Above: Flare mountain bike clothing
Saddle down, feet on the pedals. Oops, that doesn't feel quite right - my left foot's slightly further back than my right. Reset left foot. Better.
Light grip on the bars. I can feel the brake levers beneath my index fingers: comforting.
Head up, eyes forward. There's a rooty section ahead. Which line should I take? Go right, the exit looks smoother. Up and over the roots, the bike's moving around beneath me. Entering a berm now, shifting my weight, outside foot down, looking round the corner to the trail ahead.
I can feel the warmth of the sun, the rush of the apparent wind. I can see the lush, green moss, the small, white flowers. I can smell the sun cream, taste the saltiness of sweat. I can hear the crunch and whirr of the tyres on the ground, the click of the free hub.
Mountain biking is a feast for the senses. For me, it's a true escape from a busy world and a busy mind.
Have you ever wondered what it is that makes you feel so good when you've been out on the bike?
Endorphins and adrenaline probably spring to mind, the physical changes that happen in the body when we exercise or throw ourselves down hills. But I'm beginning to wonder if what really makes me feel so good when I'm roaming around the countryside on two wheels is more to do with what's going on in my mind.
Mountain biking is a feast for the senses. For me, it's a true escape from a busy world and a busy mind. It forces me to be aware, to pay attention to what's happening around me, to what’s coming up in the trail ahead. It helps me tune in to the what's going on in my body; I notice the burn in my thighs as I grind up a hill. And I know that I can move that burn by changing the way I turn the pedals. I can feel the ache spreading up my forearms as I cling to the brakes on a steep descent. I become aware of my breathing and feel every breath moving in and out of my lungs.
As soon as I get on my bike, my world goes quiet. My mind doesn't race as fast.
Before going out for a ride, I might be fretting about a meeting I've got to attend on Monday, or a tricky conversation I need to have with a colleague. I might be thinking about the birthday card I forgot to send, or wondering how I'm going to be able to justify a set of Hope brakes for my 'winter bike' (n+1 has a lot to answer for!).
But as soon as I get on my bike, my world goes quiet. My mind doesn't race as fast. I take the time to notice how I feel, how my bike feels, what I can see, smell and hear.
And - if the reading I've been doing is anything to go by - when I get on my bike and allow myself to enjoy that heightened level of awareness, I'm actually doing myself the world of good. By getting out on the bike and really living in the moment, by focusing on the here and the now, I'm not only building my physical strength and improving my physical fitness. I'm doing the same for my mental strength and my mental fitness too.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary...
...mindfulness is 'a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.'
And the NHS is embracing it too, quoting Professor Mark Williams on their website: 'an important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment'. When do we do that, if not when we're out on our mountain bikes, in the fresh air and the mud?
The internet is full to the brim with websites proclaiming the benefits of practicing mindfulness. They include: reducing anxiety, stress, depression and exhaustion, improving memory and reaction times, and increasing mental and physical stamina. What's not to love?
So the next time you're umming and aahing about whether to go out for a ride...
... whilst you contemplate that looming deadline or the lawn you need to mow, remember this: if you go out on your bike, you'll not only be getting fitter and stronger, you'll be looking after your mental health too.
Mind you, it's not like you needed another excuse!
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