Last Updated on November 18, 2020 by Paul Farrell, MRP, JD, PhD
“The bicycle is not just a vehicle used to transport ourselves, to exercise one’s body or to obtain joy. It’s a device which allows us to attain a much wealthier mental state than one would think possible. Once we ride it, it’s possible to experience a feeling close to that achieved by meditation. The movements of the legs, the energy which arises through the body, the cadence of our breathing, the floating attention on what’s happening around us and in our mind all create a similar state to the one we achieve when we sit crossed-legged, with our eyes closed, allowing our thoughts to drift simply and naturally. Zen calls it mindfulness.”
– Juan Carlos Kremer, The Bicycle Effect: Cycling as Meditation
Pedram Shojai, the Urban Monk, comes from the opposite side of the world, yet is clearly of the same mindful spirit as Kremer. Shoji loves cycling around the track near his new home in Irvine California.
He’s a documentary filmmaker with a Doctorate of Oriental Medicine and an ordained priest of the Yellow Dragon Monastery in China, he he loves helping cyclists and other Americans using Eastern techniques like yoga to deal with the stresses of American life.
Forget Sitting Like a Zen Monk … “The Ride” IS Your Meditation!
Shoji is clear, “I don’t want people to become monks. But you can make your bike ride your spiritual practice.” Imagine a Zen temple traveling along with you, as you meditate, cycling the path. “It’s about getting to your flow state, where you’re laser-focused but calm.”
“In our culture we’re not allowed to just have fun,” Shojai says. “We have to be productive. But if you can make exercise and transportation fun, while getting your Zen on, that’s perfect.”
A couple years ago Gloria Liu wrote an equally revealing piece about Ryan Leech in Bicycling: “Besides pulling stunts you probably never knew were possible on a bike—like riding one-legged down a handrail—professional trials rider Ryan Leech is also a yoga instructor and coach who trains mountain bikers in the physical and mental aspects of riding.”
He believes daily meditation not only improves your cycling, but also makes each ride more fun. “I do a lot of cross-country mountain biking and road riding, and it’s easy to check out, especially if you’re solo,” Leech says.
Your Bike Meditation Increases Life’s “Bandwidth!”
“Meditation has helped me to stay more present so I’m keeping up my cadence, and more aware of my heart rate, not solely relying on technology. And I find my bandwidth to take it all in—the raw experience of the moment, being out in nature, with friends—is bigger.” Start building your mental muscle with Leech’s five-minute meditation for cyclists.
Again we find support for cycling as the perfect action meditation for millions of Americans, echoing Kremer’s eloquent summary: “The movements of the legs, the energy which arises through the body, the cadence of our breathing, the floating attention on what’s happening around us and in our mind all create a similar state to the one we achieve when we sit crossed-legged” like a monk in a Zen temple.
One final voice to reinforce the message that cycling is meditation comes for a Lisa Markuson’s blog “Mind Over Matter Over Peddle: 5 Ways to do Daily Bike Meditation” which is worth repeating for it’s mini-treatise on mindfulness:
Five Ways To Increase Mindfulness Through Your Cycling Ventures
“Mindfulness isn’t just about being a Jedi who can fine tune proprioception to the point that you could take apart and reassemble a bike while blindfolded in a sandstorm. It is also very closely linked to the crucial tenets of compassion and loving-kindness, which can also be embodied while you are on a bike. What could be kinder and more compassionate than being a safe, engaged, calm cyclist, sharing the road, being present, and appreciating the people around you? If nothing else, it may keep you from yelling threats at tourists riding tandem in your way. So here are five ways to make your bike ride more mindful and compassionate:”
When you’re getting ready to ride, take the time to do a few simple stretches to wake your body up, get your blood moving, and stimulate your brain. If you do yoga, a few sun salutations is a great start. Side stretches, loosening up the spine, hamstring stretches, and hip opening movements will improve your cycling, and an inversion like a headstand, or a forward fold will bring oxygenated blood to the brain and wake you up better than coffee, I swear.
Before you push off for your first pedal of the day, take 20 seconds to pause, concentrate on a few deep breaths, visualize a safe, pleasant ride and smile. Seriously, you should actually smile — it tells your body to produce all sorts of calming, pleasing chemicals.
3. Be Aware
While you’re riding, allow yourself to be aware of the mechanical processes and symbiosis of your body and your bike. Acknowledge that all of the muscles of your legs and feet that are working in harmony to propel the pedals of your bike and the graceful simplicity of the machine amplifying your movements.
4. Notice Your Breathing
I know I already mentioned breathing, but it is really important, so I have to say it again, slightly differently. Notice your breath while you do any activity and you will be surprised to realize how shallow our breath usually is, and how sometimes we literally stop breathing because we’re focused elsewhere. Keep gently reminding yourself to take full, slow, luxurious breaths while you ride, especially in heavy traffic or challenging terrain, and you will be calmer, happier and ride better overall.
5. Think Positive
Try to develop new thought habits. As a cyclist, it is easy to feel like you’re getting pushed around by cars, thwarted by pedestrians and always on the defensive. However, if you give yourself permission to feel compassion and empathy for the other people with whom you share the road and the world, you’ll be amazed at how much happier and safer you’ll feel. If a car cuts you off, wish the people in it a safe and stress-free day. If another cyclist blows through a light, don’t curse; send a positive thought their way. It isn’t easy at first, but once you get started, this process becomes second nature, and it is so worth it.
Zen in Every Breath
Bottom line: Cycling is the perfect action meditation, Zen in every breath! I’m with Shoji when he tells us, “I don’t want people to become monks.” Yet, if you’re a cyclist the odds are, you already are one, you have been meditating naturally, for a long, long time. Cycling is Zen, cycling is the perfectly natural meditation for you!
Yes, somewhere along the way you made “your ride a spiritual practice.” You know what we mean by riding in a Zen temple, meditating on the journey of life, your life: “It’s about getting to your flow state, where you’re laser-focused but calm.” You know all this instinctively, because you’re already meditating … on your bike, breathing, alive, in the flow, where “the ride” is your mindfulness!
About the Author
Dr. Farrell is a Behavioral Economist. His books include The Millionaire Code; The Millionaire Meditation: Stress Management for Wall Street, Corporate America & Entrepreneurs; The Zen Millionaire; The Winning Portfolio; Expert Investing on The Net; Mutual Funds on The Net; and The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing.
He also published 1,643 columns on DowJones-MarketWatch and for years was their #1 traffic-generating columnist. Before the Internet, he edited & published FNX: Future News Index, a financial newsletter for stock market traders. Earlier he was a Wall Street investment banker with Morgan Stanley, Executive Vice President of the Financial News Network; and Associate Editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
He has a Doctorate in Psychology, Juris Doctor, Masters in Regional Planning and Bachelor of Architecture. He worked on the Esalen organic farm and served in the U.S. Marine Corps as Staff Sergeant in aviation computer technology.