I remember, at the age of 7 my grandad said he’d teach me to ride my bike without stabilisers. I was excited! I didn’t do anything like this with my grandad!
I sat nervously on my bike outside and waited for him.
“Not on the pavement” he said. “you don’t cycle on the pavement. On the road”
This road?! The one the cars, buses, and articulated lorries on their way to I.C.I. drive down?!
“Of course, where else?”
He brandished a spanner and removed both stabilisers.
Whaaat!? Both of them? Surely we should go for the more sensible approach, simply raising them a little so they’re not quite on the floor but still there in case I lose my balance.
I don’t recall his exact response but I’m sure it was something like “Do you want to learn to ride without stabilisers or not?”
I never saw my grandad more patient and supportive as he was that day. I assumed it would take weeks to learn, slowly getting used to those raised little wheels, keeping hold of that safety blanket whilst I honed my balance, but that wasn’t how it was going to go. Up and down the road we went with him holding the saddle, running along side me, stopping and waiting for the occasional bus or lorry to trundle past (this was 1978, traffic still ‘trundled’). I kept looking back to check he was there holding me.
“Keep your eyes ahead, pay attention to where you’re going!”
Over and over, over and over, up and down… until one time I looked round and there he was, a hundred miles away, smiling. I was riding for the first time on my own and the world had changed ever so slightly, massively, I felt something new. Freedom.
Did he do any of the riding for me? No, he revealed to me the simple fact that I could ride. Keeping me safe and under his guiding hand just long enough and no longer.
This is how I aspire to teach. No stabilisers. I don’t have much interest in showing people what they can do with props – I want them to understand what they’re capable of without them. What it feels like to be free.
A teacher’s guidance should help you on your journey towards yourself, towards that supreme teacher who whispers instructions to you in silence. If not, you are being led nowhere.
I get this comical image of my grandad, were he alive, stumbling along the roads of London holding the saddle of my bike as I ride to work. Absurd I know, but in a manner of speaking isn’t this what many people who attend yoga classes are doing, even those dedicated to weekly lessons? Have they fallen into the trap of riding with their stabilisers on into ‘maturity’ whilst their teacher runs alongside them holding the saddle, facilitating a fun ride once or twice a week instead of showing them the way to cycle on their own? At what point does help become robbery?
I sound like I’m throwing accusations at fellow yoga teachers but I’m not. There are so many great teachers in London that students here are spoilt for fine choice, rather I’m urging the practitioners to become aware of when they’re robbing themselves.
My grandad taught me to ride by teaching me to trust in my own ability, but what if I’d have chosen not to to cycle again without stabilisers unless he was there watching over me? Where would my new found freedom be then? What if I went and reattached them? Ridiculous!
Riding a bike has only one ‘revelation’. Once you can ride you can ride, but your journey on the path of yoga has myriad revelations. A good teacher shows you HOW to practice. HOW to engage, HOW to see, to listen, to feel, but he can’t do it for you. My own teacher used the analogy that if you want to pull up the rug to see what’s under there, he will lift one corner for you, but you have to lift the other three yourself.
Your greatest discoveries are made during your self practice. So practice! Practice persistently! “Keep your eyes ahead and pay attention to where you’re going” and trust that you can succeed. Lift the rug and see what lies beneath but know this, there are many many rugs to lift along this long and winding path, so many revelations! But once you know HOW to lift a corner, you can lift them all, one by one, by yourself. You wont need to rely on me forever, if I do my job right.