Coming home from teaching the other evening, I found my nearest and dearest as pleased as punch as he looked towards a line graph on his laptop. It was late on a Friday evening and I assumed he was still working, so I was confused by his happy demeanor, much as he loves his job!
All was revealed when he quietly mentioned that much to his surprise, he had clocked up as many miles as a car would over the course of a few years, yet his miles where on his pedal bike. A man who loves his gadgets, he invested in a little tracking tool back in 2010 as a fun way to monitor his daily commute and here he was looking back on the journey.
It was never his intention to reach a particular mileage in a certain amount of time and was purely incidental that he’d cycled the equivalent of almost 9 times there and back from John O’Groats to Lands’ End! For him, this was his mode of transport to and from work, a way to stay fit both physically and mentally, a form of mindfulness or even heartfullness that set him up for the day and helped him unwind at night. It brought to mind the question that if he’d set himself that initial goal to reach 15,000 miles in 3 or 4 years, would the target have seemed too huge to contemplate or even achieve? Like so many aspirations we might have, if the stakes are set too high, or the challenge too great, then we may be overridden by fear or feel defeated before we even start. And when it involves changing habits, starting and sticking to a new way of thinking, being or acting differently – taking those first steps to change can be extremely hard without the added pressure of meeting targets set upon ourselves.
We always talk about looking at the bigger picture, but sometimes it’s this big picture that’s too intimidating. When it comes to changing habits and achieving goals, whilst we want to have an outcome in mind to help to focus us, actually looking at the smaller day to day picture might prove an easier initial step to getting started, plus isn’t life so much sweeter when we’re living in the now? Most of us for example wouldn’t wake up and decide to run a marathon that day without any prior training, so why do we expect so often that we should become overnight experts in our chosen subject or that we should suddenly change the habit of a lifetime in a day? Putanjali’s three fold approach to kriya yoga or the yoga of action, is just one such way we can start to make changes in our yoga practice on and off the mat and unbeknown to my husband, he was in many ways living out Putanjali’s yoga sutra, tapas svadhyaya isvara pranidanah kriya yogah (chpt.II v I) as he took to two wheels.
Tapas which can translate as to ‘burn’ or ‘consistency’ can be seen as a way to bring discipline, it is both an action and an attitude and is done without attachment to the outcome. But it can also be seen as a way to purify the body, to burn off the toxins that we accumulate and to literally cleanse from the inside out. On our yoga mats, tapas can be seen as a daily or regular commitment to your yoga practice. It’s this consistency combined with pranayama and asanas that allow us to really get to know our body and to tap into the healing benefits of yoga as we start to work through any areas of tension and allow for the free flow or prana throughout our entire system.
But how does that translate onto two wheels? Well, there he was, come rain or shine, wind or snow, pedaling through the elements on his bike, not because he was attached to an outcome of trying to rack up the miles, but because he knew on those day that he didn’t cycle into work, things were profoundly different and not in a good way. On the days he did occasionally take the bus he would feel physically drained and sluggish. His body would arrive at work feeling stiff and lifeless and as much as he would try to let it go, he felt physically tense at the frustration of the stop, start slow nature of the bus ride and he would arrive into work with gritted teeth and shoulders around his ears! To cycle every day, just felt good to his body. Added to this, cycling each day was good for his brain and soul too. Suffice to say, one of hubby’s great passions from an age when his thighs were no wider than yoghurt pots, was cycling, and so to him, to do what he loves every day as part his daily routine is a no brainer.
You could say he is demonstrating svadhyaya, that self-awareness that allows us to get to know ourselves, to see things for what they really are and not what we perceive them to be. On our yoga mats, we are constantly enquiring and checking in with ourselves, trying to be an observer of our physical body, fluctuations of our mind and the flow of our breath. All of which can can be considered a form of svadhyaya. For my nearest and dearest, cycling gives him a perspective that allows him to be more of a witness to how his thoughts, actions and behaviours influence the way he sees himself and his interactions in the world. For him, cycling is a way he can tap into his own true nature, that part of him that is never happier than when the wheels are turning and he’s fleeting through the ever changing countryside. And this is what svadhyaya allows for, a space that allows us time to be with ourselves, so that in time, combined with consistency of practice, we can start to tap into that inner voice of wisdom that resides in each and every one of us. A voice, that should we allow it any air time, will help to bring about positive change to the way we participate in life.
As T.K.V. Desikachar says in Heart of Yoga, “We can never be sure of the fruit of our actions.” [p.14 Heart of Yoga], and there was hubby each day religiously taking to the pedals for the sheer love of it, not because he was attached to how far he could cycle in a year or even 4 years’ time. And that is what isvara pranidanah is all about. It translates as ‘surrendering to God’ or a ‘certain quality of action’ – an action that Shiva Rea describes as heartfullness. [http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/776]. On our yoga mats, we learn to accept ourselves each day we arrive to our practice and come to realise that we may feel completely different from how we felt yesterday or how we will feel tomorrow. If we can let go of these attachments to the outcome, (which might be for example thinking we need to get into the perfect pose), and start to be more heartfull and more present in our actions, then we start to surrender our own mind and ego and come to witness our true nature.
Sometimes, we might invoke strength from a particular faith or deity or offer up our practice to something or someone bigger than ourselves, but ultimately, this is about understanding that God exists within each and every one of us. Putanjali’s yoga sutra, tapas svadhyaya isvara pranidanah kriya yogah describes the more ‘practical’ side of yoga, the part that guides us to get to know ourselves better so that we really understand our actions, how they influence our lives, and as we turn the mirror on ourselves, the part where we can start to create positive change andexperience life fully and no longer as a spectator. So I guess what I am trying to say is that it’s time to get on your bike, put your feet on the pedals, set your limbs free, put your heart into it, enjoy the journey, don’t be too attached to the outcome and you too might be just as surprised at how far you can go in such a short amount of time!