Bike, body and brain

When I was halfway home on Wednesday afternoon, I realized that the bike ride I was on was the nicest one I’d ever taken. Half an hour before my tires hit the tarmac, my head was ducked into the garbage can behind my desk. Food poisoning. It had hit me hard and fast. My skin was coated in cold sweat and I felt slightly delirious. Parked outside the building, my bike awaited my butt, but I desperately wanted to call a cab. Instead, I called my parents. They consoled me and then encouraged I ride, slowly and carefully, to gift myself the combination of fresh air and freedom from any enclosed space. My folks are smart; I followed their advice.

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As I rolled through the park, it dawned on me that the deep breaths I was taking to control my nausea were reminiscent of those I take while meditating. Sinking past my chest and into my belly, the breaths brought a steadiness to my uncomfortable vessel. My headspace was one of focus, mostly on trying not to vomit, so I didn’t have room for the whirl of anxieties that often greet me while riding. Some of these anxieties touch on my safety; cars, pedestrians, dogs running off-leash. A great majority of them, however, touch on my body and strength compared to those of the cyclists around me.

Often, when I’m riding, I feel pangs of frustration with those who ride past me. Within moments, the frustration shifts from being directed towards the other cyclist to being directed towards myself. My internal monologue follows some reliable variation of: Ugh. Why speed past me? I’m riding fast. I’m riding fast… right? Am I riding fast enough? I’m sweating but, I could probably sweat more. I’m thirsty but, I could probably push harder. I’m really hungry but, this is the only time I’ll be on my bike today. Go faster. Pass him. Pass her. Go faster… Yikes. This mental chatter happens fast; before I even really know that the thoughts are moving through my mind, I feel the frustration in my belly. It quickly turns to embarrassment that I’m not as fast as the person who passed me. It turns to shame that I’m not pushing myself to my absolute limit.

I’d never noticed that I’ve felt this way while riding until I was travelling home on Wednesday and I didn’t feel it. Instead, I felt an overwhelming love and respect for my body. My vessel was carrying me home on my wheels, safely and steadily, even while feeling under the weather. Other cyclists whizzed past me and I didn’t feel a pang of irritation, not an ounce of shame. I’m doing enough, I felt myself acknowledge. And then I realized how often I feel like I’m not doing enough. How often I feel like I should push my body harder, even though I’m simply commuting. The benefits of travelling on a bike come naturally to my body, mind and soul, and I don’t need to pass everyone on the street to know that I’m doing my whole self good.

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It’s fine to push our bodies. When we’re taking up a running practice, weight training, yoga, swimming — whatever lights us up — it’s great to encourage our bodies to meet and exceed our own personal bests. But for the sake of our mental well-being, we must be intentional about it. There ought to be a purpose behind the push. Sure, you want to be more toned, but why? For swimsuit season? Or is it so that you’ll be able to pick up your friend’s newborn with more ease? Maybe both, and that’s fine. No matter what, I hope that the purpose behind your push comes from a place of love for your body and the desire to see it continue to do great things, instead of a desire to compete with the bodies around you. This is tricky. It’s a practice. I’m right there beside you for it. And on this path, if you speed past me, I won’t get frustrated! I won’t curse you in my head! I promise. I’ll applaud you, and continue to ride along. Zoom zoom.