Bike Week: Why yoga can help cyclists during lockdown
The practice of Yoga is now widely acknowledged around the world for a host of outstanding physical and psychological benefits. The physical postures, however, were originally developed in the East with the primary function improving the body’s ability to sit in (often uncomfortable) meditation postures for long periods of time.
As such practicing yoga is inherently an excellent accompaniment to cycling; an activity which also requires us to hold, somewhat unnatural, body positions for extended periods.
It can improve performance, make you feel more comfortable on a bike, reduce chances of injury and can even help you to overcome some of the psychological challenges cycling presents.
Our 1 hour session is suitable for absolutely anybody, high levels of flexibility are not a pre-requisite! A common misconception of yoga is that it forces you into uncomfortable positions whereas the truth is that your practice is entirely unique to your own individual body-type and all of the positions can (and should) be adapted to suit you.
Of course, with sustained practice, your levels of strength and flexibility will improve but crucially, yoga is not a competition. Instead, honing the skill of listening to your body and judging how far to push at a given time is something that a yoga practice can help us to develop.
During the session, we will focus on 3 main aims: physical balance; increased body awareness; and improved focus, so let’s explore these a little further.
If you do a lot of cycling, it is likely that there are certain muscles which are very strong (and short) and others which are weak (and long). If this imbalance becomes too pronounced, it can result in discomfort, dysfunctional posture and possibly injury.
So we stretch, but arguably more importantly, we strengthen.
We often see that cyclists have very strong quads muscles but a weak core, this creates an imbalance which can impact performance and can ultimately be the cause lower back pain.
Alice McNeil, physiotherapist
For example, we often see that cyclists have very strong quads muscles but a weak core, this creates an imbalance which can impact performance and can ultimately be the cause lower back pain.
Addressing this imbalance through yoga helps create a greater equilibrium in the body and therefore improves how comfortable we feel on our bike, improves our efficiency and helps to reduce the chance of injury.
Our bodies are constantly sending information to our brains as to where we are in space, this is known as ‘proprioception’. Challenging our sense of balance and body awareness in a regular yoga practice helps us to improve our sense of proprioception.
This translates directly to our body position on the bike (and extends to where the bike is in space too) so you’ll become more instinctive of where your optimum body (and bike) position is for different sections of your ride.
Being able to tune into feedback from your body in different yoga poses and noticing how the body feels also allows us to notice when something doesn’t feel right, or is out of balance in the body.
Crucially, this increased awareness gives us the option to do something about it and is therefore a vital part of injury prevention both on and off the bike.
A core element of yoga is training our mind to rest in the present moment. In practice this can be achieved by focussing our mind on the flow of breath or connecting the breath to movement in the body.
On a bike we’re most likely to notice our breath at the top of a big climb (gasping for air) and so you’ve probably already started developing this awareness… Fostering a connection to the present moment helps to improve our concentration and focus. But not only that, it has a profound impact to how the body responds to stress and stressors; helping us to feel more relaxed, less anxious and achieve more of a sense of flow in our activities.
Being able to tune into this present moment awareness on a bike can help us to reduce our fear when taking on new challenges, worry less about others around us and feel a greater connection to the experience at hand. It might even encourage us to get out more.
We’ve been speaking about yoga for cyclists, but yoga can be an incredibly powerful tool for life in general, particularly as we find ourselves in a period of social isolation. Something as simple focussing on physical movements or bringing our awareness to the breath allows us to gain a sense of perspective.
It reduces rumination and worry about the past or the future, helping us to think more clearly and calmly about a situation. In a time where we are perhaps spending lots of time in our homes, it can even give an increased sense of space both in the body and in the mind.
And if you’ve found yourself binging on Netflix or trying to work from home cramped up in a corner, it can help to unwind and bring balance back to the body too.