Why cyclists benefit from regular yoga practice!

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Let's face it. Nobody wishes to feel bad, tired and stressed. Most of us would prefer to be fit and healthy. So, it's no wonder we search for ways to feel good, energized and firmly in control over our emotions.

Regular exercise and better eating habits are the cornerstones to sustainable well-being. It's not one big decision that does the trick. It's literally hundreds of small choices that we make each and every day.

Now, as for picking a fun way to get moving; we know from reading tons of magazine articles that cycling is one of the best ways to get more activity into our daily lives. But, riders may shy away putting in the miles if they have encountered problems in the past. It’s not so much fun throwing a leg over your bike if it hurts!

A primary source of bike pain and injuries is improper fit. You can fix this by a visit to a reputable bike shop with properly trained and experienced staff, or ideally by seeking out a specialized bike fit professional. Here in Ottawa, alongside many friends, I have been helped by Mary Patterson at Bike2Body.

After this, the problems lie mostly with body mechanics. Cyclists need a fine balance between strength and flexibility to be comfortable on long rides. Ironically, more saddle time may not be the answer to achieve this.

On a modern road bike, we spend a lot of time locked into a pretty rigid shape that puts a lot of strain on our necks, shoulders and backs. Further, we might turn the cranks 20,000 times on a four hour ride. That’s a lot of revolutions, within a narrow range of motion. Which means our legs become powerfully strong, but only inside this repetitive pattern, and simultaneously, our muscles and connective tendons are getting tighter in all ways.

A sore low back, regrettably fairly common among serious, recreational cyclists; can originate from tight hip flexors, hamstrings or glutes and / or weak core and back muscles. Even tight shoulders from leaning into drop bars, or ... hunching over a keyboard all day long can contribute to discomfort in the low back.

Fortunately, there is a solution close at hand.

Yoga provides an ideal combination of strength and flexibility options. There is nothing like a hip-opening flow class, or yin practice to get every body part feeling good and moving properly.

Poses like Warrior, Runners lunge, Crescent lunge and Dragon stretch the hip flexors, notoriously tight for most cyclists, while strengthening the quads and hamstrings.

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Seated and standing forward bends loosen the hamstrings, spinal erectors and other back muscles.

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Back bends such as Baby Cobra, Upward Dog, Sphinx and Seal poses strengthen and stretch the lower back.

Downward Dog stretches the hamstrings, calf muscles and Achilles tendon.

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Finally, core poses like Boat pose and Plank stabilize the entire central body, front, back and sides which are essential for riding comfort and performance.

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Beyond the pure physical effects, the additional benefit that a new yogi discovers early on; is that the emphasis on breathing and mindfulness holds enormous value, not only on the mat, on the bike and in the course of daily living. Yoga becomes an important part of coping strategy against the forces of a busy lifestyle.

I encourage my fellow cyclists to consider yoga. Fortunately here in Ottawa we have a wide variety of high quality studios and teachers to choose from. Adopting a regular yoga practice, in the off-season, and honestly, throughout the entire year will add the right mix of balanced strength, and flexibility to any riders training plan.

For those of us in the Ottawa Bicycle Club, we are lucky and can take advantage of the partnership with Yogatown to try hot yoga through the several special sessions that they run each year. This includes a free session if we bring in our bib from the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour.

Coming up soon, Tracy Billows, co-owner of Yogatown will be our guest speaker at the OBC Social on February 18, 7:30 pm at the HMCS Bytown Officers’ Mess at 78 Lisgar St. (Door opens at 6:30 pm.).

So, no matter what state your New Year’s resolutions list is in; if you’re in top form from a winter long date with our favourite suffer-fest spin instructor, or, you’ve been couch surfing and perfecting your FaceBook persona since the days got short and the nights got long - join us for an informative exploration into yoga and its benefits for cyclists. You’ll be thankful when the snow melts and the Sunday rides start again in April.

This will be an easy way for OBCr's to check out yoga with a minimum of fuss. It’ll be a lot of fun. Bring your riding buddies. See you there!