Recently I asked someone I’m close to for help with a challenging and persistent problem. She thought about it for a few weeks and then turned me down.
You know, I had been riding along OK up this hill I’m on. But when I heard her refusal, the pedals of my bike turned to lead. The steering got slushy. I felt a flat tire coming on.
And the particulars of her rejection put her in a light I hadn’t seen before. I’m not sure that I like what I now see in my old friend.
Pfffffft….there it went—all the air gone right out of my tire. My rim is on the road. Alternately sad and angry, I feel every little bump in the pavement jittering through my frame. I’d like to call it quits and take a taxi home.
But instead I take out my yogi road kit. There must be some tool in there to help me climb this hill with a deflated heart.
It’s the Tour de France, the endless bike ride through chateau country and up the angry Alps. I’m a racer in the middle of the pack, the peloton. Patanjali and the other ancient authors glide ahead in the lead, and other forgotten sages cut the wind in front of them.
With the help of the yamas and niyamas, I dismount the problem, find a safe place off the road and start to patch my tube.
Ahimsa reminds me to not retaliate against my friend as I contend with the pain of her refusal.
Satya tells me what I now see as a weakness in her may only be a refraction of my own hurt feelings.
Asteya steers me away from diminishing her own legitimate experience of my request for help.
Brahmacharya reminds me not to overindulge in reflecting on our pain-producing interaction.
Aparigraha says to not grasp for resolution. Healing will come on its own schedule, not on mine.
Practicing santosha helps me to seek contentment even as my feelings ache.
Svadhyaya and ishvarapranidhana remind to direct my attention inward and toward the infinite, likely the best way to squeeze the juice out of this experience.
This is a good start.
Then, like working the tube back onto the rim of the bike tire, asanas get the twists out and bring me into alignment. Ever so slightly, they free my body and emotions to heal from within.
My pranayama practice stimulates the healing energy that rests in the still small voice of the breath. Under its influence, my jarring emotions fall into the background for a few minutes every day; the intelligence of my mind willingly surrenders for a moment to the wisdom of my heart.
Like the regular rhythm of a bicycle pump, my pranayama practice begins to re-inflate the tire. The recovery occurs incrementally, day by day. It’s fueled by my own desire to grow—by the biker’s love, if you will, of forward motion.
But by itself, the desire to grow wouldn’t be sufficient. What really gets me riding straight again is the deftly constructed framework of yoga. It’s surprisingly lightweight, like my bike, and of elegant design. It’s made of a remarkable material, which the Upanishads describe in the following passage.
“No matter what they are in the world—whether it is a tiger, a lion, a wolf, a boar, a worm, a moth, a gnat, or a mosquito, they are all made of that. The finest essence of all of them is the self of this whole world.
That is the truth; that is the self.*”
The self is a miraculous and composite material. My yogic bike is made from it, and it’s the stuff that enlivens me and my friend. For this particular road repair, awareness of the self by far the most powerful tool in my Patanjali tool pouch.
As I climb back on my bike and head up the hill, my mind momentarily holds the idea that the same self fuels every other biker in this great melee I’m riding in. It’s a powerful thought.
Though I’ll rejoin the pack with a new ache on board and an evolving understanding of my friend, there will be amazing fire in my quads.
* Chandyoga Upanishad, 9:3 Translated by Patrick Olivelle