WHY SHOULD CYCLISTS DO YOGA
by Diane Vilarem
by Diane Vilarem
Before we start, I’d better explain exactly what Yoga is – get ready for a brief history lesson 😉
What is yoga?
Yoga is a discipline, which is intended to bring harmony between body and mind. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root « yuj » meaning « to unite ».
The practice of yoga is believed to have started thousands of years ago, but historical evidence of the existence of yoga were seen in the pre-vedic period (2700 B.C, well before the bicycle was invented).
Contrary to some views, Yoga does not adhere to any religion, belief system or community (no, yoga is not a cult). Anyone can practice it and there are many different types of yoga (Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Bikram, Restorative, etc.) which all bring various benefits for your body – which as cyclists and athletes is what we all want.
Not only do we spend more and more time sitting (working on a computer, watching TV, driving, etc.) but, as cyclists, we tend to adopt a posture that pushes us to arch over our handlebars and move in a forward direction. This creates neck pain, shoulder and back strain and especially tight hip flexors. In addition, sitting for hours on a saddle leads to a shorter and underdeveloped psoas muscle (if you don’t know what or where your psoas muscle is located have a look at this). Most cyclists also ignore (or have no clue at all) that they have an anterior pelvic tilt. I’ll get to that too in another article. All that you need to know for now is this – Yoga is good for cyclists, trust me!
Most cyclists unfortunately only focus on riding to the detriment of everything else. The more miles the better; right? They train a lot on the bike and don’t have time or don’t see the point in adding complementary activities to their cycling training such as yoga. I haven’t found anything yet in the Velominati bible that prevents cyclists from doing a bit of downward dog or cow pose. And since most cyclist don’t, their core strength, flexibility and upper body is generally weak. Yes, you might use cycle trainers, but they only strengthen your legs – which leaves a whole lot more of your body to think about 😉 Shortened muscles doesn’t just impact a cyclist’s efficiency but can also accelerate the development of injuries. So, why don’t cyclist (or triathletes for that matter) spend more time on flexibility? Why don’t cyclists do Yoga?
Image (1) relates to bullet point 5 below
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that regularly practicing yoga as a cyclist will help your body develop a great range of movements and increase your general mobility. Because it is important to stimulate your body in many ways, Yoga can really help cyclists on different levels and help them unlock (or more accurately unblock) their athletic potential. Here are some of the benefits:
– Core strength: whether it is now or as we age, having a strong core is vital. Most cyclists have (some) back muscles but (definitively) weak abdominals.
– Breathing: yoga enhances cardiovascular and respiratory systems for higher endurance. Translation: Yoga helps your internal system function better.
– Flexibility and posture: improve position on the bike to be able to ride with a straighter back, leading to less neck pain, a better general mobility for better performance and reduced risk of injury.
Now that we’ve got the history and reasoning out of the way, let’s talk about some Yoga positions.
There are many different yoga poses (most of them with funny names) that will help a stiff cyclist, and I’m going to start with a simple one called the One-legged Pigeon pose, or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana in Sanskrit. Yes, I realise that some of you will be laughing at the name, and that’s good – Yoga is fun! This pose is perfect as it lengthens (and also strengthens) the entire front of your body, and some has called it “the king of hip openers”. By doing this properly and frequently you should be able to improve your posture both on and off the bike, and if you have any sort of back pain it should have a positive effect on that too.
Image relates to bullet point 6 below
1. Get on your four legs, arms in front, shoulder width apart.
2. Slowly slide your left leg backwards, make sure it is in line with your upper body (you should now be in a bit of a forward leaning position)
3. Bend your right knee and bring it forward, put the knee on the floor next to your right hand while your foot is resting on the floor next to your left hand (this can be tricky for a stiff cyclist)
4. The key is to keep your hips aligned. If you can’t do that, use a block or towel below your right butt to keep it in position
5. Once in the pose, inhale, open your chest and lengthen your spine (move your arms backwards, push against the floor with your fingertips) and try to keep your upper body in a vertical position – see image 1 above.
6. Move your upper body towards the floor as you exhale – see image 2 above.
7. Stay in the vertical and lower position for 5-10 seconds
8. To come out of the pose slowly move both legs back into all four position
9. Don’t forget to switch legs.
Remember that Yoga is all about practicing, so take your time and do it properly. Quality before quantity. You’ll have more benefits from doing ONE pose perfectly than 10 with poor execution or alignment. In the end, yoga is more than just being able to reach your toes, right?
Image (3) for more advanced students wanting an intense stretch
So, what are you waiting for? Take 10 min and try this pose now!
Over the next few articles, I’ll guide you through more Yoga for cycling, and help you to become more flexible, increase your core strength and ability and to understand the relaxation benefits of Yoga too. So go… get active with Yoga and let’s get fit and ride together.
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