Biking and Yoga: Two Complementary Practices
Yes, you read that correctly. Today I have completed my third year of daily yoga. Technically I began on 12/4/06, but I missed two days right before Christmas for a medical thing, so I count 12/6/13 as my yogaversary. Purists would say my uninterrupted consecutive practice began on 12/25/13. However you count it, it’s a heckuva lotta downward-facing dogs, which is something worth celebrating and announcing to the infinitesimal corner of the internet in which A Dude Abikes inhabits.
Bikram, Yoganand and Seinfeld – Spiritual Masters
Yet, yoga is not something one really brags about, unless you’re a yoga celebrity like Bikram. True story: I met the real Bikram once during my summer of seva yoga (service) at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. Boy was he a grade A a-hole! Entourage in tow, demanding meat [at a vegetarian yoga center, no less], he was basically the antithesis of yogic modesty and humility. To paraphrase Zen master Jerome Allen Seinfeld: “Serenity now!” Yeah, my toucous. Which is sore from all the biking more than yoga-ing. But I digress.
My first taste of yoga class was in college, and I still don’t like dirty mats. Seriously, though, it was up the road in Vermont. I dabbled over the years, studying different styles here and there. But once upon a time when I was in between jobs and a friend told me about a place where I could go work for a summer in exchange for a place in the Spiritual Lifestyle Program. My teacher was a fantastic guy named Yoganand Michael Carroll. He was the real deal, having lived as a renunciate back when Kripalu had a guru, before Swami TouchyFeelyAlot was invited to leave due to sexual harassment.
Speaking of being humble: let’s get back to me. After many years I finally found my way onto my forest green yoga mat consistently. Now I’m kinda afraid to stop. So I don’t. Even when I’m tired. Sometimes I nap first. But I do it. Every. Single. Day.
You’re Killing Me Kindly With Your Kickass Class, Kate
How does one commemorate reaching such a milestone? In my case, of course I biked to Eastside Yoga and took two classes back-to-back. Strengthen and Lengthen was 75′ minutes of some pretty challenging and sweaty yang poses (for A Dude). Yin Yoga was an hour of slow, supported, and restful stretches. Both were taught by Kate Bero, who is both kickass and kind. By the way, did you know that asana, which is Sanskrit for pose, also means “make like a pretzel”? Which is making me thirsty.
I’ve taken Kate’s yin class before and written about it too. A popular teacher who’s studying physical therapy, she knows her stuff but isn’t unforgiving. She tells you to listen to your body and make modifications if needed. She answered A Dude’s question about bike-related hip pain I get from time to time; she recommended I seek out PT. Generally it resolves on its own, but if it keeps acting up I may follow her advice. Having a good teacher — yoga or otherwise — that you respect, admire and resonate with is a special gift. Devotion is actually one of the branches of yoga. This can be done without putting anyone on a pedestal.
Anyway, Kate’s classes reminded at a deep muscular level why her two classes complement each other and how yoga affects my biking. In the first class, holding planks, pigeons and a plethora of other poses, I was pleased to note my progress. Without regular yoga, I could not have survived it. I was also very aware of how my nightly half hour at home practice is good for winding down after a bike ride, but not so great for building strength and stamina. But my bike ride home was heavenly, with no tension left in my legs, I felt as if I were floating. So I hope to return, as biking and life allows. Thanks, Kate!
So What Does Yoga Have to Do With Biking, A Dude?
I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you: Everything, and nothing. Although yoga’s been around for centuries and bicycles are a relatively newer invention, each practice benefits and complements the other. The concentration, balance, discipline, relaxation, flexibility and breath control of yoga are obvious benefits to a cyclist. The aerobic exercise of biking helps build strength, reflexes, and tenacity that are beneficial in yoga. I would go so far to say that I would not have been nearly so prodigious on the bike were it not for my yoga. Recovery time increases, injuries are prevented or heal more quickly, and physically and mentally, I just feel better after a stretch sesh.
Here’s a little illustration of how yoga helps me on the bike: One day, as I was riding solo on my favorite Southern Walnut Creek Trail, I decided to apply yogic breathing as an experiment. I wanted to see if focused attention to breathing would make a difference as I climbed the series of hills. As I began the first ascent, I started to inhale more deeply and exhale more slowly. Keeping up a regular rhythm while adjusting to the changing effort required by the increasing elevation, I continued making my way methodically up the hill. The increased oxygenation certainly made it easier, and the coordinated effort made me more in tune with my body and my bike. Reaching the top I felt a bit less exhausted and didn’t need to stop for a break. I don’t do this all the time, but it clearly helped.
If you haven’t tried yoga, give it a shot. I’d start in a class before trying a video, though, in case you have questions or problems. Especially if you’re a cyclist, keeping your hammies and calvsies loosey-goosey is really helpful.
A Few Words About Wordlessness
Yoga is moving meditation, and with that can bring up a variety of emotions, mental states and physical sensations. On a good day, you can really feel pretty blissed-out. But that’s not the goal. The idea is to establish equanimity, a steadfast resilience in the face of adversity. Something that comes in pretty handy when you’re out biking and a car cuts you off, or you hit a wet patch and your wheels start to go out from under you, or you run over a possum in the dark of night and hear the crunch of its leg under your tire, or the many other calamitous, near-death experiences that can happen on a bike.
The states of yoga and meditation are hard to describe how it feels to someone who hasn’t experienced them, but I bet you have. If you’ve ever had a runner’s high, Netflix binge, or become really absorbed in a puzzle, book, sunset etc. — you know about being in the zone, feeling the vibe, or firing on all cylinders. “Experiencing flow” is what positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it, and he believes it’s the key to happiness. It’s hard to be too bummed out on a bike, and cycling or any repetitive activity is a great way to achieve this state of flow. Here’s an article from Bicycling magazine that touches on some of the points I’ve been making: “Enlighten Your Ride With Yoga”.
Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!
Given this blog post has ballooned into an essay with over 1,400 words, I’ll end with a quote from bike blogger and author Molly Hurford’s interview with Ryan Leech. He credits a dedicated yoga practice for his thriving and sustainable career as an athlete, and has been teaching yoga to mountain bikers since 2009:
It’s about being purpose-driven, you know? Being still during parts of yoga practice, it helps. It forces you to wrestle with your mind. Why the hell am I here? In practice, sitting here… Okay, how does that link to other parts of my life? Okay, sport is another part of my life, so why am I doing this work? Oh, because I want to have some better results in riding. So it’s another way to get the ball rolling as why you do what you do.
That purpose is a huge factor. You can have two athletes. Physically, their makeup is totally identical. Their genes are identical, but one is purpose-driven. They’ve got a mission. They know themselves better. They’re just that much more self-actualized than the other one. So the amount that one-hour of training on the bike that one does compared to an hour of training the other one does is a huge difference.
So do like A Dude Abikes does: Go inside and do some yoga and meditation. Then get outside and bike (or run, golf, swim, whatever). If you try it, let me know if and how yoga improves your performance, and what you thought of this blog post by commenting below. Thanks for reading!
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