Hitting the Open Road: A Meditation

Photo by Harley-Davidson on Unsplash

In 2018, Harley Davidson offered neuroscientist Dr. Don Vaughn a grant for researching whether, and how, one's mental state is altered when motorcycling. This study is still under peer review for academic publication, but might represent the average motorcyclist's brain on the road. The brain scans of participants directly off the bike were on average, more focused and less stressed, implying that during the ride, the brain had become more alert, yet less taxed or fearful. That state of mind sounds oddly similar to the ideal meditation practice, in which we notice our thoughts, but, like clouds, let them drift away. Of course, if you're a motorcyclist, you probably already knew this. 

While the science community catches up in data with the lived experience of extreme athletes, most anyone who rides 60 miles an hour down a highway knows that the mind feels different on the road. That's to say, what you feel is enough

I want to pay homage to the value of motorcycling as more than just the community, culture, and badassary. It's all important, including the intimate and healing experience. Maybe because it's considered so extreme, maybe because it's so traditionally patriarchal, motorcycling isn't always acknowledged for the impact it has on a person's emotional wellbeing. For every tech-guy who drums, and tax assistant who surfs, there's someone motorcycling. 

Your body already knows how to care for itself. Given the right environment, given the right exercise, it can begin to work its own kind of magic. If motorcycling is your meditation, here's how you can really embrace it. 

5 ways to exercise mindfulness during your ride 

  1. Come back to your "Why?" Why did you first start motorcycling, and why do you ride today? Even if your reason is simply that it feels good, reconnecting with your why is a subtle acknowledgment of your efforts to create peace and joy for yourself. Speaking of which, what about motorcycling brings you the most happiness? Maybe you ride to your favorite hiking spot, or perhaps seeing the sunset on your way home from work is your nightly touchstone. You might enjoy repairing bikes, or take a lot of pride in the fashion element. Whatever your why, make some space for it in your thoughts.
  2. Prepare to be comfortable and taken care of. Just like any other meditation, it's important to feel comfortable and relaxed before starting. How you practice is how you play, so to speak. Are you able to feel just 1% more comfortable and safe before hitting the road?
  3. Pay attention to your body. It might just surprise you. You may notice the different muscles that tense as you steer, or an ache you hadn't noticed before, or even the helmet, gloves and fabric against your skin. Checking in with your body consistently is a way to connect back with the fact that you're in movement, even if you are mostly sitting. Your body is the one in charge, after all. 
  4. Breathe consciously and fully... both your body and mind will thank you. It's common to tense and tighten your muscles unconsciously, especially when you're doing something demanding yet habitual like driving, or riding a bike. However, you can reclaim some of that time and feel-good brain chemicals through natural, conscious breath. 
  5. Feel the environment around you. Paying attention to yourself also looks like paying attention to your surroundings. Since you're obviously already doing this, what a great moment to practice passive attention. I'm not suggesting that you try to invoke deep meditation while biking, rather that you engage your senses and invoke a sense of clarity, really seeing and feeling all that is around you, but not sitting on that for longer than the moment requires.
It is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible - Jane Austen