Meditation is usually seen as sitting cross-legged on a cushion in a quiet space, looking blissfully serene, with your hands by your side and fingers and thumbs touching, but it’s not always like that, and in fact, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of different ways to meditate. It occurred to me while mountain biking that elements of many sporting activities, including mountain biking, are very meditative, and I considered the crucial elements of a meditation practice:
- Concentration over a period of time (Dharana)
- Physical stillness or repetitive movement (flow)
- A sense of detachment
When practising “traditional” meditation, all these elements are present – you use your concentration to still the mind, but allow thoughts to pass through, as an observer. You maintain a good posture (generally, you’re not lying down, for example), and your breath is regular, consistent and even.
Now, if I’m on a long mountain bike climb, for example, my breath is steady, I maintain a good posture, I’m focused, and my mind is not busy with the chattering noise of daily life – I’m simply breathing, maintaining an awareness of my environment and allowing myself to be somewhat detached from any discomfort that I’m feeling. Essentially, it’s incredibly meditative, even on a technical, difficult climb. I think, to some degree, that’s why some people get so deeply obsessed with road climbing (aside from the competitive aspect).
It also seems to me that many, if not most, sports and activities possess aspects of meditation and that feeling of “flow”, or deep focus, that stems from a consistent and steady practice. In the same way that practising 108 sun salutations can be a highly meditative practise, the “flow” experienced when you’re riding fast, flowing, or technical singletrack, I believe, puts the mind in a similar state, and the same goes for when I’m trail running, climbing, or even hiking.
Having said that, I still believe it’s important to have a regular meditation practice, allowing yourself dedicated time to find stillness and peace, allowing yourself to become detached from any results or emotions, whether it’s silent or guided, and whatever techniques and tools you use to provide a meaningful experience. There’s incredible value in meditation.