Biking is one of those outdoor activities that one has a love – hate relationship with depending on one’s physical conditioning, endurance and the ability to enjoy solitude. For several summers, we biked as a family, our young daughters trudging along in their Burleys. But there has come a point where they have outgrown these convenient, lightweight carriages but are still too young to bike long distances with us. Hence, for the last two summers, I’ve stayed home with them while their dad went for long weekend rides. Besides, I’ve favored indulging in intense, 90-minute yoga sessions during the weekends to boost my daily practice. Yesterday however, my husband prepped our bikes and it was impossible to resist the urge to accompany him (particularly when we have willing babysitters in visiting grandparents!). So, I laced up my hibernating sneakers and got on my bike…
This experience was totally different from my last ride two years ago. I followed my husband at a distance getting reacquianted with the bike, the seat, the gears and the roads. Within minutes, it was as if every cell in my body had become attuned with the environment – the crunch of the gravel, the clicking of the gears, the vibration under the bike as cars passed by, the symphony of the morning birds, the myriad of colors of wildflowers, the smell of the wet grass, the cacophony of dogs barking all at once, and the cool wind in my face. An acute awareness descended on me as I felt my muscles cry for oxygen and threatening to go into anaerobic metabolism, my heart and lungs working hard to provide the precious life-giving gas, and my brain effortlessly coordinating every activity like a seasoned conductor. Throughout the 10-mile ride, an intense joy came over me even as sweat poured and muscles whose existence I had forgotten announced their gratitude to be worked out. As I tuned in to the joy, Eckart Tolle’s words of “There is only this moment” came true. It then hit me that this was yoga!
Yoga is “union” in Sanskrit – union of awareness and movement, of body and thought, of consciousness with the unconscious to transcend the limitations of life as we know it. Yoga is more than exercise. In fact, for those who practice it regularly, yoga becomes a way of life. Yoga has transformed me as an individual in ways that astonish me. It has brought an intense awareness to every aspect of my life. Of my body – there are days when I can easily get into the headstand or effortlessly slip into Kapothasana (“King Pigeon”, an advanced yoga pose) or Chakrasana (“Wheel”, another advanced pose). On other days, I find it difficult to touch my toes with ease. This has brought an awareness of what makes my body more flexible – a light diet, warming up, staying active and hydrated. The motivation to get into and stay in advanced poses makes me choose healthier options. When in a pose and holding it for prolonged periods, the traditional teaching is to become aware of the breath and “let the breath body take over”. I’ve found that this is true for all other areas of life as well – letting the breath body take over when agitated, angry or fearful puts a space between the “me here” and “that there”. Thus, a shift in perspective occurs – gradual but definite and palpable. Becoming aware of the Self within has led to many other “perks” – greater creativity and focus, the ability to maintain one-pointed attention for extended periods, to take “good” and “bad” with increasing equanimity and grace and most importantly, the ability to relate on a much deeper level with one and all. I find this to be the greatest gift of yoga. Thanks to yoga, I connect with my patients in a way I didn’t before, somehow sensing that all that is going on in the other person to be going on within me. Likewise, there is a greater empathy while interacting with all – family, friends and even strangers. Finally, yoga has given me the ability to connect with myself and to see that none of what I see is me – not the face in the mirror or the body that can twist and turn into many poses, not the incessant stream of thoughts that claim to be me, not the ebb and flow of emotions that I thought defined my life so long ago. I am all of this, yet not this. I am much more that all of this, as evidenced by the occasional glimpse into the vastness of being. Yoga has taught me to feel pure joy just to be alive this moment.
As I found out this weekend, yoga can be performed ceaselessly – even on a bike ride.