21 February 2011

Yoga and Cycling: In Search of Zen

By Jennifer Clunie, Registered Yoga Teacher and certified cycling addict

The Kripalu Center in Lenox, MA defines yoga as “any practice that brings you more life force, whether it is on a physical, cognitive, emotional, or spiritual level—or, ideally, on all levels at once. Yoga is essentially a state of integration that emerges from a path of personal inquiry.

Photo, left: Seasoned cyclists like Karl recognize the importance to stretching tight hamstring muscles before an arduous ride. Photo courtesy of Dave Kraus.

This quest for integrated living—in which we feel fully alive, fully expressed, and fully connected to the Earth (and our fellow human beings that reside upon it)—shares the same lexicon of emotions we experience during a ride, whether it be an epic journey on a never-before-seen trail or a simple joyride around town.

Many athletes, including cyclists, recognize the benefits of cross-training and incorporate yoga poses and stretching into their training and workout routines. Cycling places the body in forward flexion for long periods of time, often leading to pain in the neck and lower back. The repetitive motion of our chosen sport places a high demand on some muscle groups (including the hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps) while de-emphasizing others, resulting in an imbalance of muscle flexibility, endurance and strength—particularly to the opposing muscle groups of the leg and torso. These imbalances are biomechanically inefficient and can lead to repetitive overuse injuries, one of the most common forms of injury among cyclists. Photo, right: National Mountain Bike Champion Georgia Gould in an aggressive forward facing position as she races to victory . Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harvey.

The practice of yoga can improve your flexibility, make you less injury-prone, promote a speedier recovery, reduce stress, and lengthen muscles to give you a longer, more powerful stride. You will also benefit from improved strength, posture, and core stability, as well as increased balance, alignment and proprioception. In addition, each asana (physical pose) is accompanied by controlled, deep breathing techniques, which not only aid in relaxation but also help re-train the body to use the lungs fully. As you are probably already aware, in both yoga and cycling, breathing is key.

A vital lesson yoga offers is the importance of listening to our bodies. Riders often ignore early warning signs of injury or fatigue and instead yield to their own egos or compete with fellow riders in “King of the Mountain” contests or hammerfests, even on so-called recreational rides. If you are able to check in and assess what your body truly needs at any given moment and respond accordingly, the results will benefit both body and soul.

Yoga and cycling are such symbiotic activities because they perfectly compliment and built upon each other to create a more unified whole. Reporting on the new trend of yoga and spinning classes (or cy-yo) for Yoga Journal, Dimity McDowell reflects, “Perhaps that's the draw of both disciplines: The inner experience is always unique and revelatory. ‘In yoga the asanas don't change, yet each time you practice, you have a different experience with them…It's the same thing in spinning: A flat ride is always a flat ride, but you never have the same ride twice.’” Photo, right: Runner, cyclist, and enthusiastic mountain-bike racer Andy Reed pedals and breathes his way up Yokun Ridge in Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harvey.

Whether on the bike or on the mat, sometimes the true destination is the journey within.

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