September 27, 2013

My Guru Wears a Bike Helmet. ~ Angela Yazbek

Ever hear the sound of air draining out of a bike tire?

That’s what my spirit felt like the day my friend Malcolm showed up on my front porch. My adrenalin-junkie Australian neighbor had just plunked down a well-worn mountain bike at my feet. His only words to me:

“We leave at 10:00 a.m. Sharp.”

I had apparently agreed, at a dinner party the night before, to a two-hour ride. It would be “fun” (Australian for punishing). He was lending me his wife’s bike. She, by the way, is an Ironman triathlete.

I was sleepy, lazy and way out of my league, quietly looking forward to a restful and restorative yoga class. It was all my body wanted to give on this hot summer morning.

Little did I know, my Aussie ally was about to guide me through a yoga class of his own making, like nothing I could ever experience in the safety of my yoga studio. Headstand? Balance poses? Letting go? Sure, these can be intimidating. But with yoga, the option to retreat and rest is always there.

No judgment. No explanation needed.

But on a mountain bike? Put yourself in my saddle for a second—it’s not like you can center yourself in child’s pose when you’re in the bush. Unfortunately, that little insight came after we’d veered off the main road onto a makeshift bike path, about the width of a yoga block.

My mat was now made of tree branches, roots, sand and muck. My legs scraped and muddied, I rode along, perspiring heavily in the 35-degree heat. Silencing my inner yogini, I quietly cursed my friend for the unfamiliar trail mined with hazard after hazard. It was all I could do to just stay on the bike.

Why was I here? Why did I even agree to this?

Now that was a familiar feeling, one that comes up often: resisting what is right in front of me. 

Just like a yoga pose that feels too hard, too much on some days, I was dodging the discomfort.

I needed to take the yogic path and drop the hostility, to soften and relax into this ride, as I would in any challenging posture. I gently reminded myself to be here and not somewhere easier.

And that’s when it hit me like a wall of Bikram yoga heat: I was still practicing yoga, just on a bike instead of a mat.  And as with any challenging yoga class, I remembered some of the basic principles I try to follow:

Awareness of Mind, Body & Breath

Staying on the bike and on the trail required focus. Much like yoga. This was not the time to make my grocery list. I needed to be completely in my yoga pose (or in this case, my bike saddle) lest I fall out of either of them.

Drishti, focus your gaze

“Look where you want to go. Not where the hazards are,” Malcolm advised.

“Drishti,” I thought, “I need to find my drishti.”

As I crossed a narrow bridge, I focused on a single point in front of me. I kept my balance and kept myself solidly on my bike.


As I hoisted my bike over my head and hauled it up an unrideable patch, I silently gave thanks for every time my arms have held my body in a plank. Those strong arms made it all possible.

Trust that you can do more than you think

“You have to trust your bike and take a leap of faith.”—another piece of sage advice from my guru, as I balked at a stretch of soft mud.  Just as I learned to trust my arms and core to hold me in crow pose, I needed to believe that if I pedaled hard enough I could clear the wet, murky patches. Could I trust my bike, this extension of my body, to carry me through? I would love to tell you I did. Another practice, another day.

Finding the sweet spot

Finding the ease and stability in a pose, ah, that sweet spot: sheer lightness and joy. I was now finding the same in a patch of wild grass almost as tall as I was. The ride, here, was effortless and reminded me that blissful moments can come even in a jungle of obstacles.

Maybe life is one big yoga mat. And, maybe my thrill-seeking mate dishing out his blunt Aussie advice, is the unassuming yogi neither of us knew he had in him.

Feeling guilty about not getting to yoga class today? Pause, breathe, look around you. You have the opportunity to practice yoga right now, wherever you are. No mat required.


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Assistant Ed: Kristina Peterson/Ed: Sara Crolick

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Angela Yazbek