By cycling you’re already keeping yourself moving, exercising the lungs and heart and most likely regularly feeling awesome which is not to be sniffed at. Repetitive movements in many everyday activities though, such as pedalling your beloved bicycle, can lead to problems: developing certain muscle groups at the expense of other ones, stretching some bits of connective tissue but not others and leaving some areas neglected. This can lead to tightness or stiffness in movement, potentially affecting efficiency of movement, posture and even causing pain. Happily there are some simple ways to stay flexi and comfortable in these cycle-friendly bodies we inhabit, including yoga.
Yoga is an opportunity to settle the mind by connecting with the breath and the body, but can be done by any body too – it’s especially useful for those who think they aren’t flexible! Some people are naturally more flexible but others (myself included) have to practice stretches daily to get, maintain and work on improving stretchiness. I would strongly recommend going to a class with a yoga teacher if you want to practice regularly – it’s important to make sure you’re getting alignment right to prevent injury, and there are some things just better learned in person. It’s worth trying out different classes too as styles and methods of teaching can vary so much.
In the meantime though here are some ideas for stretches you can do to help your body, particularly focussed on hips, hamstrings and back. As someone who regularly cycles I’m in a constant dialogue with my hips which want to be completely seized up the more cycling I do, where I want them to be more flexible to allow greater range of moment for yoga poses.
If you have time, it’s best to start with some sun salutes–It will warm your body a little and start to connect you with your breath. You’ll generate movement in different areas of the spine, work into the hamstrings, as well as using the upper body- sometimes neglected if cycling or running is the main physical activity you do. One sun salute is the first 6 poses pictured, linked by inhaling and exhaling through the nose as you move, keeping a connection with your core by drawing the navel towards the spine;
- Standing, inhale, arms up look to the thumbs (pic 1)
- Exhale fold forward from the waist
- Inhale look up keeping hands down where they are (pic 2)
- Exhaling stepping back to low plank/ chaturanga dandasana
- Inhaling to cobra -toes point knees to floor upper body stretching up, look up) or upward facing dog with knees lifted (pic 3)
- Exhale to downward facing dog (pic 4)– hands shoulder width apart, heels working towards the floor (hamstrings might not like this but gently encourage them and bend the knees slightly if you need), hips rising, making space between the shoulders and ears. Stay here for 5 breaths.
- Inhale and step or jump to the front of the mat
- Exhale fold forward from the waist as before, inhale to standing with arms down –samastitihi
Try doing 3 full rounds of this.
Next, take the seated positions shown in pics 7 8 and 9, and hold each for at least 5 breaths – from left to right baddha konasana, cow face pose and firelog pose, try and work your knees gently towards the floor, but never force the knees. Keep the upper body straight, crown of the head lifting away from the body and remember to keep the breath steady, using the breath to ease any tightness. Remember firelog pose is your friend! Do both sides too.
These next ones will get you further in to the hips – Anjali asana pic 1 here is a lunge in which you can then lift the chest and reach back if it feels good (try not to compress lower back here) and can be done with the back knee lifted as shown or you can drop that knee if that works better for you.
From Downward facing dog, bring one leg forward to take pigeon pose and work the back leg further back on the mat(pic 2), then if it feels ok to do so fold the upper body forward so the head rests on arms folded out in front of you or bring the forehead to the mat if that feels good- this can be a strong hip opener but also restorative and calming.
Lastly, a backbend in the form of camel (pic 3) which stretches the shoulders nicely too think heart opening and lifting not lower back crunching, and then follow with forward fold paschimattanasana (last pic), which stretches out all of the back body including spine and hamstrings.
If you made it this far, finish with restorative savasana – lie down on your back, let legs and arms flop, close the eyes softly, let breathing be steady and thoughts quieten.
These are just a small selection of ‘yoga poses’ you could do which you’d find benefit from, but yoga is about doing a practice, not just making shapes. Being mindful of your breathing and body on a bike and reconnecting with yourself and the world can be yoga too -try giving a few minutes every day for some stretches, conscious breathing and quietening of the mind and see the benefits for yourself – happy pedalling!
About me: I am Charlotte Gardiner, a yoga teacher trainee with Avid Yogi Karen Breneman at Meadowlark yoga near the Meadows in Edinburgh. I practice Ashtanga method yoga and teach regular Vinyasa Flow classes at Sustrans and Rosebery House in Haymarket. I work for Sustrans (active travel charity) promoting cycling in schools, and I live with my partner, 2 children, a cat a dog and various bikes. Follow me on instagram @charlotteannegee.