Jun 172012
The Forced Mindfulness of Bicycling: An Andrea Post

Stained glass? No, a design you'll see on the street somewhere in Spokane if you're riding mindfully. Photo by Andrea Parrish.

Quick, how many times today have you looked at your cell phone while waiting in line, walking down the street, or sitting on the couch? I’m the first to admit, my number is easily over a dozen. Some days more than that. Between my DayJob, two businesses, and attempting to spend time with my husband, I have been known to stretch myself a bit thin, and it’s always easy to justify “just a quick check.” Part of the reason I love bicycling is that it forces me to take a break from this habit and be mindful.

A few times in my life, I have tried to become a practitioner of yoga. I always loved the smooth motions, the beautiful poses, the idea of setting aside an hour, or even just a few minutes, to simply focus, relax, and be. My favorite yoga instructor once spent an entire class walking us through Dirga Pranayama, the three-part breath. This has long been the class hour that has stuck with me. I realize that the idea of “forcing” this mindfulness seems a bit counter to the whole idea of mindfulness, but for people like me, it’s necessary.

Painted brick design around a sewer access cover, Spokane, WA. Photo by Andrea Parrish.
Stained glass? No, a design you’ll see on the street somewhere in Spokane if you’re riding mindfully. Photo by Andrea Parrish.

The first part of a three-part breath is a deep inhale that fills your lower abdomen. This is the base of your breath, the largest expansion, the part of the breath we often forget in everyday life. This is also the breath that can be toughest when we are hunched in our chairs or over our computers.

Getting on a bike requires, first, standing up. That moment after I have loaded my basket and panniers, zipped up my jacket, and before I climb on the saddle. It’s a moment of a deep breath, of standing with nothing in my hands, the ground beneath my feet, and the air around me. It’s the stretch of throwing my leg over the bike, and settling into the seat. It’s an inhale, a moment of expectation, and a moment to clear my head.

The second part of a three-part breath is an inhale that begins to expand the ribcage and straighten the back. The chest comes up as air fills your core.

Riding, be it on a cruiser, a recumbent, a racer, or a tricycle, requires a certain amount of adjustment of one’s body. That adjustment often has the side effect, at least for me, of adjusting how the air I breathe in makes its way around my body. The second part of the breath is also supposed to help bring focus, and riding requires a certain amount of attention paid to the world around you. Drivers, potholes, pedestrians… the list of things that a cyclist needs to pay attention to is long, and making sure I don’t end up sprawled out on the pavement requires a little bit of expansion of self. Letting my ribs spread a little with a breath on the inside also means being aware how my presence affects the world (and other vehicles) around me.

The last part of a three-part breath fills the upper chest, just below the throat. This is the breath that connects the full breath to the full body. It’s the last inhale and first exhale, the moment when things are in balance.

That moment when things are in balance, on a bike, is the golden moment. It’s when you are paying close enough attention to wave a friendly hello at the runners coming down the trail, and are aware enough to notice that yes, birdsong can still be heard in the middle of downtown Spokane. The reality is that when you are on a bike, looking down at your phone (never mind fishing it out of your jacket) is just a bad idea, and not usually worth the time it takes. Instead, it is the time to notice that the neighbors just put up their Santa blow-up in the middle of June, or that the new coffee shop is open, or that the ducks on the river have new ducklings.

The point is, that bicycling for transport forces me to be mindful. It forces me to take a breath. While I don’t do formal yoga all that often any more, every morning on my bike is a Sun Salutation, and every 20 seconds at a stop sign is a chance to take a deep breath.

Posts by Andrea

Related Reading

Your Turn
  • In what ways is your biking mindful?


Sharing is karma--pass it along!

Reader Comments

  1. I have often considered writing a post called “The Zen of Cycling” but I think you beat me to it! : )

    The balance that you speak of is something that I have often felt. I am moving on my bike in perfect harmony…it is almost as if I am not moving. I am acutely aware of my surroundings but it feels like it is just me , my bike and the road. A moment of grace!

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.