The positive effects of mediation on our daily lives and wellbeing have long been reputed by scientific research. Studies have shown that, not only does regular practise decrease depression, anxiety, and stress while improving focus; it can also impact our physical selves. Becoming present on a regular basis can improve our immune function, decrease physical pain, and lower blood pressure. But, like many aspects of a healthy lifestyle, meditating is something we know we should do, but we don’t. Our lives are busy, we don’t have time, we can’t sit still, and the demands on our attention are too great to really feel that there is a quantifiable benefit to taking a few minutes to do absolutely nothing. Our excuses are endless and the idea of meditating becomes unattainable. But what if it could improve your riding? Physical and mental stillness may be just as integral to enhancing your riding experience as practising or cross-training. And feeling better on your bike may be the impetus we need to incorporate meditation into our daily lives.
Professional mountain biker Ryan Leech discovered meditation well over a decade ago when he realized that a commonality between his mentors was the act – or rather the lack of act – of meditating. At the time, Ryan was very much a performance- oriented and focused rider, but he felt he was missing the experiential part of the sport; he was so caught up in his thoughts, that he wasn’t actually enjoying his riding.
Many of us have hit this wall with our riding from time to time. It becomes something we do, because it’s a part of who we are, but we have slipped away from the pure enjoyment of it. Daily stresses, busy thoughts, and routine can block that feeling of exhilaration first addicted us to pedalling.
This was the predicament that Ryan found himself in – the times he could tune into the pleasure of riding were infrequent and fleeting. It wasn’t until he began meditating regularly that he was able to connect with elation of flowing through the trail, past the trees and nature, and the simple joy of pedalling, in a more consistent way. Through the daily practice of taking moments to be still and aware, Ryan has increased his presence, awareness, and focus while riding. In short, he has become an even better rider – or at least the rides have gotten better.
We have all struggled with the idea of mediation; we wonder if we are doing it right, are overwhelmed by the amount of time we have to sit still, or decide that we are unable to meditate simply because we cannot sit in a cross-legged position. But what we are doing is overcomplicating the simplest idea – to just stop and be still. One of the biggest myths about meditating is that you’re meant to have an empty mind. Ryan believes that if this is your goal, meditation will be very frustrating and perhaps not as beneficial. Our minds move and think, and trying to control this behaviour will only make it worse. Instead he uses an observational approach, an awareness of his thoughts without following them. The practice is being able to catch yourself getting lost in your thoughts and being able to bring your awareness back to the moment; back to the observation of them. Closing your eyes and expecting your mind to be instantly still would be like expecting to being more fit simply from standing inside a gym. Over time it become easier, it is just like building a muscle in any other part of your body, you will get stronger with consistent repetition. Furthermore, he maintains that just a moment of this practice each morning is enough to have an effect on your riding experience.
Ryan describes his transformation through mediation, “it wasn’t about riding the most technically difficult lines, it wasn’t about being the coolest rider or doing the newest coolest move – just riding my bike became so satisfying and fun. Just enjoying and experiencing my body moving and flowing down the trail is unbelievable. I now have a greater ability to choose to be in flow rather than having it as a chance, one-off thing.”
Becoming a more present and aware rider helped Ryan to become a safer rider as well. “There’s less chance that the ego will take a hold and take you into this competitive, dangerous mindset or cause you to push yourself into realms that you might not have the ability for. For me, a big challenge as a pro rider is not feeling like I have to go there, noticing when I’m going there and then stopping myself and just coming back to riding at a place that is comfortable for me, that is satisfying and enjoyable for me, that ‘experience’ part. And that’s a wonderful place to be on a mountain bike ride. It’s great to have that muscle to catch myself before things get out of control.”
Ryan has gained a unique perspective through mediation – he may still get carried away with the business of being a professional athlete, but now he can observe his hectic days without getting lost in them. The potential to improve his riding style and abilities may have been Ryan’s initial motivation, however he quickly realized that simply pausing every single morning has allowed him the ability to be more aware in every aspect of his life. And perhaps this is the incentive that we all need – another way that our love of mountain biking can improve and enrich all areas of our lives.
Danielle is a writer and photographer who enjoys long walks in the rain, riding her bike, and shots of tequila. Growing up without electricity or running water helped her to find a great appreciation for all things in nature and, eventually, led to her love of mountain biking and fear of whales.