Tuesday, 29 May 2012

YOGA FOR CYCLISTS




At long last the sun is shining and the streets of London are awash with even higher numbers of cyclists than ever. Cycling is a wonderful way to get around the city but it reminded me of the number of all weather cyclists that I teach who so often mention the tightness that they experience in their bodies as a result of their daily cycling habits. Tight hamstrings and IT bands can make certain yoga asana a real challenge to the cyclist. To encourage these students I point out that as they practice yoga they are already doing something that will really help them to alleviate their muscle tightness caused by many hours spent in the saddle.  But it has to be practiced regularly to counter the effects of the daily commute.

I cycle between classes many times every day and for me it is easy to keep up a daily yoga practice that really helps me to develop and maintain flexibility, core strength and balance. However that is in part because I practice yoga as part of my job! For those people for whom time is often as short as their hamstrings I have suggested the sequence below to practice in between their yoga classes!


So why do cyclists often experience problems?

The main part of our bodies that get overworked and sometime strained when cycling are  our hamstrings, quadriceps, hips and the lower backs (caused by a constant forward flexion of the spine). The reason why the muscle groups in these areas become so sore is because the same or similar motion is repeated thousands of times often for hours throughout the week. For competitive cyclist and those who cycle long distance for sport this can sometime be for hours at a time.

As a  result quads get tighter as they strengthen. Our hamstrings contract, tighten on back of the legs (plus, they are never fully extended). Shoulders become rounded over straining the upper middle back and the lumber area gets pushed out particularly when our core strength is not maintained

How yoga helps cyclists

Yoga helps open what is contracted and creates flexibility where there is only strength, therefore it balances the action undertaken while cycling. Many of us not only cyclists find relief from muscle pain caused by tightness in lower and upper body while practicing yoga. While others have found that yoga brings there spines back into optimal alignment.

Many cyclists are surprised to find something beyond the physical from yoga. Anyone on two wheels knows that cycling often requires intense concentration and focus to succeed (especially when mountain biking, or cycling in London traffic). The work we do on the yoga mat to focus on breath and cultivate a mind body awareness can easily be transported to time spent on our bikes giving us a calm focussed mind.

Yoga poses for cyclists 

Mountain Pose (Tadasana) This a simple standing pose with active feet, legs and abdomen teaches cyclists how to activate their lower abdomen and descend the tailbone when in the saddle. 

To practice mountain pose, stand with feet hip distance apart. Allow the arches of the feet to lift up by lifting all ten toes then reground them and root down through the toes mounds, toe pads and four corners of each heal. Feel how energized the legs now feel by drawing up the arches inner seams of the ankles calf muscles knee caps and thighs while simultaneously directing the tailbone heavily down. This alignment of tailbone down helps most people correct an overly arched lumbar spine.

Forward Fold (Uttanasana )  For cyclists, this straightforward standing forward bend stretches the backs of the legs, undoing tight hamstring muscles that have been contracted while riding and never fully allowed to extend. It is also deeply relaxing for both the mind and the body and allows the neck and spine to lengthen naturally.


To move into a standing forward fold from mountain pose, with feet hips distance apart, reach up to stretch out the spine and open the arms like a “T”. Fold at the hip crease and touch the floor by keeping the knees bent for as long as necessary and be sure to not bend from the waist.

Warrior 1 (Virabhandrasana 1) When practicing this high lunge the cyclist needs to bend the back leg, take the their tailbone down to feel the front action of the leg and psoas then re-straighten back leg making his long to get a deeper sense of release in quad which will have been in a state of constant contraction while cycling. The Warrior lunge will help to open the hamstrings while also stretching the front body as you open the thoracic cavity/spine helping reduce back pain.



This basic long lunge is performed with the front knee bent and the back leg straight. It stretches out the quad, psoas, calf, ankle, foot and hip flexor one leg at a time. It also helpd to develop core stability, as increases balance.  Focus on hugging to the center line of body by squeezing thighs toward one another and keeping the tailbone descending exactly as in mountain pose.



Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) This pose is especially good for cyclists because it strengthens your shoulders and back, undoing the strain created by rounding over and straining your upper middle back thoracic spine. It also helps you to reconnect to your core by reemphasizing your lumbar curve, which can get worked while in the saddle. 

It is a weight bearing triangle shaped pose with hands and feet on the ground and hips high in the air. This is a great all over stretch for the back of the body including the hamstrings. It also opens up the upper chest, the front of your body, and helps the hands get a counter stretch from being contracted whilst gripping the handle bars of the bike. This pose gives our feet some necessary attention by stretching out the toes, calves and arches. 

Sequence the poses in the following order
Mountain (swan dive down) 
Forward Fold
Warrior Lunge Left Leg Back
Downward Facing Dog
Warrior Lunge Left Foot Forward
Forward Fold
Mountain (reverse swan dive up) 

5 WEEK SUMMER YOGA COURSE IN NOTTING HILL

This summer I am running 6 week yoga courses in Notting Hill, Shepherds Bush and Fulham So if you would like to join me then get on your bike and come along take a look at the times and places on my website http://www.elisawilliamsyoga.com

Visit http://www.elisawilliamsyoga.com/page7.htm for more details.