Inflated by a puncture
Three punctures in a week gave Emma Smallman a chance to practice what she teaches
I cycle everywhere and whilst I do have a vehicle, I’ll always pick two wheels over four. I love the freedom it gives, not being at the mercy of traffic. Not only is it good exercise, but it’s also free, better for the environment and my senses are heightened. Wins all around.
The other day I’d just finished teaching a chair yoga class and was cycling to the next session at a probation hostel. I’d just shared the theme of ‘effortless effort’, the notion that we can practice adopting a calm and stable mindset when undertaking challenging poses and movements that require effort from the body, using the breath as one way to support this. What a handy life skill to have, to be able to approach life’s difficulties with a greater sense of self-control and inner peace.
Reflecting on class and halfway to the next one I got a puncture. OK, so here’s the confession, I ride my bike everywhere and I still haven’t mastered the art of puncture repairs, and I therefore had no kit on me. If like me, you like to draw meaning from things (the major one being: learn how to fix punctures) then maybe this will resonate. On wheeling it home I started to wonder if this was my immediate chance to embody the teachings I’d just shared. It’s all very well speaking words in class, but I only want to share what I authentically practice. As the tyre and inner tube all started to fall apart I eventually had to carry my bike on my shoulder. Effort was required but rather than struggle I attempted it with effortless effort. It worked. I got home and grabbed my car and made it to class only 15 minutes late and with a tale to tell.
With the thorn removed and the puncture fixed, I was pretty surprised when two days later it happened again, this time on the way back from work. Yet again I wheeled it home, the bike looking injured and sad, but I noticed something different inside myself. Yes, it was an inconvenience; I got home later than planned meaning I only had time to plan one new warm-up for that night's fitness class rather than two. However I still approached the situation as another chance to practice effortless effort. I was secretly quite pleased with myself.
Puncture fixed, another thorn removed, and then two days later it happened again. Unbelievable. Surely not. This time I was en route to catch a train to London where I was due to teach yoga at an event that evening. Missing the train would have been really problematic. Now, in LBY (Life Before Yoga) this would have really sent me into a spin. My inner dialogue would have been: “I can’t believe this has happened again” etc. For me, stress manifests with sudden flips in my tummy which linger long after the situation has been resolved. I get clammy and short of breath. Maybe even have a little cry and be unable to think straight. But no, instead I quickly found a place to lock up my bike, got an Uber and made it to the train without a huge flap.
With three punctures in a week, it needed to go back to the bike shop; however, I gained a lot from the experience. It really made me realise how my resilience has clearly increased and I absolutely put that down to yoga and meditation. The melting pot of accumulative practice shone through in those moments when I would have historically responded very differently. It made me reflect on how these consistent methods to dissolve built-up stress make everyday stresses more digestible. It’s not that regular yoga and meditation make you avoid life’s difficulties, but they seem to make your coping mechanisms stronger and more adaptable to handle day-to-day curve balls. At the bike shop, they checked and double-checked and in the end put an extra lining in the tyre, just to be sure, and I suppose that's how I see yoga and meditation. It’s not a superpower and it certainly doesn’t prevent thorns in the road, but what it can provide is a layer of protection to deal with them when they do inevitably make an appearance.