For the same reason that cycling is also good for yogi’s! They are in many respects, similar activities and engaging in both, one will inevitably improve as a result of the other.
Yoga is concerned with a simple and yet focused state of embodied being – that of the present moment via union of the physical body and mind, free of complication or irrelevant thought – i.e. a meditation of sorts where one simply breathes and moves. Certainly a sensation that perhaps all cyclists, to a lesser or greater extent, can appreciate about cycling. In practicing yoga, this awareness is sharpened and cycling just becomes more pleasurable as we learn to deal with stressful obstacles (daily commute, exertion etc).
Yoga is different from many other exercise systems in that breath plays an essential role – not simply an accompanying action to a sequence of stretches. Ujjayi pranayama is a learn’t breathing practice which once mastered can dramatically change posture, awareness of the intercostals, ribcage and diaphragm control, longer inhalations and exhalations which in turn means full use of lungs, controlled air intake as well as oxygen delivery to the rest of the body. Exertion, endurance and efficiency can be increased significantly. Very handy on hills!
Then there are the asanas – the yoga postures. This is perhaps where the benefits to cyclists are more immediately and visibly obvious. I often get asked why is yoga for cyclists different to yoga for people who don’t cycle. The yoga for cyclists class I teach is not a series of new postures designed for cyclists only (although there are certainly cyclist specific variations). A cyclist is likely to benefit from attending any good yoga class regularly. There are hundreds of different yoga postures, some would argue millions. Each posture addresses different parts of the body simultaneously and can be roughly categorised, for example standing postures, forward bends or back bends. The yoga for cyclist’s class then is based on a selection of postures which directly address the imbalances caused as a result of cycling.
Perhaps the most obvious imbalance is the repeated exertion of some muscle groups and joints (mostly those from the glutes down) and less utilisation of others (mostly the glutes up). Those that are used a great deal (such as the hamstrings) will tighten and this may cause problems, most commonly in cyclists – pain, reduced joint mobility and poor alignment. Simultaneously, there is a tendency to underuse certain muscle groups which in theory could support correct alignment and increase power output )the postural muscles). Put these together and you end up with a potentially unhealthy cycle of body habits. On a musculoskeletal level, yoga’s prime concern is to find freedom and balance in the body via healthy alignment. This is achieved by increasing flexibility and strength in all muscles via mindful and co-ordinated breath and movement. The inhalation and exhalation not only accompany every movement, but both breath and movement have a clear energetic direction. It is this unique combination that makes progress in yoga so swift and obvious.
In yoga for cyclist’s class, the postures selected are those that:
* increase mobility in the joints that typically suffer from reduced mobility – in particular, the hips, shoulders, back and knees.
* strengthen postural muscles to encourage correct seated alignment and ease overuse of the upper body (particularly the trapezius) and back strain.
* relax, tone and lengthen the commonly overdeveloped muscle groups (quadriceps, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings etc).
* work on the body’s asymmetry
* counteract the cyclist’s position when astride a bike.
There are many recommended asanas, but perhaps those that are most beneficial to cyclists are the back bends as most address all of the above within one posture. Asanas such as salabhasana (locust pose), setu bandhasana (bridge pose), dhanurasana (bow pose), ustrasana (camel pose) and urdhva dhanurasana (upward facing bow pose). Be sure to counter pose!
Alternatively, forward bends are great for addressing the muscles that run along the back of the body – neck, back, glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles. Asanas such as supta padangusthasana (reclining big-toe pose), janu sirsasana (head-to-knee pose) and parivrtta janu sirsasana (revolved). Hip openers such as upavista konasana I an II (wide-spread angle pose I and II) and baddha konasana (bound angle pose) are also very useful for releasing post-ride tight hips.
Not forgetting Suryanamaskar – the sun salutation. These vary from one yoga style to another, but are great at not only addressing all areas outlined above but can be used as a very effective warm-up to your practice. If you only have 10 minutes, do this!
The aim of the class being that students learn how to strengthen and stretch mindfully and can engage the principles and postures at any point before, during or after a ride and keep commonly developed cycle related injuries at bay.
As mentioned earlier, any good yoga class will benefit a cyclist. There are many styles of yoga which have different priorities (Astanga often appeals to athletes as it is very physically demanding whilst Iyengar is popular due to its use of props and therefore useful for varying limitations and capacities), but essentially the aim ultimately remains the union of body and mind. Perhaps more important is finding a teacher that inspires you.
Yoga for cyclists is at Bodywise, 119 Roman rd, London E2 0QN.
8.15 – 9.30pm every Thursday.
For more information please check www.bodywisehealth.org or email Rebecca – firstname.lastname@example.org
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