When Jacqui and I started cycling we were both in reasonably high pressure jobs. Cycling on day runs of short tours had to be fitted in as time and work allowed.
However, we soon came to see cycling as a way of releasing us from the pressures of work. We knew that two hours into a run we would begin to relax. We referred to cycling as our ’emotional laxative’: it freed up bits of us physically and mentally and helped us relax. This relaxing was very obvious and happened pretty well ever time we went out for a few hours or days on the bikes.
At the time we though this was down to the rhythm of pedalling and the physical demands of the exercise. We both knew that exercise was a good way of reducing stress and assumed that was what was going on. Cycling seemed to reduce our stress, ‘in the moment’ and overall. Jacqui has done yoga and meditation for years: I knew something about ‘mindfulness’ and so we assumed that cycling was a form of mindful activity that put us in touch with our breathing and so our thoughts.
Likewise, when I used to commute to work, the cycle home was always a chance to re-visit the battles of the working day, celebrate the ones I’d won and re-run the ones I had lost. I never failed to come home more energised and refreshed than I had left work.
I put this down at the time to the emotional release that came from physical exercise and the rhythm of the ride. But now an alternative explanation has presented itself.
I am reading, Richard Louv’s, “Last Child in the Woods: saving our children from Nature-Deficient Disorder”. It’s fascinating, in part because Louv has the ability to use words to say what others have felt for themselves, but have not been able to express, so his reflections reframe his readers’ experiences.
His big point is that children and adults alike benefit from being in nature – out in the wilds if possible. Nature opens the individual’s senses and lifts their spirits. As he puts it, “The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses”.
By Louv’s ideas, nature is part balm, part stimulant and altogether an anti-depressant. So. is it possible that this was what was going on when we were out on our bikes? Could it be being in nature for a few hours or days works the magic, rather than the exercise I thought was the key? Did my cycle-commutes home relax me because my route home took me along the Aberdeen seafront?
One well-remembered fact speaks to the truth of this. Just beyond Aberdeen’s football stadium a tunnel takes you through onto the esplanade. I never once made that turn onto the beach-front without a whoop of joy as I saw, heard and felt the force of the North Sea waves as they came to shore. Whatever the weather conditions, however good or bad, the effect was always the same – a sense of elation and release, immediate and powerful in the same moment.
Next time we are out on the bikes we will have something else to talk about: but in truth whatever the answer, it will only be another reason to be thankful that its possible to be out there on the bike, hearty and reasonably healthy – pedalling on regardless, if you like.