I went out on my virgin mountain bike voyage the other day. A friend corrected me, “I think it’s maiden voyage.” But I believe maidens are sassy, take risks, unlike this trepidatious yogi. So for me, it was a virgin voyage. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about what yoga poses would bump up mountain bike performance.
It was a little scary, pretty exciting, and although probably not a good idea for a massage therapist to hurl themselves down a mountain, I couldn’t get it out of my head all week, in spite of the anxiety which was present 40% of the time. Ok, fine. I loved it.
Like I said, I couldn’t get it out of my head, those two hours in the woods on this crazy, bouncy bike that felt like a pimped up Cadillac with a few of the most excellent women in the Comox Valley. I may have the mountain biking bug. So I got to thinking in my yoga-anatomy geekish way, what was the experience in my body? How could yoga serve the mountain biker? Where do we need to be strong? What needs to be flexible and relaxed? What detrimental body mechanics happen when one is on a bike a lot? Can Yoga improve neuro-mechanical intelligence to increase mountain biking skills?
Here are 5 basic yoga poses to start that every mountain biker should really experience in their body. They focus on areas that need expansion and ease, strength and integration. The great thing about yoga is that through the practice, we learn to discipline the mind to focus, and we learn to become intimate with ourselves, starting with balanced breath, and holding more than one sensation and action in the body at once. In fact, I think this is the thing I liked most about mountain biking that I related to as a yogi: While I was riding, I was completely in the moment, experiencing many, sometimes polar sensations in my body at once. As long as one remembers to breathe, I would venture to say you can practice yoga on a mountain bike.
So here goes. These poses are not in order of importance, just ease of sequence. I suggest that you first do each pose in a modified version, just to the point of tension rather than full range of motion for 3-5 breath holds. Then, repeat each pose, going a little deeper and holding for 5-7 steady breaths. I’ll also explain what each yoga pose contributes to your mountain biking excellence.
Remember, all the poses should feel good, never painful. Also, to stretch without strain requires strength. Never passively stretch. Always maintain a little contraction in the muscle you stretch. Hug the bones into their joint socket – don’t dump into your joints! And keep breathing. Your breath informs your pose. Move in the wake of your breath. Your breath weaves it all together. If you find yourself holding your breath, or your breath becomes shallow, see if you an first adjust the breath. If you can’t help it, modify the pose so you can breathe with ease.
1. Adho Mukha Swanasana – Downward Facing Dog
If you only do one pose in a day, this is the one. You gain hand, arm, shoulder and abdominal strength, and flexibility in the shoulder girdle, side body, posterior hip, hamstring and calf. Opening up the shoulder girdle improves lung capacity, as does opening up the intercostals. As any yoga pose, you need to integrate all parts of the body to execute this pose. One must maintain awareness and control through the whole body.
- Plant the hands and feet firmly into your mat
- Maintain a lift at your wrist – so your plugging in, but also lifting up.
- Move your upper thigh bones back into the hamstrings – you may have to bend the knees forward a little to achieve this.
- Carve your sitting bones up toward the sky
- Fill the back body with breath so your back doesn’t turn into a banana.
- Relax your neck.
- Broaden between the shoulders by rolling the inner deltoids up toward the sky.
- Exhale, stretch your sides long, keep sending those sitting bones up as you melt your calves down toward the heels.
2. Figure 4
How not to do figure 4
- Root your standing foot into the mat, particularly the big toe ball. This helps you connect through the inner thighs and core.
- Cross the other ankle above the standing knee.
- Flair the toes, press the ankle down on the thigh, and isometricly drag it up toward the standing leg hip crease.
- Slid the sitting bones up until your low back is neutral, not round.
- Broaden the collar bones until you feel the muscles between your shoulder blades engage.
This pose stretches the quadriceps and creates some length in the psoas major, and opens up the shoulder girdle, all areas that shorten with riding. It will help to decrease low back pain. Short hip flexors and chest muscles negatively impact lung capacity and optimal core strength as it affects posture. The psoas also shares fascia with your diaphragm. It is advisable to keep the psoas major bouncy and happy, not short and tense. Use a strap to lasso the foot to start.
- Drag the back knee forward isometrically
- Maintain a sense of ease in the back leg groin.
- Press the foot into your hand or strap. Make sure the foot does not sickle in. Don’t stretch the top of your ankle. Keep the ankle neutral
- Lift the pubic bone up toward the naval until the low back curve decreases.
- Inhale and lift tall from the upper palate
- Roll the shoulders back.
- Keep your head up
- Inhale, expand and lengthen, exhale, relax the shoulders, soften around the effort.
4. Plank and variations
This pose teaches upper body strength, core strength and whole body integration. Here are some variations
Plank to chataranga
From the knees
On all variations, draw the front rib points up and back into the body, as if you are inflating your kidneys. tone your pelvic floor until you feel the low belly rise into the body. Keep the legs engaged, particularly the inner thighs.
Shoulders stay open and quite relaxed.
If you are doing plank to chataranga, be sure your shoulders don’t pitch forward and down. Keep the collar bones open and soften between the shoulder blades without allowing the mid back to banana.
5. Reverse Table Top
This pose expands the front body, and strengthens the back body and torso. It also teaches whole body integration.
- Plant the feet, particularly the big toe ball, but also pinky toe ball.
- If knees are straight, keep them strong and straight without locking into the joint.
- Inhale, broaden the collar bones and roll the shoulders open.
- Exhale, spoon the tail bone, and lift the inner and outer hips at the same rate.
If you would like to explore a little more yoga, come to class at Eden Therapy Yoga Studio in Courtenay. We can also do private sessions so your practice is tailored to your specific needs. Make sure nothing you do on the mat hurts. If you are apprehensive, check in to sensation before jumping into a pose. Yoga should feel yummy in the body, sometimes uncomfortable, yes, but never painful. Even if you just do 10 minutes a day, you will notice a difference. I promise you this.
See you on the mat!