor suggested my doing a Mindfulness course was that it can help with my reckless, speedy mind. It can help me to slow my ‘hot’ reactions somewhat. Which is to say, curb my irritability and tendency to lose my temper too quickly – feelings going from nought to sixty in seconds.
Another practice of Mindfulness is to walk mindfully.
What it means is that Mindfulness should be a portable practice, as well as finding a quiet oasis every day in which to tune in to one’s breath – the bare essentials of the self, as a physical being one should also take the practice of focusing on the present moment with an increased, relaxed awareness of our body as it moves. By way of introducing this element of Mindfulness the teacher got us to stand up and walk around the room, paying close attention to the sensations in our bodies as we did so.
I’m paying money to do this?
But it works, and not only walking – but on the bike, too. As a road cyclist mainly I obviously have to have my attention focused on my immediate surrounding – itself a curiously Mindful practice. But on quieter roads I can tune in to parts of my body other than my burning lungs. I focus on the places where I touch the bicycle. The palms of my hands, and fingers on the handlebars, the balls of my feet on the pedals. And then there’s my bum on the saddle. If my back and shoulders feel sore from bending over the handlebars, instead of trying to alleviate this discomfort right away, I notice it, examine the sensations, draw them in, before changing my posture to a more comfortable position.
Then there’s the practice of Mindful eating and drinking. How many of us simply inhale our food, rather than chew and taste what we are eating? Do we take the time to slow down as we eat by putting down our cutlery while we eat? And here’s the thing – it’s good for you physically, too. Chew and taste your food and you will eat less, but be satisfied. The same with drinking alcohol. Smell the aroma of the glass of wine, swirl it around your mouth and taste it. Think of where the grapes come from, and what has been done to get the bottle to your table. Chances are you will enjoy your glass of wine more, and drink less, too.
It’s about using your five senses, and paying attention to them. And how often do we do that?
Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadow sweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917)
I should mention that the title of this edition comes from the name of a poem by Dylan Thomas