The other day a few students and colleagues were engaged in an online chat about a spin class the gist of which was that the class was difficult and awesome. The end result of the exchange was to make me want to go take the class.
The first thing to understand is that decades ago I was a full time fitness trainer and instructor who taught about 20 hours a week, saw clients, and walked miles every day. I did take a spin class during that time. As I recall spin was pretty new, and I liked to try out new things. Some of those new things had staying power (like step) and some didn't (like jump rope aerobics). Spin did, but for whatever reason I did not pursue learning to teach it myself. As I remember it bothered my hip where I had had an injury. Also, even then my work centered on yoga, and secondarily on strength training. That was 20 years ago.
I ended up taking about 7 years off from teaching to care full time for my family. For the last 7 years I have been working part time, slowly doing more with each year. The thing is yoga has always been the center of my work, as well as of my personal journey. So a lot of my hours are teaching yoga. But I decided to go to the IDEA convention this year. I am very excited about this: it is 20 years since I have been at an IDEA convention, and I remember the excitement and how much I learned. But after watching the online ad I realized I probably needed to tweak my personal workout schedule if I was going to manage this without basically dying.
So last Tuesday I found myself turning right rather than left to the yoga room, and walking past the aerobic room into the spin room.
My experience with this class was really interesting. What is most interesting to me are the ways that I find spinning a lot like doing yoga. Obviously the music is really different, and the training effect is primarily cardiovascular, where in yoga the training effects are more flexibility, balance, and strength related. But it is a little like the way Levi-Strauss looked at mythology: the cultural trappings are different, but there are pronounced structural similarities.
Actually I posted to the instructor my sense of similarity ( I think I told her it was like yoga, but like yoga that had drunk a lot of espresso) and she said that it was no accident that the two things she liked were spin and yoga. Actually the first thing that struck me when I went in was her relationship with the room and the students. The ability to connect to individual students, and to notice what is going on with them, and to provide options and modifications is a very yogic thing. Certainly this is how I have always taught yoga: what you learn about yourself while on the mat is even more important than how many calories you burn, or how much weight you lift. This may be due to her experience in both worlds, I would have to take a few more teachers to know.
Many of the spin classes I have seen, and this one that I took are done with the main lights off. I think that is another thing that made if feel particularly yogic to me. I don't just mean that a lot of yoga studios turn the lights down, or use candles, or fairy lights. It has more to do with why one might do that, and with one of the parts of yoga that has been talked about even as far back as Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras: pratyahara.
When we are children we learn about the '5 senses'. The thing is those senses have to do with our relationship with the world outside of our own physical body. There are other senses that give us information from within our body. They help us balance, judge spacial presence, feel pressure in joints, and lots of other things. When there is a disconnect between our inner and outer self (the mind and body) we often have difficulty focusing on and responding to those inner signals. Of course we can also become so self involved that we forget that or loose interest that these inner signals are shared by others. The way I say this is that the lines of stretch, or energy, or understanding reach outward like waves from a pebble dropped in a lake, but also inward. Shutting the eyes for a few moments when one enters practice, in my belief, allows us to rebalance the senses that draw us inward and those that draw us outward. In particular with spin the darkness pulls our attention away from the surface of our own bodies in the mirrors, and those of the other students. The kinesthetic connection grows stronger. Yet the sounds of the bikes and the breath keep us from loosing ourselves solely in the inward journey.
One thing that I need to think about more has to do with focus. I often find if I ride a cardiovascular machine that my mind often goes off to check email, or to shop at the grocery. In yoga it doesn't (well, it used to, and I know when you begin a yoga practice that can be a difficulty). In yoga we call the place of intense mental focus dharana. Dharana is balanced by dynana, or meditation. I think of them as like a hose attachment that you twist to open the water or to intensify it to a narrow point. We use the breath, linking inhale to exhale with variations in movement, moving deeper, and finding the mind body connection by body surfing the breath. That focus came to me very strongly in the spin class, partly because of the breathlike quality of the pumping of the pedals.
Actually the first thing I thought once I got on the bike and the instructor advised me how to modify it to my needs, was that the seat was most uncomfortable and I wished I had a pillow. Once the class started it didn't seem to matter as we were usually standing up, or moving up and own so the seat only met with the seat for a few seconds. That rhythm combined with the rhythm of breath, deepening and lengthening, and, the rhythm of the peddling, created flow. While different in many ways, (like speed, number of joints involved, etc) it FELT like vinyasa.
I would say I am quite looking forward to my next class.