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Wednesday, April 10, 2013





Yin Motorcycling:

Observations after Yin Yoga

April 5, 2013.
Had been thinking about re-sampling a kind of Yoga called Yin Yoga. By my own definition of this type of yoga, and what I have learned about it, I would call it a more passive form of yoga. Which is not to say it is easy by any stretch of the imagination. (Ha! Get it? Stretch?) Anyway, Yin yoga holds fewer poses than most yoga sessions, but holds them much longer. Poses can usually be held from a minimum of 2 minutes all the way up to several minutes after.  One of the ideas in Yin is to address the muscle and connective tissue at their finer levels. Yin Yoga is effective in addressing the lower half of the body. Luckily, the body as a whole unit can benefit from this form of yoga, as the body is a connective entity. Some of the body structures that are receptive to this idea of yoga are: Connective tissues, tendons, ligaments, bones and joints.
I live about 20 miles south of Boston Ma and it is still newly spring. It is generally windy and cold this time of year, especially at night. But, it was a day close to 60 degrees and myself and my old BMW wanted to get out and ride! I strapped the yoga mat and a bottle of water on the back of the bike and headed out down the road.
The ride into town was amazing. Beautiful weather, traffic is light and I am ahead of schedule as far as class goes. I get into Harvard Sq, Cambridge Ma to laughing look for a parking spot for my motorcycle. Drove around the block many times to find a spot that I would not get towed from. Finally, I just decided to wait and take a 2-hour meter right near the studio. Made my way into the studio with ALL my gear.
Filled out my waiver forms and proceeded downstairs to the lockers. I had: 2 coats. 3 pairs of pants, a big helmet, facemask, a sweatshirt, 2 undershirts, boots, gloves, a yoga mat and a large plastic bottle of water. I crammed all of these things into a tiny locker. Yeah! It all fits!! Deep breath in…..and go class upstairs.
Got into class and took my spot. The practice began very slowly, lying first on our backs. Wonderful I thought, just my speed today. I began to notice the sounds in the room inside and out. One of the prevailing sounds was the regular rumble of the subway train travelling underneath the yoga studio. My first thought as I was lying there was, “Why would you open a yoga studio over the subway? Isn’t that a little distracting?” But then I thought, maybe this is a perfect opportunity to allow my awareness to come back to my practice during this “possible distraction”. If my mind drifts away from my practice,  I can allow the periodic rumbling of the train to remind me to gently return my attention to what I am doing.
Throughout the rest of the class, I practiced returning my awareness to the present moment during the sounds and challenging body sensations arising from resting in some of the poses. The class was 90 minutes in length and the time seemed to pass very quickly. I was slightly surprised that the class was over so quick by my perception. Hmm, maybe my mind was more focused on what I was doing than I “thought.”
After class was over I had to take this peaceful feeling with me quickly out the door due to the reality of moving my motorcycle before my parking meter expired. I arrived at my meter with 5 minutes to spare. Perfect, it will take me that long to get my gear on and get myself together. Could be an opportunity indeed to keep that present state of mind on what I am doing and not worry about getting a ticket. Just then, a mini van came flying up behind my space seeing that I was getting ready to leave the parking space. Sigh, okay, now more of a challenge to focus on what I am doing. The gentlemen could clearly see the look on my face of……”yeah, I am not going to rush out of this space for you, it will take a few minutes to get my act together. “ We made eye contact and he shouted out the window: “No rush, take your time.” Ah, another student of mindfulness, thank you sir!
I hopped on the bike and heading out towards the highway. “Can I take this peaceful feeling of observation with me on the highway?”
I soon pulled into the toll area which usually causes a little bit of stress on my motorcycle: Trying to find my money, take off one or both gloves, flipping up my visor of my helmet, switch between first and neutral, handing the money over without dropping it and get myself together and pull away.
This time was different. I managed to smoothly multitask without skipping a beat. I simply removed the emotional component of usual stress associated with this moment. Hmmm, let’s see if I can maintain this for the next 15 miles on the road home.
The wind was very minimal, the air temp was warm for this time of year at night, the traffic was light, and the sun was going down. All of these components helped me maintain the soft focus that I was part of. I quickly settled in behind a large shuttle bus to keep the air from blasting the front of my bike. It’s a basic idea called drafting to keep the air drag from slowly you down. It can be kind of a risky endeavor when following a vehicle so closely especially if that vehicle has to apply its brakes quickly. Being in a present, relaxed state of mind helped me keep focus in that moment.
Pretty amazing things can happen in that present state of awareness. It felt like a symphony of sight, sound, and tactile sensation: I could see the potholes way before I was near them, I could adjust smoothly my reactions to any cars or any other distractions coming my way.
Just about home, I stopped at the convenient store near my house. When I came back to my bike, it would not start. The electric start only made a tiny click. Without reacting, I noticed that I was on a slight hill. I could roll down the hill and jump-start the bike! It worked flawlessly and I was on my way home.
After I pulled into the driveway, it felt like the ride home from town was in the blink of an eye. Time seemed to pass quickly like the yoga class earlier that night.  I have
been riding about 27 years with only one minor accident in that time, but it felt like the yoga class made me a better rider that night. Can’t wait to do more research!








Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Motonomics: Back to Basics


Motonomics: Back to Basics
By Jeremy Galvin

Woke up one morning in March of 2012 with an unusually stiff back. Went downstairs to make breakfast for my father and myself. We were standing by the counter in the kitchen when I felt the most painful electrical shock feeling shoot from my lower back, all the way down the back of my legs. The sensation was extremely painful and my legs gave out from underneath me. Luckily my dad was standing next to me and caught me or I would have hit the ground. I had never known what it felt like to have my lower back muscles lock up like that and then fail. I had a new understanding of what my massage therapy clients could be possibly be feeling when they talked about back pain and their “back going out.”
I was now one of the many, introduced to the world of chronic back pain. I had injured my back 9 years earlier in Hawaii, but had managed to keep it healthy with adequate exercise and body movement over the years. The injury had finally caught up with me and had forced me pay attention even more closely to my lower back.
Of the few thoughts that went through my mind (besides how do I get my low back muscles to calm down) was how I going to ride my motorcycle to work tomorrow? The pain was so intense at the time, in my mind I was faced with idea of maybe not be able to ride a motorcycle short term, long term or never again. Having no health insurance at the time, I had return to the alternative ideas and tools I have used to treat and help my clients.
A few minutes later, I was lying on my back on the kitchen floor beginning the healing process with all the modalities that I have studied and practiced the throughout the years: Massage Therapy, Reiki, Cryotherapy (icing) breath work, Yoga, mindfulness, Kinesiology, anatomy, and even a little martial training. When you are lying flat on your back on the floor in pain, you are forced to listen to what your body is telling you right now. It’s a time re-set to go back to basics.
After about an hour on the floor, I made my way slowly back to my feet and went outside to lie in the sun. The sun helped too. By the end of the second day, I was slowly returning to my upright life. Took a 20-minute motorcycle ride to see how my back felt on the bike. It hurt a bit, but the ride let me know I was on the right track and I would probably be able to ride again.
Fast forward to the present. My back is feeling much better, doing more yoga, and breath work. Also paying closer attention to strengthening my Abs and stretching my lower back and glut muscles. Have been working with the idea of helping others get who are injured get back onto their motorcycles as well. I have unfortunately watched a lot of folks sell their motorcycles because of frustration with chronic pain.
I have recently been working with my friend John who is a motorcycle and car mechanic. John is also a motorcycle enthusiast and is experiencing pain and discomfort while riding after a certain length of time. Old injuries and patterns in his body are preventing him from riding for his motorcycle for transportation and enjoyment. John and I have been looking at the concepts of body mechanics, massage therapy, stretching exercises and motorcycle ergonomics to try and address his discomfort. We took 3 different motorcycles sitting stationary and looked at each of our body positions on each bike. From different angles we noticed how our feet sat on the pegs, the relationship of the hands arms and shoulders to the handlebars, head/neck position, eye position, knee position, and the arch of the back. Taking all of these ideas into account plus body mechanics off the bike, we currently looking decreasing John’s pain and discomfort on and off his motorcycle.
Looking at these ideas has also gotten me to think about my own ergonomics on my two motorcycles to improve my riding comfort. I made a few small changes to each and already noticed quite a difference in comfort. The Suzuki DR 650 got a new seat with a gel insert. The old BMW got a small windshield and a sheepskin seat cover for the seat. With the technology out there, you really don’t have to suffer on your bike. Adding things to your bike can become pricey, but the old question of how much is your health and sanity worth comes into play in my mind.
So for all of us out there who ride and suffer with some sort of pain or discomfort, there is hope. First, educate yourself about your own injury. Do research on what it is you may have and how others have addressed these injuries. Talk to many different professionals: Doctors, body-workers, Physicals Therapists. Don’t limit your body and recovery to just one idea. There are many options out there rather than sitting on the couch assuming that the worst-case scenario has to be your scenario. Second, realizing that small gradual steps maybe the way you have to go. You may have to challenge your body with small movements and achievements on a daily basis. Finally, be patient with your own recovery. The body is an amazing machine, but sometimes recovery is a slow process. Most of us want to be better now and back into our routine as soon as possible, but healing can take time. You may have to be reasonable with your goals based on the severity of your injuries. So stay hopeful, smile and take care of that body. It’s the only one you got!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Motorcycling as Meditation: Mindfulness in Motion


Abstract
Since the age of 14, I have been deeply connected to the experience of riding a motorcycle. With each passing spring, I look more fondly on the ritual of pulling my motorcycle out of the shed and hitting the open road. The more I talk to fellow motorcycle riders, the more I hear riding being talked about as a meditation. What is it about riding a motorcycle that can create this meditative state? The main idea I would like to explore in this paper is this idea that motorcycling is a about truly staying in the present moment, a form of mindfulness and meditation. I will talk about the physical and mindful aspects of riding that can lead to mindfulness. I will do this by referencing books on motorcycle travel, articles and books on mindfulness, my own experience with daily riding journals, and my experiments with breath work on the bike. I will also poll other riders on their thoughts of how motorcycling can bring them mindfulness, peace and enjoyment in the present moment. In the end, I will also discuss how motorcycling can produce increased awareness, decrease stress, and remind us of our own mortality. How do these ideas affect our riding and meditation?




  

Mindfulness in Motorcycling
The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower.
(Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, p.21)


What is it about riding a motorcycle down the road that attracts so many people all over the world from different walks of life? Is it the feeling of connection with our immediate surroundings: wind, rain, sun, and temperature of all sorts? Is it the sound of the engine? Is it the thrill of speed? Perhaps it is all of this and more.
            When I was 14, I remember the first time I took off down an open trail on my first dirt bike. After I figured out the gears and the shifting part, I felt like I was riding my own personal rocket ship. I was hooked immediately. Whatever it was about riding this mechanical device, I knew I wanted more.
            25 years, and many miles later, I still experience the same excitement with riding each and every time I step outside with my helmet in hand, and my leather jacket on. There was something truly unique about the experience of being on a motorcycle. For many years, I could not articulate why I loved to ride so much. Each year my passion grew for this sport. It didn’t matter if I was running down the store for a slice of pizza on my bike or ripping down the highway at over 100 miles an hour. All I knew was when I encountered an open stretch of road with no one ahead, and no one in my rear view mirror, I was in a state of oneness with the road and my motorcycle. Whatever negative feelings I was experiencing that day, would be replaced with a sense of peace when I hopped on my bike.
            I had started meditating in 1999 and doing yoga in 2000. I remembered the sense of peace and clarity I received from practicing these disciplines. I finally noticed a few years back one day on a long ride, that the feelings I felt when I rode a motorcycling, were very similar to the feelings I felt when I practice yoga and meditation. What was the feeling that I could not explain?  I started to look at motorcycling sites, books and magazines in more recent years to see if other riders talked about this phenomenon. What were others’ thoughts and feelings as a result of riding a motorcycle? Since we take in a good deal of feeling through our senses, it may be helpful to look at a few senses in relation to riding a motorcycle. Maybe looking at some of these senses will help better explain the feeling of peace one can have on a motorcycle.
Sound-Garri Garripoli, author, long time Qigong practitioner, and motorcycle enthusiast, in his book The Tao of the Ride, says “There is something about being on a bike alone, cruising down the road in the silence of a loud engine and pounding wind. In these moments, everything can seem perfect” (1999, p. 9). 
There are so many sounds to experience while riding a bike. One of the prevailing sounds is the roar of an engine perched in between two wheels. Unlike a car, you are sitting on an engine while riding a motorcycle. You are in close contact with the experience of the sounds that the engine makes. The roar of the engine fills your ears as you go down the road. With a motorcycle, you can hear what the engine is saying more directly. To go down the road and focus on the sound of your engine, can bring your senses alive. John Kabat Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at University of Massachusetts Medical School asks us to just be present when hearing sounds. He says in such moments of allowing sound in, “you can let go of yourself completely, opening once again to the sound and the spaces between sounds, and to the silence lying inside and underneath sound” (Zinn, 2005, p. 282). Sound could very well add to this feeling of peace. If we are just listening to what is going on as we ride down the road, not necessarily stuck in heavy thoughts of the day, we are just listening, being present with the moment.
Sight-“We see what we want to see, not what is actually before our eyes” (Zinn, 2005, p. 196). I think this idea is true to fit what we want our reality to be.  On a motorcycle, the opposite of this idea may be true; we have to see what is before our eyes. We do not have time to see anything else. The reality of what is coming into our vision is an immediate reality. We don’t have the time, or the control to see something else. We cannot change what the eyes are taking in on a motorcycle; we have to just accept most things as they come to us. If we try make explanations of what we are seeing as something else, or even forbid we close our eyes to what we see, we could cause our selves great suffering. Since the motorcycle, by its nature, forces us to take in what we see as fact, it keeps us honest. We can’t con ourselves into seeing something untrue. This honesty can gives us time to attend with soft focus on the beauty of nature around as we ride.
Smell-Smell is another one of our senses that is in direct contact with the outside world while we are riding a motorcycle. Like the other sense, the body receives smell. We don’t have to actively seek out smells on a motorcycle; they come right into our field of being. The smells while on a motorcycle can be amazing. Whether it is from passing a field of flowers, a farm full of haystacks, or even a dead skunk, the olfactory experience can be intense. We can take in these smells the same way we take in sights and hearing. We observe the experiences without judgment, because we don’t need to. We allow them to passively add to our experiences as we ride down the street. Again, John Kabat Zinn describes using this sense, like the others in hopes of keeping us in the present tense of our experience. “Scents and fragrances can plunge us into grief or ecstasy. And yet, and yet,…they wake us up too, invite us to surrender entirely to the present, basking in the fragrance and fragrances of now” (p. 227)
Vibration (Full body tactile sensation)- Feeling the vibration put forth by a running motorcycle with your whole body, is the most powerful of all the senses. I remember the first time I rode my first street motorcycle on the road at age 23. The vibrations of the bike made me break out laughing and yelling “yahoo!” as I rode down the street. It was an exhilarating feeling. It reminds you that you are really out there, risking life and limb on a machine that you need to give your full awareness and respect to. Feeling the motorcycle vibrate is almost a way to force you into a state of heightened awareness. You understand that this machine is serious business and you better pay attention or there could be consequences. I am in agreement with Garripoli when he talks about the idea of being fully present on a running motorcycle. “I get on my bike and I am fully in my body, the noise and vibration won’t let me forget. My senses become superbly acute as I assess the world I am about to ride into” (1999, p. 69).
Being a student of healing modalities, and doing a little research on the chakras (energy channels of the body that are supposedly able to receive energy from outside the body), I used to joke, that the vibrations of a motorcycle are opening up my “motorcycle chakras.” For me, there was actually truth in my own humor. I knew that for me, there was something about all these senses coming together that created peace and clarity of mind.
Each time you ride down the road on a motorcycle, you are out in the open with the wind blasting you, reminding you of how fast you are going. Every sense is set on hyper alert. You become distinctly aware of what you are doing, because you are in direct contact with your environment. You experience a symbiosis with the motorcycle and your environment. You notice things on a motorcycle that you may not notice in a car. If the road is calm enough, and you can allow all the senses to just roll into your body, you begin to experience oneness with your bike and what is around you. You are observing life with a present state of mind.
In 2005, I was reading an on-line motorcycle web site when I encountered a quote by the editor that made me smile. These words spoke to me, and help me articulate what I had been feeling for years, but did not know how to put accurately into my own words.
We have a wacky theory for why people like to ride motorcycles, and it goes like this: The act of riding is a form of meditation, because the concentration that's required to safely ride a motorcycle tends to focus the mind in a way that eliminates other mental distractions that might interfere with the mission. This creates a single-mindedness that, in effect, displaces the continuous stream of thoughts that normally flow through our consciousness" (WebBikeWorld.com, para. 1).

            This description put into words what I had been feeling for years: The experience of riding a motorcycle felt like a form of meditation. The more I began to talk to other riders on the subject, the more I heard the act of riding being referred to as a form of peace and meditation.  The author of the above quote goes on to talk more about this comparison:
Thoughts about what to eat, who to meet, and worries about the common stresses of everyday life, such as pressures from work and home, disappear from our minds during the ride, because the concentration that’s necessary to focus on the ride pushes those thoughts far into the background. (WebBikeWorld.com, para. 2).

For some folks, riding a motorcycle down the road can create a different state of mind.
The focus switches from a day filled with hundreds of thoughts, to a more open, aware, receiving mode of body and mind. Riding, simply by its challenging nature, demands a type of focus that simplifies the thought process. No time to think about the stresses of the day at that moment. I would agree that riding does displace thoughts, but not necessarily gets rid of them. They are still there, and may even pop up while riding. The difference is you may only have a brief second to acknowledge this thought before it is filed somewhere else in the mind, and the mind brings back its attention to the experience of riding.
So how does this meditative feeling come to be? Does the physical act of riding a motorcycle cause this feeling, or to you have to adopt a mindful feeling before you get on a motorcycle so you can have a safe ride? Do the sum total of the senses coming together create this meditative feeling? If we are using the words: mindfulness and meditation, we should get an idea of what we are talking about first.  I will address this question by looking at some contemporary ideas of mindfulness and meditation from authors and sources that are speaking of these ideas independent of motorcycling.
We should first look at the word mindfulness. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the word “mindful” is defined as Attentive; heedful (2001, p 834). This definition seems to fit our discussion. Attentiveness as we have discussed, is a very important part of riding.  To ride is to have awareness in all directions, all of the time. Dropping your attentiveness, even for a second can mean disaster. In the book “What the Buddha Taught” written by Walpola Rahula, meditation is talked about as “producing a state of mental health, equilibrium and tranquility” (1959, p. 67). Could it be inferred that this attentiveness or awareness could cause a state of peace.
As mentioned earlier, the rider and the machine together create an oneness. There are sensations coming from the motorcycle to the rider. There are also sensations from the outside environment coming to the rider as well. The rider on his or her motorcycle becomes the very center of all this stimuli. Dan Seigel, in his book Mindsight, talks about this idea of the mind being at the center of awareness. He uses the image of a bicycle wheel to demonstrate a basic concept of awareness. He asks us to picture the mind as a “wheel of awareness” (Siegel, 2010, p. 91). There is a rim on the outside that represents all the possibilities that come into our awareness. The spokes of the rim connect these aspects of awareness to the hub at the center of the wheel. The hub is the part that receives all of these stimuli, and is the center of awareness.
We can take this idea and modify it a bit to apply it to riding a motorcycle. The person will represent the center of awareness as the hub. The motorcycle itself can be a representation of the spokes, and the surrounding environment can represent the rim. The motorcycle is the mechanism that helps bring awareness to the rider as the center of the experience. It connects us to the ground physically and all of the road sensations that come up: potholes, bumps, water, road kill, etc.  It carries us through the air to feel the wind, see the sights and smell the smells.
The person becomes the center of the awareness. As the hub, the person is the receiver of all these things. From maintaining speed on the throttle with the right hand, to shifting up or down with the left foot, to pulling in the clutch handle with the left hand, all the while monitoring both front and back brakes with one hand and one foot. This is the physical manipulation part of riding. All of the other senses mentioned before are engaged as well. This can be a lot to take in. To operate a motorcycle, it would be very advantages to the rider to be in observation mode as opposed to a heavy thinking mode. If you are distracted, your ride may be unpleasant in many ways.
We can begin to see the comparison of riding a motorcycle to moving meditating:  In both, you are aware, you are present, and you are taking everything that is coming up and not getting too attached to ideas or feelings that deeply, so you can be aware of the experience at hand. You are taking in the tiniest of sounds, smells and physical body awareness.  To explore this further, generally speaking, in a sitting type meditation, you are sitting in a position that is conducive to breathing and just being present. Breathing in mediation is an essential component to the experience. The breath can be the anchor to keep your mind from wondering all over the place. If you are just focusing in on the breath coming and falling out, you are less focused at all of life’s distractions at that vey moment. Vietnamese monk and author, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, “Whenever you mind becomes scattered, use your breath as a means to take hold of your mind again” (Hanh, 1975, p.15)
Riding journal-I wanted to explore the idea of using breath work on the motorcycle. Does this component for meditation work the same way on a motorcycle as it does for sitting meditation? I began a journal of focusing on breathing from my motorcycle rides. I first experimented with paying attention to the rhythms of my breathing as I was on the motorcycle.  In later experiments, I did breath work and mediation before I even left the house and got on my motorcycle to see if there was a difference in effect.
4/23/10-“Have been experimenting focusing on my breathing while riding. I first began trying a long inhale and a long exhale while going down back roads on the way the way to work. No hurry, just following the breath. Instantly I noticed how difficult this was going to be. I could not sink up my slow, steady breathing to the pace of the traffic. I tried different patterns; long in, long out, long in short out, Short in short out. The pace of the breath seemed to following my reaction to the flow of the traffic. I also noticed that I held my breath as well. Have I always done this?”
2/24/10-“Found that on longer straighter roads in the country, my ideal breath was long inhale, and long exhale. This felt the most natural of the breath patterns. Took the highway home from the ride and it was very windy. I was really concentrating on keeping the bike steady on the highway and I was scared a bit. I was scared enough not to try and focus on the breath. Got off the highway.”
2/26/10-“Coming home after work around 9pm. Road was pretty clear except for stoplights. Holding my breath again. Hard to match breath with the frequent stoplights. Before I headed home, I went on the loop near my house that a river runs by. The road was completely open, and I got to lock onto my breathing. Wow, this felt great! Just focusing on the in and out of my breath actually made me slow the motorcycle down slightly to take in more of the ride. I have been riding along time, yet this felt like a new feeling to me.
4/29/10-“Got onto more back, country roads after work and got a chance to stretch out on the road. No backpack, no rushing anywhere, no traffic, just riding. Got to feel the feeling again of being in sync with my bike and all around me. Big smile, this is great! Sometimes it would only last for a few seconds due to the traffic.”
5/1/10-“Started to try and use the breath before I went riding this time. Sat for about 20 minutes with my eyes closed before I headed out, just watching my breath come in and out. I felt very centered as I mindfully put on my safety gear. Hopped on the bike and went the back roads to Walden Pond in Concord Ma. I felt very calm as I pulled out into traffic for the first time. I felt very happy to find that I could focus on my breath again without reacting to quickly to my environment. This is a good thing. I got to “plan ahead” more. I could see things happening further down the road this time. My awareness of what was happening had expanded to encompass a further distance in front of me.”
5/2/10-“This time I tried both using the breath 20 minutes before a ride and during the ride itself. This seems to be the best trial yet. Got up early in the morning, Sunday and headed out at 8am. Seems to be a good time to be on the road. The breath work before the ride was no problem. It took a minute or two to get into the rhythm of breathing out on the road. The sensation of riding from this last trial made things feel like floating. I was not looking down at my speed or looking at my handlebars. I had my eyes softly gazing in front of me, aware of all I could see forward or side-to-side. I knew the bike was under me, but I felt like I was floating a few feet above the road. I might have felt this feeling in the past and not noticed, but I was distinctly aware of the sensation at this moment. To compare this to the feeling I get when I meditate, I would say that the sensations are almost identical. The only real difference is the level of active participation with the motorcycle as opposed to sitting in my room in a chair when I meditate.  I am very excited to continue this experimentation with breath focus from this point forward.”
Was I alone in these feelings? I thought it would be a good time to check in with other motorcycle riders. I frequent a site on the Internet that talks about the many adventures and wonders of motorcycle riding. I decided to put up a post to see how other folks’ thought about the subject of the meditative feelings that biking seemed to bring. I posted a thread called “Motorcycling as a meditation,” and got an overwhelming response! Seems other folks’ had some thoughts on the subject as well. I tried not to lead things too much when I posed the question: “What is it about riding that brings you peace?”
I started first by just looking at common words that came up. When I did this tally, the thread was new, and there were about 19 people who had responded at this point. The thread has more than doubled since then. Either this exact word came up or a variation of it:
1.     Focus-10
2.     Meditation-4
3.     Sound-3
4.     Smell-3
5.     Speed-3
6.     Wind-3
7.     Peace-2
8.     “Pick a line”-2
9.     Breathing-2

It seems that some common themes and ideas coming out from the question that I put forth. Some responses from riders were as short as one sentence. Some were almost a whole page. The level of information was great enough to make this paper endless. I emailed a few of the riders to get permission to use ideas and quotes for my research. Some riders will remain anonymous, others allowed me to use their screen names.
Reg Kittrelle-“Focus is the key component in riding successfully. Risk exercise puts the body at an alert stage, which causes certain physiological changes. The positive part of this is that it focuses the mind. On the negative side, it can disrupt a normal breathing pattern and cause an adrenal and endorphin surges which impedes smooth operation.”
The word focus has come up a lot in my research so far. Riding does demand attention of the mind and body. As I have found on my riding and journaling, the natural risk of riding a motorcycle can also can make your attention go elsewhere and interrupt a normal thought pattern or breathing pattern.
Blue & Yellow-“I’ve said it before and I will say it again: as humans we’re always planning ahead, thinking about the future. However, when I ride my motorcycle, I exist only in the now. I guess that the psychologically best way to describe it is that we enter a flow like state where not much more exists than the road, the motorcycle and us.”
From my experience of using breath and meditation, I would agree that staying in the present is a key component to not allowing distractions to take the mind away from what it is doing. Ideas, thoughts, feelings, emotions can all pop up when we are closing our eyes and having a quiet moment. We don’t have to cling on to any of them to too long, we can just let them go by and return to our breath and mediation. The same can be said for riding. All kinds of distractions can come up on the road. We just can come back to riding and let all other things just go by.
Kamala-“When riding, my mind and senses becomes all encompassed in the ride.”
Again, the idea comes up of all the senses coming together as well as the mind. Whether by our fear, or just plain love of riding, we can enter a state of oneness with our senses, the motorcycle and the ride itself.
Anonymous-“A few years ago in a wide open country I rode 130 mph for 15-20 minutes. When I stopped, the sensation was very much the same as after 40-60 minutes of meditation/yoga. Perception, attention & focus with a neuro-chemical result.”
Even though the actual word “speed” was not mentioned very much in the beginning of this thread, it was alluded to quite a bit. For some, speed did not matter. It seems for others that the speed at which they are traveling have a relation to the amount of feeling that someone can have on a motorcycle.
In meditation, not everyone has the same technique for achieving a certain state of conscientious. Some use breath, some use visualization, others chant. Does not matter how you get there, as long as you know what works for you to get that state.
            Motomike_14- “Motorcycling is a certain escape for me. In some scenarios, there is a definite meditation to it because I can get away from the norm and the over bearing things involved in daily life.”
            Motorcycling for sure can be an escape as you twist the throttle down the open road or just cruise slowing and take in the world. Generally speaking, meditation can be seen as an escape from our daily lives. I would suggest that rather than escaping, meditation could offer us a chance to see certain things in a different light. We may not be able to escape certain thoughts, feelings or emotions. They are in there (mind and body), part of us, escaping from them may not work altogether. These feelings or thoughts can pop back up no matter how hard we try in pushing them away, or running away from. One may use meditation to just observe things swimming around in our minds and acknowledge them. “You can have those thoughts and feelings and also be able to just notice them with the wisdom that they are not your identity. They are simply one part of your mind’s experience” (Siegal, 2010, p. 91).
            If we get caught up in thoughts in our head, in life, it can cause sorrow or suffering. Get caught up in thoughts on a motorcycle, you can be putting your self in great danger. Put another way, by Ted Simon, a man who spent 4 years in the 70’s riding around the world on a Triumph motorcycle: “Why does the mind the mind dwell so much on the down side of life, when the present is so exhilarating and satisfying” (Simon, 1979, p. 24)?
            Looked at so far, is the possibility, that riding a motorcycle can be seen as a form of meditation or at least helping one get into more of a present state of mind. From my journal and other’s voices as well, I would venture to claim that this act of riding has an can improve the quality of people’s lives even if only briefly. From some, it decreases stress, for others, their awareness is heightened, for some it is just a relaxing experience they do not need to put words into.
            Non-mindful state-So what happens on the other side of the coin? What can be the results if a present state of mind is not found on the motorcycle, or in our daily lives? As we has briefly mentioned earlier, not being mindfully in tune with what you are doing a motorcycle can have dangerous or even fatal results. There are two phrases I would like to use here to help demonstrate what mindful and non-mindful states may do for us: Pick a line and Target fixation.
Target fixation- When I was 16, I took a driver education course. A phrase kept coming up, called target fixation. I remember being basically told, that where you eyes go, the car will go. If you stare at the yellow line in the middle of the road, you and then vehicle will be drawn towards it. This is even more exaggerated on motorcycle. The motorcycle is more responsive to the rider’s body movements. The person on the motorcycle has to take in all of the surroundings ahead and his or her peripheral vision. If you get stuck, or fixated on one object, you can be drawn right towards it. This point could not be better summed up by Carlo Strenger, PhD: “The key to avoiding potholes or rocky slopes is to detach our gaze from them. Miraculously, if you do not look at the danger, but rather where you want to go, the bike will effortlessly lean into the corner and go where you want it to” (Strenger, 2004, p. 647).
In meditation, this theory can apply as well. If we are trying to focus on our breathing or object of our meditation while we are meditating, this may be helpful at keeping us in the moment. Other thoughts can and do come up. The problem could be when we lose our breath or focus, and start to fixate on one of the thoughts in our head floating by. We could latch onto an old thought or feeling and be drawn right into it completely, forgetting that we are sitting quietly, meditating.
Pick a line- The phrase “pick a line” was mentioned a few times in the thread that I had riders respond to. I don’t know exactly where the phrase started, but I would guess it came from or is used a lot in motorcycle racing. I have only heard of this phrase in reference to motorcycles so far. This phrase is similar and different from our previous term. As I said before, the bike will go where your eyes go. In picking a line, you are intentionally looking at something, usually contours, colors, or shapes of a road as you are riding. You are picking where you want the bike to go. However, you are not fixating on the particular object or spot in the road for a great length of time. Your focus is softer, and you are taking in the whole picture. If you are about to go around a corner and you know there is pothole on the outside of the corner of the road, you will look ahead to inside of the corner so you can avoid the pothole. You are looking through the area of the turn, not directly into it. If you look directly at the pothole as you are riding, you will be drawn right towards it.
How can picking a line work for meditation? Since we may not want to fixate on a thought, feeling, or emotion that has entered our conscientious while we are meditating. Instead, we want to use our soft focus to keep us anchored while meditating. Softly focusing on the breath, an object or even a chant can keep us anchored to what we are doing in meditation. We are in sense, picking our line. The line is the method we chose to use to stay on track with what we are doing. We are choosing to look objectively at things coming and going. We are not using hard focus on anyone thing, we are again taking in all things, but the line is holding us on track.
The consequences of non-mindful riding and non-mindful meditative practice can be seen as similar. However, if we can learn something from these phrases, for just motorcycling alone, we might find that developing the correct perception can help add to the experience of motorcycling as a meditative experience. “Looking far enough and developing depth of vision does not just increase your safety and speed. It generates pleasure, harmony, and a sense of effortlessness that, at moments turns motorcycling into a meditative experience” (Strenger, 2004, p. 648).
In the end, there can be many reasons one could call motorcycling a form a meditation. From the physical act of riding that can produce a state of mindfulness by its attentive nature, to the heightening of the senses, which can cause increased awareness. Through my personal riding journals and input from other riders, it can be seen that motorcycling can be thought of as an experience that can bring clarity, joy and a sense of peace.
References
Company, H. M. (2001). The american heritage dictionary: fourth edition (21st century reference) (4 Reissue ed.). New York: Dell.
Garripoli, G. (1999). Balance, Senses. The tao of the ride: motorcycles and the mechanics of the soul (pp. 9, 69). Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI.
Hanh, T. N. (1975). The miracle is to walk on earth. The miracle of mindfulness (p. 15). Boston: Beacon Press.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Coming to our senses: healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York, New York 10023: Hyperion Books @.
Korchak, R. (n.d.). webBikeWorld. webBikeWorld. Retrieved April 20, 2010, from http://webbikeworld.com
Pirsig, R. (1976). Chapter 1. Zen and the art of motorcycle maintence (p. 21). United States and Canada: Bantam.
Rahula, W. (1959). Meditation or mental culture. What the buddha taught (p. 67). New York, New York: Grove Press, Inc..
Siegel, D. J. (2010). A roller coaster mind. Mindsight: the new science of personal transformation (p. 91). United States and Canada: Bantam.
Simon, T. (1979). Trouble with mars. Jupiters Travels: Four Years Around the World on a Triumph (p. 24). New York: Jupitalia Productions.
Strenger, C. (2004). Of potholes and bends: a meditation on psychoanalysis and motorcycle riding. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 21(4), 647-648.


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