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The Bliss of the Bicycle

Posted on Monday, March 4th, 2013 at 1:00 pm under Be Happy.

I love this picture of Einstein riding a bike…his expression of joy is just delightful and amazing. And it reminds me of when I rediscovered the bicycle.

I was in a job that I hated. It was a pressure cooker situation every day, and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I was also terribly out of shape and close to being about as heavy as I had ever been. Life was pretty bleak.

A fellow employee came to me about an opportunity that the company was sponsoring, and  asked me if I would be interested in joining. It was a fund raising event called the MS150…a bike ride from Cherry Hill, New Jersey to Ocean City, New Jersey – a distance of  up to 100 miles.  I opted for the 75 mile route, which still seemed crazy!

I was looking for a way to get active again. I knew I needed to, and this sounded like the perfect opportunity. It gave me a couple reasons to get moving: it would help me get in shape, and it would help others who weren’t able to be active like I could be.

What I didn’t expect was the profound effect that cycling would have on my mental well-being. Of course, it didn’t start out that way. The first month or so was a struggle.

I remember taking my bike out to a local park which had a six mile paved loop. And a hill. At first, I dreaded that hill. It seemed so massive. It even had a sign warning of the steep climb…a whopping 8% (moderately steep) grade for a short distance. Between that hill and the distance, I was pretty beat for the first week or so. But then I started to get a little faster. And then I rode the loop twice. That was when I realized I could probably ride from my house (about 5 miles away), and then ride once around the park. So I did.

It was a freeing moment. I could just ride out the front door of my house and go anywhere under my own power. And I quickly discovered the mental health benefits of riding. I would slip into an almost trance-like state while riding the longer distances. Eventually, I would ride 100+ miles in a day. I would have a friend ask me how my ride was, and I would realize that I actually had no clear recollection of a lot of the miles. It was time that just…passed. I saw beauty in the flow of the tires over the pavement…the burn of my muscles as I climbed a hill…the rush as I dropped down the other side at speeds over 50 mph. It was amazing.

I was aware out there. You have to be when you ride on the roads and share them with 2 ton vehicles. So I wasn’t spaced out or closed off to reality. I think it was just that my mind was allowed to have time to process without distraction. I seemed to be able to work through daily problems better, and the weight of work issues wasn’t so heavy. In general, my mood was better. I was losing weight. I didn’t feel as tired.

If for some reason, I wasn’t able to get out and ride for a few days, I felt the itch to go ride in a big way.

I think cycling lends itself to this relaxed state of mind very well. It is rhythmic and repetitive. Walking, yoga, running and dance would also be very good for getting to this calm and focused state of mind. Have you heard of the runner’s high? That euphoric feeling can be had with a lot of exercise methods. I happen to prefer weight lifting to work into that relaxed state of mind now. But I still enjoy a good bike ride. Really, any activity that you really enjoy could allow you to get into the moment. I remember a similar feeling when I shot archery as a teenager.

So if you are feeling down or frustrated with life, get out there and do something. The activity will really help you get your mind to a happier place!

What activity helps you find your balance and focus and happy state of mind?