Mental health seems to be getting a bigger airing these days, with more and more people realising that we don’t all have good days (or weeks, or months…) and sometimes we need to talk to someone about that or find some other way to work through the challenges. I’ve certainly had my own challenges in the past couple of years and my go-to to keep me somewhat on top of things has been regular physical activity on my own, often at the start of the day. Sometimes it’s a walk around the neighbourhood, earlier this week it was a run, and very often it’s a cruise around the local streets and paths on my bike. Seems I’m not the only one appreciating the therapeutic power of a good ride and, back in May 2015, guest writer Robyn M Speed put some words down about her experiences of using her bike to work through the issues on her mind…
Sometimes life is like biking into a never-ending headwind. Sometimes life is happening so fast and out of control that it’s like flying downhill, both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
The most important thing I have gained from cycling is therapy. When I am in the hills, there are very few people, and I have space to think. It’s like sometimes I can breathe better up there.
Life is not always easy, and sometimes I need some time out, sometimes I need to ride, to think, or to ride and not think…sometimes I just need to sort my sh*# out, and stop my mind going round and round. Cycling gives me that.
When I’m biking up a long, steep hill, I frequently tell myself ‘just keep pedalling’. And sometimes life is like that long, steep hill, and all we can do, is just keep going, just another turn of the cranks, just another step forward…just…keep…moving…forward.
People look at me, and think I’ve got life all figured out. I don’t. I can fake it really well. But I sometimes feel like the minute I think I understand life, it all turns to mist. What I have learned is: I don’t need to figure it all out.
I don’t need to have all the answers. And you know what else I don’t need? I don’t need to try to be all things to all people, so that they like me, so that they don’t get annoyed with me or disappointed in me, I don’t need to jump through someone else’s hoops just to please them. And do you know where I gained these understandings, this clarity? While I was biking in the hills. Me. My bike. And the road. Some days that is what I need, some days that is all I need.
When I come down off the hills – that ride that is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, especially when there is a strong wind blowing, threatening to take the bike out from under me – and into the suburban flat-lands, it is different. There is more traffic, and my concentration is more on watching the traffic, navigating, and keeping an eye on parked cars, dogs, traffic lights, and the peace and stillness is gone. Plus, sometimes I feel my mind becomes as busy as the road, and I have to take some time to just ‘chill out’ again as I pedal.
I always head out early for a bike ride, when the roads are quiet. All I am thinking about is riding, and feeling the bike moving beneath me. It’s peaceful, but by the time I am heading home, the roads are busy, everyone wanting to get somewhere, everyone impatient and in a hurry, as if they just want the day over and done with.
Cycling isn’t just about keeping fit, or getting from A to B, it’s about a state of health and well-being. Physical health as well as mental and emotional health, and – for people like me – spiritual health too. I need to move. We all need to move. Moving is the most pro-active thing we can do to help ourselves.
I admit that I do take my cell phone with me when biking. I take it for emergency contact, or rescue – should I need it! But most of all, it is my camera. I have seen sunrises and views so spellbinding that I immediately hit the brakes and stop! On one ride I know there is a bend that affords the most amazing view, and on many occasions I come round that bend and gasp ‘Oh my God,’ because what is before me is beyond words, held in the hands of magic itself… and it lasts for only minutes sometimes, and then it is gone, and no sunrise will ever be the same (the cell phone is great to take pictures, but one day I will buy myself a Sony RX100 to take with me – and trust that it can handle the ride in my pocket!). When I stop, and stand in the face of such magic, nothing else matters. I feel my heart melt and fall open, and suddenly I don’t care about anything else in the world. Yes, I could have stayed in bed, and slept in. I did not have to leave the house at 5.30am on my bike… but when I witness such magic, I am so very glad I did. The haul up Evans Pass is worth it, each and every time.
My appreciation of cycling changes as I myself change. I used to look upon it as pure fun, but after my experiences in the hills… they call to me every weekend, the balm for what often feels like a weary soul, and I go to them, and we spend time together, and afterwards… well… I just feel better, calmer, at peace, and yet exhilarated at the same time and I do not even know how that is possible. It just is.
And cycling helps.
Do you find that cycling helps your mental wellbeing?