Don’t let me scare you away with the word YOGA in the subject line my fellow mountain bikers! Yes, the word yoga seems to have popped up everywhere lately, it almost seems as overused as the word “enduro” or “adventure” these days, or as trendy as coconut yogurt and paleo bread rolls (almost just as expensive too), but there is good reason why more & more people have become aware of this thing called Yoga, and that is the simple reason that people have started to realise that you need to do more of it to keep doing the things that you’re most passionate about. Yes. To improve your riding or racing you need to invest the time into doing these additional things to help with your main focus, or main sport - whatever that may be. In this case, I’ll be focusing on mountain bikers and trying to help them understand just how beneficial a few simple “asanas” poses can be.
I’m not going to try and impress you with crazy sounding Sanskrit words like Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana when I can just say up dog yo! I want to keep this simple and straight forward, no airy fairy business, just a plain and simple aid to help your body to cope with all the stresses related to biking, racing, traveling and of course those darned things we all know far too well called injuries. This is not to say that I dislike all the other yogic elements, but I’ll leave that up to you to explore & discover for yourself.
I’ve started with a few super basic warm up, stretching poses for pre and post rides. You can do these anywhere, even in your bike gear with your knee pads & helmet still in place. No need to go out and buy a new tight fitting, crazy patterned, neon coloured yoga outfit that will most likely break the bank for these moves (although it is pretty awesome that you can wear bold, crazy printed tights in a yoga class; but beware when you step outside the studio, you might get a few funny looks).
Please do read the instructions and don’t just follow my drawings - I tried, but they’re far from perfect ;)
1) Childs pose (Balasana):
How to: Bring the knees to your mat & sit on top of your heels. Either have your knees wide open or touching. Let the torso drop down, and your forehead touch the mat.
Either extend your arms forward or take your hands back and grab your ankles.
Benefits: Gently relaxes the hips, the thighs & ankles. Relieves back & neck pain.
For how long: As long as you like & whenever you like.
2) Thread the Needle - shoulders:
Thread the Needle opens up the shoulders and chest, and relieves tension that builds up in the upper back and neck.
How to: Begin on your hands and knees, and bring your right arm across your body under your chest. Rest your hand on the floor with the palm facing up. Lower your upper body, resting your head and neck on the floor, keeping your left arm outstretched in line with your body. Keep your head facing to the left (towards the hand that is stretched beneath your torso). You can now either hold this pose as is, or lift your left arm off the ground and reach towards the sky, finding the position that offers the deepest stretch without being painful. Release and switch arms.
3) Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana):
How to: Press your hands flat on your mat, especially the space between the index & thumb.
Bring your feet hip width apart.
Rotate your shoulder blades away from each other - hollow your armpits, lift your sits bone up & lengthen the spine, especially the lower back.
Benefits: Strengthens upper body
Relieves stiffness in the shoulder blade area.
Strengthens the ankles & opens the back of the legs - hamstrings & calves.
Energizes the body.
Rejuvenates the brain & heart with fresh flow of blood due to the lowered trunk.
For how long: Really feel into this one, walk your feet out, bend your knees, stretch those shoulders, move around, but then find stillness in the pose for at least 10 solid breaths. No point rushing any of these.
4) Pigeon (Kapotasana):
How to: From down dog, inhale & lift your right leg up, exhale & bring your right shin & knee down to the front of your mat.
If you can, move your shin to make it as parallel as possible to the top of your mat.
Extend your left leg back. If your right hip is very far away from the mat, you can place a block or a towel under it to help keep your hips in line/square to the floor.
Place your hands either side of your hips.
Inhale, look up, open your heart.
Exhale as you slowly lower your torso towards the mat on top of your front shin.
Extend your arms forward & rest your forehead on the mat, on your arms or on top of a block.
Benefits: Deep hip stretch.
Stretches the thighs, groin, psoas & the buttock muscles.
Relaxes the shoulders.
For how long: To really receive & feel the benefits of this pose, hold between 3 - 5 minutes, so do make sure that you’re in a comfortable position & use props, they’re your friends!
This yoga pose opens up the hips and stretches the groin, ankles, thighs, and torso. It also helps with balance, concentration, and focus, which is always useful on the bike.
How to: To begin, squat with your feet as close together as possible, then spread your thighs and lean forward, fitting your body between your legs with your elbows forward. Press your elbows against your inner knees, pushing outward as you bring your palms together. Hold as long as you can.
6) Rag doll - forward fold (Uttanasana):
Another pose that I’ve found is excellent for easing back pain is the Forward fold. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and bend forward, letting your head, neck, and arms dangle. Relax and allow gravity to do the work. You can then ease into a forward bend and grab your feet with your hands for an even deeper stretch of the back and legs.
Forward bends stretches & strengthens the back, especially the lumbar spine, it stretches the front of the hips & hamstrings. It tends to slow the body down, and helps one to move inward. They are calming, soothing & unwinding.
7) Tree Pose (Vrksasana):
How to: Find your balance, shift your weight into left leg, slowly bend your right knee, turn it out away from you (but keep those hips squared to the front) and place your foot either above or below your knee - never push into your knee. Find your balance, focus on one spot in front of you, and then lift your arms up to the sky. If you want more of a challenge, close your eyes or sway your arms in the breeze.
Benefits: Increases balance, focus,concentrations and strengthens the knees & ankles. Be mindful not to push onto your knee - place your foot either above or below your knee.
8) Reverse Pigeon - hamstring stretch:
This one is currently my favourite. Lying down on the floor and stretching out the hamstrings and opening up the hips after a hard ride feels so good!
How to: Lie flat on your back, legs outstretched towards the sky. Place your right ankle just above your left knee and grab the back of your left leg, pulling it towards your chest. You can keep your left leg straight, or you can bend it at the knee, letting your lower leg dangle. Allow your right hip to open up more and more as you draw the left leg towards you. Hold this pose for a minute or two, gradually deepening the stretch. Release and switch legs.
9) Seated Twist:
There are many variations of this pose, but regardless of how you choose to execute it, the benefits remain the same–stretching and strengthening the hips, spine, and shoulders. It reduces neck and back pain and helps build flexibility through the spine.
Twists increase flexibility to the spine & hips, helps to release tension around the spine, tone abdominal organs, aids in digestion, detoxifies & helps to quiet the mind. Helps to move every inward. They are integrating, balancing & uplifting
10) Corpse pose (Savasana):
How to: Lie on your mat & extend your legs forward. Open the legs as wide or wider than your mat. (You can place a bolster or rolled up blanket under the knees when in a studio).
Rest your arms by your side & turn your palms to face up.
Relax your shoulders, arms, abdomen, hips & legs.
Slightly tuck your chin to lengthen your spine.
Relax & slow down your breathing.
Benefits: Calms the brain & releases stress.
Relaxes the body.
Relieves mild depression.
Reduces fatigue, headaches & insomnia.
Savasana lengthens & strengthens the spine, creating maximum space between the vertebrae. It integrates spinal curves and allows for deep rest & relaxation. It helps integration of the benefits produced during the yoga practice. Grounding, stabilising & expanding. It teaches us to surrender & trust, and is also a great place to practice visualisation of what you need to be doing, whether it is going through the race course in your head, motivational messages or just focusing on the task ahead.
For how long: In a class situation we allocate 5 mins of Savasana for a 60min class and a 10min Savasana after a 90min class. Really do make time for this. It is one of the most vital poses in yoga & gives your body the time to absorb everything you’ve done for it.
Next time I’ll give you a few strengthening poses that will help with your mountain biking antics.