Yoga and the Art of Riding

Since the age of 5 I have been riding. I started out on a tiny little, automatic 50cc Honda, rolling around on my parents farm in West Virginia. Back then my sister and I, being the children of hippy German/Iranian homesteaders, used to wear lederhosen with suspenders. Our dad would hold those suspenders and steady us as we rode circles around the yard. I recall having a bit of a hard time differentiating between the brake from the throttle, so when my dad would say brake and hold tight to the back of my suspenders, I would rev the gas and up the front tire would go and we would go wheeling all over, with my dad yelling, “Brake, brake,” and me giving more and more gas…perhaps foreshadowing?

But eventually things seemed to click, and we moved on up to a Honda 80, then a 125cc and finally graduated onto a Honda Ascot 550, our first roadworthy and legal ride. Bikes came and went around the farm, BMW R1100s, my dear ol bumblebees, Bultacos, Bonnevilles, plenty of Hondas, Yamahas, and even some vintage BMWs. All beauties, all fast, all fun and mostly all reliable except perhaps the princes of darkness; the Triumphs. Buggers!

During the summers, my whole family would take weekend day trips, sailing along the small, winding back mountain roads, following our noses, ending up where we ended up. For those of you who don’t know, West Virginia is a bikers’ dream. There are roads that have perfectly slanted switchbacks that go on for miles. Lean to the right, the left, the right, the left….on and on you go, watching the scenery fly by, with rarely another car or bike along the way.

It was on those roads that I began to understand yoga and the art of riding. There is an undeniable union that takes place between you and your bike and your bike and the road. There is a balance that you must find, a push and a pull, a softness within the hardness. Similarly in Dancer’s pose, in yoga, you must reach forward while simultaneously kicking your foot back into your hand. It is that action and counteraction that allows you to sore.

Let me brake it down…when coming into a right hand curve, many may think, myself previously included, that you turn the handlebars of your bike to the right and you do this by pulling with your right hand. While that will most likely get you around the curve, the true magic happens when you actually push with your left hand rather than pull with your right. It is that subtle pressure from the upper side that then allows you to find the perfect lean, the perfect hugging of the curve. And  again, as you come out of the curve, instead of pushing your right hand to straighten out the front tire, you simply release the pressure from your left hand, and woop, the bike stands right up.

For me yoga plays along those same lines. It is in the subtle movements that you find the most enlightening breakthroughs. Again, coming back to Dancer’s pose; I used to very much dislike this pose. Every time we were about to go into it, I would begin to tense up in anticipation that it was going to suck and I would probably fall out, like I did every time. And sure enough, I would forget to breathe because I was so tense and so determined to get through it, that I would fall out and become disappointed each time. It was not until one class where the teacher told us to let go of all our feelings and negative emotions about each pose. She told us to experience them in a new light, as if for the first time. And that was all it took, that simple statement. I was able to relax into the pose and hold it. The wobble was gone along with the uncertainty, annoyance, and doubt.

I have experienced a similar feeling while riding a bike. When you hit the road and you are perhaps slightly nervous, a little chilly, or maybe you are on a new bike, or with a new crew. Your body often tends to stiffen up, clench, and your movements become jerky and rigid. The whole fun of riding vanishes because you are constantly correcting and overanalyzing your every movement. If you can just let go, breathe, and relax into the ride, then that smooth, fluid like sailing comes back, and you realize once again why you ride.

I ride for mostly the same reasons I do yoga. There are very few times and places in my life where I can turn off everything, all the outside stimulations; my phone, my email, my computer, my husband, my children, my job, etc. and just be. I understand the comradery and the unsaid connection between bikers: we all want the same thing…freedom. And similarly with yogis, we are all working to free our minds from the constant chatter and clutter. Be here now. And there is nowhere else you can be on a bike then right where you are, right at that moment. Because if not, that semi could have you in his blind spot and boom, off the road you go.

So for all my fellow yogis, when the 18 wheeler of life runs you off the road, return to your practice. Live life for each moment, each second, be free, relax, notice the details, feel the wind in your hair, feel your breath against the tip of your nose, push your limits, stay humble, LIVE, turn off your phone, respect nature, let go, hold on, and enjoy the ride.