The past couple of days I've been reading a lot about mindfulness, specifically as it relates to dealing with overeating. Living in the moment is something of a cliche, but nevertheless, being truly mindful and paying attention to each moment as it goes by seems to be one of those secrets of the universe that can make just about anything better. That lesson was among the earliest I learned at Green Mountain, as it forms the foundation of their entire approach to getting and staying healthy, but while I have made great strides in being more mindful, I clearly have much to learn.
Two books that I just started reading are promising to be very helpful in this next stage of my journey. The first, Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time, has a lot of very practical advice and exercises that I plan to use (and will no doubt write about) in the weeks to come. I am particularly intrigued by the idea of setting up a "cravings chair" to sit in comfortably when the urge to eat when I'm not hungry hits. The second book, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, is a bit more philosophical but also seems to have quite a few practical exercises that might help. I spent much of the past 48 hours wandering through their pages, and as a result was feeling in a particularly mindful state when I went out this morning for a bike ride.
I have also been thinking recently about why I find biking so easy to make a priority and strength training or any other physical activity so much more difficult. I love swimming and always have, since I was very young, and the time I was most fit in my entire life was probably the period, in my late 20's, when I swam for 45 minutes 5 mornings a week. Yet somehow, during the past few years, much as I enjoy being in the pool, I haven't yet been able to get back into enjoying doing laps, even though that would be a great way both to exercise and to achieve a meditative state. Similarly, I love the feeling of getting stronger and even of the sweat on my arms when I lift free weights, but I don't seem to be able, right now, to translate that into any enthusiasm for doing strength training regularly, despite having done so religiously for three years.
But though in some ways, biking is the most intensive of the activities that I do, cardiovascularly speaking, it's the one I long for, the one I visualize myself doing when I'm ill and work at systematically when I'm well. It seemed to me, as I headed for the garage this morning in my heightened state of mindfulness, that spending some energy trying to understand why might be helpful to me. So I strapped on my helmet, mounted up and set out to notice as much as I could about how I felt and what I experienced as I pedaled up and down the road.
The first thing I noticed was that I started to smile immediately. I think the physical feeling of being on a bike reminds me of being a joyous, curious, energetic little girl, who not only used to ride all the time, but jumped off swings and played softball and loved running around the back yard playing badminton and catch with her daddy. It also fills me with a sense of power and strength, since I know I can fly through the world with the greatest of ease. This is in stark contrast, these days, to how little and how slowly I can move on foot. When I ride my bike, I can cover miles and miles, and really feel that I am going somewhere. It's incredibly liberating.
The next thing I noticed was how much I love the feeling of the air rushing past my face as I ride. Even when the weather is hot and humid, I'm pretty much always comfortable when I'm actually riding because of that air movement. But the sensation of air moving against my skin was so sensuous today, it was as pleasurable as drinking cool, pure water when I'm thirsty. I even enjoyed the wind, which was pretty strong at times, to the point where I almost felt like I was pedaling in place for a moment or two. On one section of the road, where there are no houses and very few trees, I was conscious of the heat radiating up from the pavement, even so early in the morning. My legs felt the heat while my head and shoulders were surrounded by the cool wind; it was an intense, interesting and enjoyable sensation.
Along with the air rushing past, there are fragrances drifting by as I ride. Here in Hawaii, I can smell tiare (Tahitian gardenia), plumeria, and lots of wonderful greenery that I can't yet distinguish, along with bacon and coffee wafting from the houses I pass. And, of course, there are all the morning sounds: cardinals, doves, and francolins; leaf blowers and lawn mowers; the clicking of a dog's paws as it trots past; the flapping of a runner's sneakers. I noticed also how much I enjoy exchanging smiles, waves and greetings with the other folks walking, skating, running and biking up and down the road with me; there is a sense of shared pleasure that seems to vibrate the air between us as we pass each other, and an appreciation of the beautiful day.
I love feeling my leg muscles working. I love looking at all the gardens that I pass, and the houses, and the signs of what people are doing in and around them. I love looking beyond the houses to the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other; back in Boston, I often ride next to the Charles River, which offers me a similar experience of being in nature in a way that I find deeply satisfying. This morning I was very aware of the creaking and clicking of my bike as I rode, comforting sounds that I associate with the very pleasant work of pushing the pedals.
As I was noticing all of those sensations and observations, I realized that I don't get to stop and look at the things and places I'm passing in detail, as I can and do when I walk. I remembered one previous winter when I walked up and down the road almost every day watching the Kamehameha caterpillars (similar to Monarchs) build their cocoons, which are black, silver and gold and look like jewelry, in the crown flower bushes. Even though I couldn't relive that experience as I rode along, my memory allowed me to add it as an overlay to the other sights, sounds and smells of the morning.
It was a wonderful ride.
I don't yet have an answer to why I love biking so much and do it so easily and why engaging in those other activities remains so much a challenge. But perhaps if I can bring that same mindfulness and curiousity to swimming, strength training, and any other physical pursuits in which I may engage, those activities will become less of a challenge and more of a pleasure.
A hui hou.