Go With The Flow – Why I Ride
The following is a piece which originally appeared in the The Ride Journal about why I ride and how it makes me feel.
I’m frequently asked why I do what I do and why my life is so focused on all things two wheeled. To be honest, I’ve never known what to say when faced with this familiar line of questioning and generally fall back on the standard and uninspiring, ‘bikes are fun’. But surely there has to be a bit more to my obsession than that?
So just why am I so hell bent on riding my bicycles as much as possible? It’s got to the point where every aspect of my life revolves around the damn things; I’m obsessed with my BMX, ride fixed gear for Charge Bikes, work as a bike messenger, run a PR and events agency focusing primarily on bikes and I write and take photos for several publications as long as (you guessed it..) they’re bike related.
As a typical grumpy and sceptical English person, I find the whole concept of self help books, spiritual quests and self improvement somewhat embarrassing. Nontheless I’m not shy of acknowledging I could do with a little help in managing my mood so I found myself drawn to an article on the mediative qualities of ‘flow activities’ and their benefits on stress relief. Scattered amongst the pop psych lingo and made up terminology I realised I’d found the answer to the question I’d been asked so frequently.
First studied by positive psychology researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow refers to a particular state of total absorption in a given activity. This activity can be almost anything in which you are completely engaged, where self consciousness diminishes and your mind is focused entirely on the task at hand. The inner dialogue is silenced with your focus drawn inwards to the ‘self’ in a way which is similar to meditation. This total absorption is fantastic for your health and mental wellbeing and finding and creating ‘flow’ in your life can result in considerably greater life satisfaction.
Not all activities bring this near meditative state of total absorption; the level of engagement with your chosen activity is key. What you need is something on which your mind is entirely focused, resulting in the exclusion of all other thoughts to the point where time seems to slow or stop. An activity for activity’s sake which is challenging but achievable leaves no room for conflicts and deliberation in your consciousness. The physical and mental benefits of meditation are well documented but if like me, you find it hard to sit still for a minute, let alone sit in silence doing nothing, it’s rather cool to find you can ‘meditate through activity’.
The most obvious example of ‘active meditation’ is yoga, which has long been known to create a relaxed physical and mental state and a calm inward focus. Mindfulness and meditation have also long been considered of utmost importance in Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism as a means to achieving balance, peace and satisfaction. The health benefits of such activities include lowered blood pressure and a eventual decrease in cortisol as we learn to deal with stress more efficiently through our more settled and ordered mind.
‘Buddhists advise us to “act always as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.” This serious playfulness makes it possible to be both engaged and carefree at the same time’, something that perfectly describes me when I ride my bicycle.
Riding bikes is my ‘flow activity’, my means to relaxation and distraction. Astride my bicycle, my mind empties entirely. I’m a worrier by nature so this brief respite from the seemingly endless list of things I seem to have chosen to worry about is luxury indeed. Gone are the irritating and pointless worries that clutter the minds of modern man; the endless analysis, comparisons and questioning. Do I work too much or too little? Eat too many burgers and too little broccoli? Should I do yoga even though I really can’t be bothered?
Burning around on my bike, the list of trivial concerns I carry is off loaded for the duration of my ride, my remaining thoughts focusing entirely on the task at hand. The present moment is all that matters and there is no room in my head for other trifles. I’m alert and aware of my physicality in the meditative state of action. Will I make it through that gap that between the bus and the taxi? How fast can I sprint up this hill before sitting down again? Am I am going to clear the gap in that double, or take a slam and come up muddy and bruised? How exactly do you click your knees over to do a ‘table’? Will I hit my foot doing this barspin and catapult myself off this ledge? I can focus on a new manouever for quite literally hours, so totally engrossed in the task at hand that it really does feel like a trance like state. Totally captivated, yet completely carefree.
I came across a fair amount of mumbo jumbo whilst researching this piece; various whacked out ideas of vibrations and third eyes and the like, but hidden in all this hippy speak I did find several studies which back up Mihael’s theories and indeed ‘flow activites’ are now incorporated into therapy sessions for children and adults experiencing stress and the aftermaths of trauma. Its generally been accepted that Mihael was right although sadly the specifics of why are often overlooked in favour of discussing the chakras! So largely, all I can go on is my own body’s reaction to this ‘practice’ and how it makes me feel.
For me, its akin to emitting a really enormous and satisfying long sigh, a huge release; ‘AHHHH!!!’ I’m somehow deeply relaxed and peaceful yet at the same time alert and vibrant, charged with power and energy. Ultimately, it’s a break from the real world and a leap to a slightly different plane of consciousness which I don’t really understand. And it leaves me feeling, calm, warm, content and very happy.
So for me, it seems that bikes are not only recreation, but meditation and even medication. It’s long been known that plenty of exercise and specifically outdoor exercise is good for your health and mental wellbeing but it was interesting to read how your specific choice of activity can add further benefits. I’d unwittingly chosen exactly what was best for myself, with no self help books needed. And there must lie the answer to why I do it.