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On Biking: Mindfulness movement benefits from biking

Posted by Your Town  July 16, 2012 10:19 AM

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Biking is hip and cool. Not to mention that it’s good for your wallet, your planet and your waistline. Pedaling a bike, even just around the block, is sure to bring a smile to your face.

Ellen Langer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Harvard, has a theory about why that smile is on your face: Mindfulness. Dr. Langer knows all about the power of the pedal, even though she does not ride a bike. Not because she doesn’t want to, but because: “My house is up on a hill. Getting down would be easy, but going back up…”

Okay, so maybe Dr. Langer is not the best person to show you how to fix a flat tire. Still, her research on mindfulness has important implications for anyone who rides a bike. Here’s what she had to say.

Dr. Langer described mindfulness as, “A deceptively simple thing. It means noticing new things that you previously didn’t notice. Mindfulness is a way to put yourself into the present.”

By now, most of us have been told (nagged, even) that we need to be present and engaged. Most of us also know that being present and engaged is easier said than done.

Dr. Langer appreciates this challenge. “A lot of people say, ‘be in the moment,’ but that’s empty because when you’re not in the moment, you don’t know you’re not in the moment.”

Her solution: Mindfulness. Her guide for beginners is simple and effective. “When you leave your house in the morning, notice five new things on your way to work. At work, do the same, and when you come home, notice five new things about the person you live with. You will get into the noticing. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to becoming more mindful.”

Dr. Langer’s research shows that mindfulness is a great way to calm down and become engaged with the world around you. These are the same reasons that many of us enjoy biking. Sure, we may ride for transportation, to get from point A to point B. Some of us may race. But most importantly for me and the cyclists I know, we ride because it feels good when we’re one with the saddle.

Even though Dr. Langer is not one with the bike, she has a theory about why biking feels so good: “When you bike, you go to places you haven’t been before, a trail or a neighborhood, and you get to notice all of the things that are different. You also get to attend to your breathing…and to your experience.”

This just might be the connection, then, between biking and Dr. Langer’s research: If you want to stay upright on your bicycle you have to be mindful. Take your eyes off of the road, even for just a moment, and you’re more likely to crash.

Just like yoga and meditation, biking is a way to find balance.

So maybe this all sounds good, but you’re overwhelmed at the thought of pedaling 5, 10, or even 20 miles. No worries: Mindfulness to the rescue.

As Dr. Langer explained, “There’s always a step between where you are and where you want to get that you can do. So if you want to go a mile but you’re too tired, then you can go ½ a mile. If that’s too far, then shoot for ¼ of a mile. When we say we can’t, we usually have in mind a bigger piece of the pie than we need to.”

What this all means is that being mindful lets you change “I can’t” into “I can.” A great way to live, on or off of the bike.

Jonathan Simmons is an avid cyclist.

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