Yoga for Cyclists: Why it’s Awesome and How to Do it
Whether you are committing to commute by bike more often, recover faster from long rides, or have more fun, adding yoga to your training routine will help you do something great for you!
What is yoga?
Yoga is the connection of the body and the mind through the breath. Every time we find that mind-body connection through breath, we are doing yoga. It could be while driving, cycling, playing music... Why do we roll out our yoga mats then, you’ll ask? To train ourselves to find that connection more easily. In a way, it’s like building muscle memory.
Yoga will help improve your balance by working smaller, stabilizing muscles. Your overall flexibility will improve thanks to yoga’s gentle stretching properties. Your recovery time will speed up and your body will be less prone to injury. Your body-awareness will be enhanced since yoga allows us to slow down and pay attention to what is happening in our body. Finally, your mental focus will increase, which is a great asset if you are a racer or working long hours.
As a yogi and mountain biker, I have witnessed first-hand the virtuous circle created by the combination of yoga and cycling: Yoga makes me a better mountain biker (balance, focus, recovery) and mountain biking makes me a stronger yogi (hello upper body and leg strength)!
How to include yoga in your routine:
- Start small, commit to once a week, for 20-30 minutes. Then add one or two more sessions a week as needed.
- Find a studio and teacher(s) you connect with or find an online class. A “live teacher” is great to get direct feedback, but our busy schedules don’t always accommodate going to a studio. There are many great online classes to choose from; a quick Google or YouTube search will give you plenty of class options.
- View this yoga time as your “pause time.” Time to put the phone aside, to forget about the to-do lists and social/work obligations, time to breathe and reset.
- Meet yourself where you’re at. You don’t need to fold yourself into a pretzel to claim you “did yoga.” Go at your own pace and be nice to your body and to yourself. One of the principles of yoga is ahimsa, which means “no harm.” Remember: Yoga is a healing practice.
5 basic yoga moves to get you started:
1. Core Exercises: A strong core (your transverse abdominis, or TA) will help protect your low back while allowing your hands to be light on the handlebar. It’s your core holding you up on the bike, not your hands on the bar.
- Forearm plank: Arms are shoulder-width apart, elbows stacked under your shoulders. Strong legs and glutes, inner thighs engaged (imagine you are squeezing a pillow in between your legs), back of the heart pushed to the sky. Isometrically* drag your elbows to your knees and knees to your elbows, you’ll feel your TA engage. Hold 30 seconds to one minute, 3 times.
*Your elbows and knees are not actually moving, only your muscle tension is increasing.
- Boat pose: Squeeze your legs together, engage your glutes. Make sure your low back doesn’t slouch. Long neck and proud chest. Think of dragging your femur bones into your hip points (isometric movement again) to fire up your TA. Hold 30 seconds, 3 times.
2. Shoulder opener: Lay on your stomach, open the right arm out at 90 degrees, palm down on the floor, roll gently onto your right side, left leg bends and left foot rests flat on the floor. Relax the neck and head. Hold for 5-10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
3. Hamstrings stretch: Start on hands and knees. Step the right foot in between your hands. Inhale, on the exhale straighten the right leg (keep as much bend as needed in the knee) and flex the right foot. Left knee stays at 90 degrees. Squeeze your right quads, keep your hips square and isometrically drag the right heel toward your right hip. Relax and breathe. Hold 5-10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Modification: if your hands don’t quite reach the floor without compromising your low back and hips, prop your hands up on blocks (or a pile of books).
4. Neck: In a seated position, do some gentle neck circles in one direction, then the other. When done with neck circles, drop the right ear to the right shoulder and extend the left arm out, fingertips on the floor. Option to sweep the fingertips front to back in a semi-circle to help release. Hold 5-10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
5. Hip release: Laying on your back, knees bent, feet hip-width apart flat on the floor, cross the right ankle over the left knee. Super important: actively flex the right foot to protect your right knee. The stretch is sufficient, stay here. Or for more stretch, reach behind your left thigh and gently bring the left thigh to the chest. Keep the right ankle flexed! Hold 5-10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Then laying on your back, bring the feet wider than hip-width (right outside of your yoga mat, if you’re using one), cross the right ankle over the left knee, and let your right knee drop to the floor on the right side. You should feel the stretch on your outer left hip and left side body, not in your low back! Rest your right knee onto a pillow or block if you feel tension in your low back. Hold 5-10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Bonus: Sit and breathe for 5 minutes. You can sit on a chair, a pillow or the floor, and simply bring your awareness to your breath. As thoughts arise, acknowledge them let them go, just like you would watch clouds passing in the sky. Ta-dah! You just meditated for 5 minutes.
Agnès is the founder of MTByogi.com, a registered yoga teacher, certified MTB coach, the Events Manager & Head Yogi at Ladies AllRide Mountain Bike Skills Camps. Agnès loves to travel to mountain bike all over the world (and taste all sorts of foods too!). But her heart goes to her home of Sedona, AZ as her favorite place to ride on her Hail Advanced 0, aka “Big Red”.
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Find the bike to compliment your yoga practice!