Bike Therapy Works

When I initially became involved as a volunteer with Sacred Cycle I knew mountain biking was more than a fun way to release stress. To me, it had been the cause of significant improvements in my mental health. I was not familiar with the theory or science behind why spending time on a bike is an effective enhancement to therapy and healing. Like me, you might be wondering, “Why does Sacred Cycle include biking to promote healing after sexual trauma?”

The Theory of Bike Therapy

The theory is really quite simple, it worked for the founder, Heather Russell (a survivor of childhood sexual abuse), and she believed it could help others as well. Not surprisingly, Sacred Cycle was born on a bike. About half-way through a long mountain bike training ride, Heather had the idea to combine the benefits of cycling with other healing modalities to help treat the complexities of sexual trauma and the subsequent side-effects that ensue. As she pedaled, the program that exists today unfolded. Sacred Cycle was founded high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in 2016 as a 501c3 corporation with the mission of healing our community by empowering survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault, through therapy and cycling; creating a sacred cycle of recovery.

Coaching Mountain Bike Skills

Kari Kotoff coaching mountain bike skills. Skills practice can help quiet the mind and build focus with practice.

The Science

Scientific studies show a significant tie between physical activity and being in nature that has numerous proven benefits to one’s mental health. Further studies are being conducted to research how mountain biking in particular, when combined with therapy, provides difficult, but attainable, challenges that reinforce traditional therapies including DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy).

How Biking Enhances Therapies

If you are not familiar with DBT, think of it this way. You rode a difficult hill. It was tough yet you did it. You returned to the same climb because you learned that the challenge will pass and that feeling was rewarding. This is a DBT exercise that had you experience one of the four main elements of DBT – distress tolerance. Sexual survivors have experienced extreme amounts of distress from sexual trauma. Learning to manage distress in relation to other stimuli is a useful tool in healing. Mountain biking is particularly effective at providing distress in a healthy fashion as it allows you to process it.

“When the summer riding season began, I could barely climb for more than 10 minutes. I felt defeated as we climbed Vail Mountain’s fire road. One August I found myself gazing across to the alpenglow of the Gore Range from MidVail. I had climbed 800 vertical while chatting my way up with my new biking buddies. I smiled in disbelief. Who’s legs were these I was standing on?!

Sacred Cycle’s Approach

Bottom Bracket of Mountain Bike

Pedaling through different days is beneficial to building confidence.

Now, you might be wondering how Sacred Cycle incorporates biking into its program. The signature Sacred Cycle program, which runs five months between May 1st and October 1st, named “Frame” includes mountain biking in conjunction with clinical therapy to empower survivors to reconnect with their bodies by building emotional, mental and physical strength on and off the bike. It includes the following biking components (in addition to the clinical therapeutic components):

  • A biking coach for individual instruction, group rides, and individual skill development – from beginner to advanced, available twice monthly for five months.
  • A monthly regional active participant and alumni group ride
  • A weekly regional community ride open to the public men and women, designed for beginner to intermediate riders to connect with the community and develop riding peers. Survivors are not identified.
  • Athletic goods: Bike, helmet, shoes, soft goods, and assorted accessories.
  • End of program retreat and a culminating event.

While you may not be a survivor, can you intellectually connect the benefits of biking and how it allows us to heal through experiencing stress and processing it? Bike therapy works. Close your eyes and recall the last time you climbed that tough hill and made it to the top.

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