1,634 days is a long time to do something consecutively, but today, June 6, 2018, marks that anniversary for me. Back on December 6, 2013, I began a regular yoga practice of 30 minutes per day. (It was actually 12/4/13, but I missed two days early on so I move the anniversary date up two days. If you want to get technical my anniversary is 12/25.) The point is that I have continued practicing yoga ever since, every day – without interruption – at all. I resolved to follow some advice I didn’t have words for at the time: Don’t Break The Chain, when I blogged about forming habits back on January 2. It’s ironic to be proud of what at heart is an humbling and internal practice. But important milestones bear acknowledgement, and since a major thrust of this blog is to try to inspire people, my yoga is a major component of that goal, as well as my life.
If Yoga Is for A Dude’s Body, It’s for Every Body
Trouble is, yoga is not exactly as photogenic as riding a bike. But without it, I’d be in far worse shape than I am. Being a human of some girth (about 40 pounds overweight) – but who is pretty active and fit, i.e., a fathlete – I consider yoga my secret weapon. Except it’s not so secret; yoga really helps with bicycling, many other athletic pursuits, or even if you aren’t very active. My hope is that sharing my example and adding few pointers might help encourage you to take up or deepen your yoga practice. So, in the words of Madonna: “Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it/Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it.”
Cyclist in a kit doing yoga on the beach. Source: pexels.com
If your first thought is “Yoga is about turning yourself into a pretzel,” it’s really knot. (Get it? That’s a brilliant pun I just thought of right now.) Of course, yoga in the West has evolved from its origins in India, but it seems to be increasing in popularity. Whether it retains its spiritual roots depends on teacher, student, style and more.
This is not scientific at all, but for purposes of this post, my definition of yoga is loosely this:
“The ancient practice of aligning one’s breath with one’s motions, generally stretching, which by doing both helps achieving a deeper state of mind-body awareness, relaxation and flexibility.” -A Dude Abikes
Hundreds of books have been written about yoga, but a few concepts for the uninitiated. As originally attributed to a book written by the sage Patanjali, the Yoga Sutra (root of the word suture) is an approach to life as a whole. So there are other dimensions (limbs) to yoga besides the usual asana (poses) that I’m talking about. They are explained in this article in Yoga Journal. For some, it’s predominantly a spiritual practice. Others only do it for exercise. Whatever form you may use, I believe there are benefits to be had. For the narrow purpose of this post, written by someone like me who has bicycled most days in the last 13 years of being car-free, let’s review the three basic benefits touched upon above that I have experienced which can help you.
This may seem a bit vague or esoteric, and I’ve said it before: bicycling is not purely a physical effort. There is a very important mental component. Whether it’s a mile or 100 miles, being aware of what’s going on in both mind and body is key. Certainly for longer rides, the chances of making mental mistakes and then causing physical damage increases. Yoga helps increase focus and attention, which is very useful off the mat and on the bike.
If you can build the discipline to practice regularly (it doesn’t have to be daily, but skipping days may lead to doing it less or even quitting for some people), you will eventually experience progress in these areas, and then can build on that success. It’s not about getting into tree pose and holding it perfectly; it’s about trying, failing, and starting again… WITHOUT SELF-RECRIMINATION! (And if you do criticize yourself, just try to notice those thoughts, and breathe through them. They are trying to protect you but you’re not skydiving.)
You will probably fall off your bike at some point (I sure have), and you need to keep your head when that happens, and in many other situations: obstacles in the road; dogs rushing at you; cars coming too close; and your own fatigue and internal distractions. Do yoga diligently for a while as I have, and you will notice the quality of your bike riding change for the better. Sometimes I’ve even stopped to do yoga during a ride, or really focused on my breathing and body to get through some tough spots. Trust me, it helps.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: You CAN hurt yourself doing yoga. So don’t do overdo it. Ever. Go to the edge of your ability into the zone of what Abby Lenz of Heavyweight Yoga calls “sweet discomfort” — but no further! If you’re feeling real pain, that is not doing yoga.
This probably seems like something you don’t want to have while riding a bike. But you’d be wrong. Jumping on your bike all stressed out with tight muscles and trying to hammer out 40 miles is not really a great idea. But this is an extension of the mind-body awareness yoga brings you. I don’t mean hanging out on the couch with some popcorn and television. Sure, do that too, I sure do! But as you do yoga regularly and tune into your breath and your body, something shifts, albeit subtly. I like to compare it to the feeling I get after watching a movie in the theater or a music show: I’ve been totally absorbed in a sensory experience, and when it’s done, I notice I feel differently. More alert, attuned, even happy. It’s both in mind and body, too.
The best way I could describe it is by talking about the corpse pose. I end every session with about five minutes of sivasana. Every teacher I’ve ever had emphasizes this is the time your body and mind integrate the movements and breathing, through relaxation. A good corpse pose might lead you to a sort of daydreaming or even dozing off.
This is your brain’s way of processing what they body has just been through. It’s physically relaxing to go through the three steps of vascular constriction: entering, holding, and releasing a pose. But keeping your mind in a state of ease is very helpful when grinding up a hill, suffering cramps or other pains, and the general suffering that comes with cycling. You can’t probably achieve the exact same state as you would on a yoga mat, but you can recall it, apply it, and breathe through it. Super helpful!
This is the obvious one, and you clearly need it. I often do my poses after a ride, and am not sure how I would be able to walk upright the next day without it. When you stop riding your bike, your muscles tighten up. It’s pretty simple. When you stretch out with the added attention to your breath, you are affecting change at a deeper cellular level.
Ever see people grunting in the gym while stretching out, yanking themselves around? Those people may be in great shape and know their bodies well enough to do it. But I think that’s a recipe for injury. Breathing and stretching together mindfully allows your muscles to stretch, heal and repair themselves better, in my opinion. So you become more flexible with attention to breath? I would say yes.
But flexibility also has another level. Somewhat akin to mind-body awareness, but more like an extension thereof, it’s what brain nerds call neuroplasticity. When you’re cruising down a hill at 35 miles per hour, you’re having to make dozens of decisions every second to avoid crashing. If you are a person who is fairly rigid in your thinking, you may see yourself as a better cyclist than you are, and crash easier.
Let me explain a bit more. You may think, “I don’t need to go around that stick, because I’ve never crashed riding over sticks.” But this one time, the stick may have a different idea, and then down you go. Or a road is blocked, and you have to back track. Do you get pissed at the road block? Or do you see it as a chance to get more miles and see something different? Perhaps you are too hard on yourself for not going fast enough, far enough, or gaining enough elevation. Do you realize that whatever you’re doing is good, probably more than most people, but most importantly, YOU are doing it FOR you?
My point is that mental flexiblity along with physical flexibility is an awesome combination that will only help you. Whether you’re out shredding on mountain bike, eating up miles on the road, getting down and dirty on cyclocross, taking your BMX bike off some sweet jumps, or racing with the fast men and women, etc., yoga will help you be both kinds of flexible in biking and in lifing. Is that a word? ‘Tis now.
The best way to decide if yoga will help you is to try it. I can guarantee you that yoga does not work if you don’t do it. I strongly recommend you attend a class in person first. If you can’t due to budget or access, or have done some and want to get back into it, I like Austin’s own famous You Tube yoga teacher (and adorable goofball), Yoga With Adriene. There’s also yoga you can do in bed, from a chair, and even just the breathing if you are limited by a condition. Remember, YOU are your own best yoga teacher. DO NOT DO ANYTHING YOUR BODY IS TELLING YOU NOT TO DO. And yes, you should consult a doctor before starting any exercise program. Do not do inversions if you are pregnant, for example., or hot yoga if you’re prone to pass out, etc.
I would like to thank all my teachers, to numerous to name. Many I had only one class with and don’t recall, but here are the ones I do: Annie – Claire – Maya – Kathleen – Anisa – Yoganand – Indukanta – Charles – Abby – Katherine – Stephen – Kate – Stephanie – Adriene. Profound gratitude and deep bows to all of you!
Lastly, much of my thinking here is from my memory of reading New York Times writer William J. Broad‘s excellent and well-researched 20112 book, The Science of Yoga, which also debunks some myths about yoga, too.
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