Some time around mid summer, I received an email at work with a title something along the lines of “Yogi Pals”. Odd, right?
It transpired that a certain colleague had taken the initiative to hunt down a Yogi (the word still makes me smile) to come in once a week – justification being the need for frequent cyclists to stretch out, and gain core strength.
Physios have always diagnosed me with three issues – hyper-flexibility, lack of core strength to support activity, and glutes not firing – causing calves, quads and everything else to take the brunt – so any activity that will strengthen my core and stretch out tight muscles is good.
For years I’ve loosely kept up a 2 x week core routine and dabbled in kettlebells, but it’s never been routine enough – and doing these sessions alone it’s very easy to simply go through the motions, repeating but never seeking to really improve.
Unlike a dynamic Pilates class (I’ve done about 2), or my own 30 minute core/kettlebell sessions, there were moments of stillness, quiet – moments where one is not seemingly building strength.
Used to powering through bike intervals, counting off 100-meter reps in the pool, or repeating 30×1 minute core circuits, I found moments of stillness strangely tough – “shouldn’t I be doing some press ups, or breathing a bit harder?” I’d wonder.
Over time, however, I’ve come to appreciate that during the course of the class, I will put my body under new pressures, and those pressures are interspersed with moments of rest – and that’s ok. And even if the class is one of a more relaxed nature – that’s also ok, because I’ll emerge having corrected some of the inbalances in my body and made myself more prepared for the next ride in the process.
The difference between yoga and my other sports is that the others are focused upon how fast I can go, how hard I can push – whilst yoga is more about enjoying the process, and celebrating movement.
It was difficult at first to disconnect from other members of the class, as well. Working in a largely male environment, I won’t pretend I found ‘downward facing dog’ all that comfortable in a room surrounded by colleagues, and I’ll admit I still find that one a little odd. However, yoga has become for me an activity centered around both strengthening and enjoying my body – not scrutinizing it, so I try to keep that in mind.
Why cyclists (and runners) should try yoga
Time to listen to your body
Of course – we love our sport, and we want to spend our available time enjoying it. However sometimes we can spend so much of our free time engaged in breaking down our bodies and building them back up again, we never even notice the onset of a new ache – or we ignore it.
Any sport that involves repetitive motions can give way to overuse injuries – and both cycling and running can cause a host of these – from ITB band stress to Achilles tendinitis, and so many more.
A weekly yoga class is like an all body MOT – a chance to listen to the parts of the body which might need attention before a niggle becomes a full blown injury.
Time to work on flexibility
Tight muscles pull on adjacent muscles, affecting movement.
Cyclists frequently have overdeveloped quads, and tight hamstrings – all this pulls on the hips, and can cause misalignment. I’ve experienced this several times – often it’s sorted with a few dedicated nightly stretching sessions, other times I’ve just hopskipped to the osteo and had him crack it all back into place. I’ve not been back so frequently since the dawn of my relationship with yoga.
The Warrier One, for example will build core strength and loosen off tight hip flexors:
Constantly hunching over handlebars is another key muscle tightener for cyclists, and many of the poses within yoga help address this – such as the Upward Dog which will stretch the lower back, in a way that’s directly opposite the the concave cycling position:
Time to build strength
Your core supports every movement – and a weak core means that injuries can crop up when inappropriate muscles take on work that is not meant for them. For example, glutes that aren’t working will ask the hamstrings to take the brunt, instead.
Yoga poses are designed to build strength – and it’s impossible to miss the calf burning usefulness of The Chair:
The upper arm and ab tremble during Chaturanga:
And the deep reaching build of The Boat:
Time to focus
A great many poses require a fair amount of mental poise. The Eagle has seen a few class members stumble when concentration has failed.
Sometimes it’s good to focus the mind on either a blank space on the wall, or the exact muscles that are holding the entire body in it’s precarious balance.
The same focus can be employed elsewhere – when climbing the tough hill that could make or break a race, or even when dealing with the work situation you just want to go away.
A few months into Yoga practice, and I wish I could find time to fit it in daily. I probably could, somehow, even if just 20 minutes before bed, and perhaps I’ll try.
My key take-away from Yoga has been a slight adaptation of though process – a reminder that my body isn’t just there to be beaten into submission in the pursuit of faster times, it’s to be molded, trained, celebrated and listened to.
Harder, faster, stronger has long been the goal – and yoga isn’t a step away from that, it’s just a slightly different path in the same direction. Yoga is very slowly teaching me to stop, breathe, and just ‘be’ when I need to.
Of course, you can google away and find a list of poses, but many of the processes in Yoga progress between movements, so copying static poses will cut out half the experience. If you’re interested, I’d suggest trying a class. If that really isn’t practical – have a browse on YouTube – there are sessions you can follow.
If you’re based near London, I’d recommend Kelly Brooks – she teaches a range of classes around town, including Club Yoga, which looks pretty cool… check out the schedule of classes here. If you’re nervous at all – don’t be – and check out Kelly’s 8 Tips for your first yoga class.