Yoga + Harleys = Biking, body benefits
Posted 11:26 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021
This isn’t your ordinary biker gang.
Technically, it’s not a gang at all — just a community of denim-clad Harley enthusiasts who love to roar down an open road, and then unwind with some deep breathing and meditative poses.
“Learning to breathe, be calm, work on your body — these are all things that you practice in yoga and that can translate into motorcycling,” explains Greg Ormson, ’77, founder of the Yoga and Leather: Yoga for Bikers program at Superstition Harley-Davidson in Apache Junction, Arizona. “It’s all predicated on the notion that, if you’re at ease in the saddle, you’re going to feel better and be a much better motorcyclist.”
Ormson is a true renaissance man — a biker, a yogi, a writer, a musician, a world traveler and a student of several religions. He is a shining example of someone who doesn’t just defy stereotypes, but disproves them.
After retiring from his marketing and communications job at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau in 2012, Ormson and his partner moved to Hawaii.
But in paradise, Ormson felt mostly pain.
I saw all these signs on the street corners: yoga, yoga, yoga, I decided to try it.
He had long struggled with back issues — the result of falling off a trampoline as a child and tumbling off a roof as an adult. Years of motorcycling only made it worse.
Then, walking around the streets of Hawaii, Ormson had an epiphany.
“I saw all these signs on the street corners: yoga, yoga, yoga,” he remembers. “I decided to try it, and after a pretty intense personal challenge, I started to feel better. I wouldn’t say my back cured itself, but I improved my flexibility and started to have a lot less trouble. That’s when I realized: ‘Hey, I should teach this to oth-
After moving to Arizona in 2017, Ormson made the leap. He walked into the Harley dealership in Apache Junction, just outside Phoenix, and pitched the marketing coordinator on the idea of teaching yoga to motorcyclists. Harley-Davidson, he notes, has a 10-year goal of growing and diversifying its ridership.
“She raised her eyebrows and told me I might get a lot of guff for this,” he says. “Harley-Davidson people are a lot different from the yogis you see on Instagram, and a lot of them aren’t young. But she said: ‘OK, Greg, let’s try this.’”
It was slow going at first, as the bikers had their own skepticism. Ormson had five or so takers for the initial sessions; sometimes only one or two would show up, and he would teach in front of a
nearly empty room.
Eventually, word and curiosity began to spread, and Ormson began getting 15 to 20 bikers for each session. Dispelling stereotypes about yoga was the biggest hurdle.
Motorcyclists will be more willing to try something when they’re comfortable, and they’re comfortable at the dealership.
Ormson tried to keep the barrier to entry as low as possible, asking his students to focus on breathing and basic poses, rather than twisting their bodies into pretzels with more advanced movements.
Hosting sessions at the Harley dealership was also a wise decision.
“Motorcyclists will be more willing to try something when they’re comfortable, and they’re comfortable at the dealership,” Ormson explains. “We have them come as they are, in their blue jeans and boots. We were really intentional about that.”
Some people only come for a session or two, but in that short window, Ormson gives them tools they can use for a lifetime — such as simple stretches they can do on their motorcycle.
“If you think about it, a motorcycle is just a moveable prop,” he says. “It’s like rolling up a yoga mat under your arm and driving it to the next place.”
At least in part, Ormson credits his time at UWL for his bold ideas.
While studying recreation administration, Ormson threw himself into a number of different groups and activities — from cheerleading, to playing on the baseball team, to bartending downtown.
Those years molded Ormson into a leader, someone who was not afraid to look foolish or try new things. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s carried those lessons with him.
“I mean, I walked into a bloody motorcycle dealership as a yoga guy,” he says. “Many years later, those same skills apply.”