In October, I went on a 25-mile urban bike ride around Seattle with my friend Kate, her in-laws and a group of their super-biker friends. All of these uber-athletes were in their 60s and 70s. I was kind of dreading the ride. My own bike being a 20-year old piece of crap, I had borrowed a bike on which I was less than proficient. Knowing that these bikers are all pretty hard core (Canada to Mexico, the circumference of England, the Idaho Panhandle), I was a bit daunted to join them on this freezing cold Sunday morning. My one conciliation was that Kate, the only other party in my generation, was suffering from advanced pneumonia, and I was pretty sure I would at least be able to keep pace with her.
We all met in the parking lot of Mount Baker Beach. All the elders in their toe-clip shoes, blinking fog lights, spandex of various lengths, and rain gear. I improvised with running shoes, hand-me-down bike shorts and thigh-high disco pink knee socks to keep my legs warm. Kate's in-laws, the official bike docents gave us a preliminary safety lesson (which was incredibly helpful) and off we went. Lily, Kate's mother in-law volunteered to be the "sweep" bringing up the rear to make sure everyone (me, the clown rider, and Kate, the invalid) was safe and accounted for.
We headed north and immediately started climbing what our guide called "a gratuitous hill towards Leschi." I struggled up the hill with Kate and Lily close by, and when we got to the top, all the other bikers were patiently waiting. No one seemed testy or irritated or put out. I breathed a sigh of relief. These people were great cyclists, but they were also kind.
Though my vocation is Yoga Teacher, and yoga is my preferred everyday exercise, I am apparently pretty competitive. I have to really, really push myself to do things I'm not good at. But, like I say when I teach yoga, "It's the postures we struggle with the most that we probably need the most." I went into this bike ride with this attitude-- it will be good for me to push myself to do this thing that I suck at.
And I did suck. Lily had to help me put the chain on my bike when I misjudged shifting gears on a hill. And she did so with such generosity and grace, I couldn't even muster embarrassment or frustration. At one point when Kate's shortness of breath from her pneumonia started to feel like too much to take more hills, Lily, Kate and I took a shortcut for the last three miles and met the others at our planned ending spot.
This all brings me back to yoga. After the bike ride, I thought a lot about my role as a teacher as well as a fellow student. I hear students all the time say, "I am not good at that posture. I hate that posture." As the teacher, of course I encourage them, tell them to try to withhold judgement of their ability, to be in the process more than focusing on some unknown end result. As a student, I try to always bring an openness into my practice, refraining from any judgement of myself or anyone around me, including my teacher.
I am not a great bike rider. But like yoga, biking, or anything else I happen to not be good at, is about the process. Focusing on "being" any certain way with yoga or biking or anything takes away the joy of it. Just be in it, however good or bad you are, try it, do it. You'll be glad you did.