(With apologies to Robert M Pirsig)
Ashtanga Yoga and the Art of Motorcyle Riding
Those of you who know me well also know how much I love riding my motorcycle, so I thought I’d write about Ashtanga Yoga and the art of Riding. I own a Honda NC750X and it makes a lot of sense for me.
The commute from my home in to the Te Aro Astanga Yoga shala is almost exactly 20kms, so the round trip is 40ks and I often do that twice a day. The saving, not only for petrol but also for parking, is huge. Besides the saving, I commute on my bike with a smile on my face.
When I have a morning class to teach I usually get up at just after 4 a.m. and I’m on my bike at 4.25. At this time of the day there is very little traffic on the road and the ride in to town, so long as it is not raining, is glorious. The minute I am on the bike I am awake and I arrive at the shala ready to go. This is in contrast to the mornings that it is raining really hard and I drive in. On those mornings I struggle to stay awake at the wheel!
I have ridden this commute countless times and it is over quite quickly but there is in it a parallel to my Ashtanga Yoga practice. The ride is the same, but it is never the same. I ride the same route with the challenge being not to slip into “automatic” but rather to be present for every moment of it, every time I do it. I practice Ashtanga Yoga and the art of riding.
It’s the same challenge I face when I do self-practice or “Mysore” classes and don’t have a teacher to feed me something new or exciting every practice. I need to pay attention to observe the difference in each practice, the new lesson there is in each practice. This is Ashtanga Yoga and the Art of riding
I started out with small cc bikes and have slowly progressed to bigger machines learning and building confidence all the time. My current 750cc bike is the most powerful I have owned. This bike and my previous 700cc bike opened up a whole new world of fun for me. I am, of course, talking about touring. Long distance rides on the open road. I had no idea how much fun they would be until I did some.
One of the big reasons for that enjoyment is that I did 2 “Ride Forever” motorcycle training courses. These gave me the tools I needed to ride safely and confidently and to enjoy it. My riding tutor’s rule number 1 was “don’t be a dickhead” but he also stressed practice. Same as Guruji, “practice, practice, practice.” Again, Ashtanga Yoga and the art of riding.
Every ride I practice the tools given to me and on a long (530 ks) ride I did recently it occurred to me that I could look at every ride through an “Ashtanga Yoga and the Art of Riding” lens. I’ve already written about needing to be focused and “in the moment”, which is essential. I also ready myself for every ride by taking a few calm, steady breaths in and out through my nostrils. I maintain this breath through the ride, constantly checking that it’s calm and regular. This keeps my mind focused and my body relaxed. Yes, Ashtanga Yoga and the art of Riding.
Cornering on a motorcycle is one of the greatest joys of riding, if you do it safely and smoothly. When I first set out I talk my way through the corners. I make sure that I approach every corner at the right speed, in the right gear and with the right line. I make sure that I see the road signs with the suggested speed for each corner. I practice and then I find that the process is happening without thought and my bike feels like it is an extension of myself. Then the smile on my face is huge. At times I catch myself laughing at the joy of it. Definitely Ashtanga Yoga and the Art of Riding!
Holding the gaze steady, Drishti, is an important feature of my Yoga practice and it is also crucial when riding. We talk about looking to the vanishing point when riding, particularly when cornering. This is where you are directing your energy. The bike will go where you are looking. This is one of the things that I have had to practice the most as my inclination is to look at the road directly in front of me. I constantly remind myself to keep my eyes up. It is the same in my yoga practice, especially early on. I needed to constantly remind myself of the Drishti and to hold it steady. Again, Ashtanga Yoga and the art….
When riding you are looking to where you are going but acting in the present. It is also essential to look behind you, to check your rear vision so that you are not taken by surprise. It seems to me a very Yogic way to be in life, acting in the present, directing my energy to where I want to go, aware of what has already happened or what might be coming up behind me. And practice, practice, practice. No wonder it brings me such joy. Ashtanga Yoga and the art of riding.