The Library

Patanjali must have been a biker

Spectrum 1998



`You must be joking!`  No I wasn`t.  Having a bike stolen a few years ago had left me thinking that was the end, I should never have another bike.  Then a client /friend arrived one day to see me, riding his super sports bike and my mind was changed.


Another friend laughed.  `It seems so out of character for someone who is supposed to be into Yoga`.  Several of my students seemed to have the same opinion.  `Why a bike?`  `Why not a second car?`.  `How will you carry everything about?`  It was no good trying to justify it by asserting that for me it was the difference between riding in the carriage, or sitting on the horse.  Finally a student who is now into her seventies calmly said, `I can understand you.  Once a biker always a biker.  Go on, you have it`.


It was only when I finally got on the road with my wonderful new, shiny red bike and had had the time to become comfortable riding that I realised just how meditative is the experience.  And then it occurred to me one day that Patanjali must have been a biker, a horse rider or a charioteer, or whatever was the equivalent in those days.


He must have been to have come up with those Eight Steps.  The essential steps to surviving on two motorised wheels.  As they say there is nothing new under the sun, and the idea of Pat donning his leathers, fixing his lid and hitting the open dirt track road in a scream of Japanese power seems rather touchingly appropriate.  When all is said and done yoga isn`t all about peace and love.  There is also plenty of blood (see the Gita), sex (Tantra is illuminating) and rock and roll with all those conch -shells of war sounding off as Arjuna prepared for battle.  OK so modern interpretations refer to chariots, but given the choice for a quick getaway I suspect Arjie or Pat would have settled for a Honda or a Kawasaki to get them back to the ashram and out of harm`s way.


So how did he come up with eight steps?  The moral code, personal disciplines, the exercises, breathing, withdrawing, concentrating, absorbing and meditating, and samadhi.  Even today any biker knows that there is a code of behaviour appropriate to their position.  Bikers respect each other.  Notice how they almost always nod or acknowledge in some way other bikers on the road.  If a biker is in trouble you can be sure that the next rider to come along will stop to help.  When did you last drive past a stranded car thinking that they were perhaps just waiting for the RAC?  Bikers don`t ride by on the other side,


When only two wheels separate you from death awareness of the condition of your bike becomes of paramount importance.  Take a look at those gleaming bikes that overtake you on a Sunday run.  The chances are that that effect did not depend on a quick ten minute sluish or a run through the car wash.  The chain and every accessible part will have been thorouhly cleaned and serviced.  Good health doesn`t rely only on a surface appearances.

            `Be methodical, don`t rush, and when you finish the job, doublecheck that you have correctly replaced and retightened all the parts concerned.  A well maintained bike is safer, more economical , and more satisfying to ride.  And if you`ve fixed it yourself, it will feel even better`.      Quoted from Hugo Wilson `Motorcycle and scooter maintenance Manual`


Riding skills are the exercises of Yoga.  It takes time to accomplish them.  They need practice and suddenly when they feel right you wonder why you ever found them so difficult.  Balancing on one foot in the Tree pose needs the same awareness of your centre, as riding at walking pace in heavy traffic.  Weaving the bike from side to side, leaning into corners, or breaking sharply, all need knowledge, experience and confidence in your machine.  `I know I can do it if I relax and just see the manoevre accomplished`.  It`s the same as, `I know I can touch my feet in Paschimottasana if I use my body correctly`.


The cold morning I realised that I could stop my visor misting by breathing out slowly was the day I also realised that even in Patanjali`s day the charioteers must have had snap down visors on their war helmets.  A long journey on  clear wide roads is a good time to practise pranayama.  The attention remains clear and awake, the body relaxed, moving with the machine smoothly and effortlessly. 


Of course a split second of inattention and it could all be over.  Not for the majority of riders, the radio blaring or attention taking radio debates, mobile phones and cigarettes or sweets.  Inside that lid the rider is watching the road, conditions and You.  Out there every road user is a maniac, and inside is perhaps the biggest one of all.  The fewer distractions the better.


But on a good day the road stretches tantalisingly ahead into a land where there are never icy roads, life threatening other road users or potholes.  Where the Yellow-brick road of The Land of Oz leads through from mere concentration to a state of contemplation, a meditation on the joys of life and what lies around the corner.  And Samadhi?  - yes that is there as well when I pull in and sit outside a transport cafe with tea in hand, the sun warm on my tight leathers, and my gleaming bike before me.  Where is life taking me?  At that point it doesn`t need to take me anywhere - I`m already there.

Thanks Pat.! 

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