Mo Bruno Roy is a long-time cyclocross competitor having raced over 300 elite national level races. Her results include over 100 podium finishes and two World Championship team appearances. After a retirement season in 2014 – 2015, the muscular therapist and yoga teacher is enjoying life organized around the experience of the bike. From mid-winter fat bike tours near her Boston home to cycling advocacy outreach and epic rides in between, Mo knows pedaling. She offers up insights and a practice for cyclists in this, the first of three posts on yoga and cycling.
Yoga has often been thought of as an exercise class with a series of physical movements meant to elicit the benefits of stretching such as improving athletic performance, decreasing the risk of activity-based injuries, and improving flexibility and range of motion in joints.
The recent data are conflicting on whether or not stretching before or after activity has any effect on preventing injury, increasing muscle and tendon elasticity (stretch) or muscle strength function. Many of the research abstract summaries read much like this one “With respect to the effect of pre-participation stretching on injury prevention a limited number of studies of varying quality have shown mixed results. A general consensus is that stretching in addition to warm-up does not affect the incidence of overuse injuries. There is evidence that pre-participation stretching reduces the incidence of muscle strains but there is clearly a need for further work.” [i]
This leaves a lot of athletes wondering if yoga falls into that obscure category of benefit versus hindrance on athletic performance. Some of the physical benefits of a yoga practice are improved strength in under utilized muscles, especially if your cycling training does not contain much cross-training. Balance can be improved through yoga through slow, controlled movement, focus on breath and specific balance poses.
However, if we pull away from the idea that yoga is a just a physical complimentary stretching-exercise routine meant to fix or prevent (injury, flexibility etc) and connect a little bit more with the traditional roots of yoga (the word yoga means to yoke or unite) the benefits of uniting the breath with intentional movement may be a powerful elixir to benefit all athletes physically and mentally.
Part of the intention to the physical aspect of yoga is to quiet the mind. When one is truly focused on breathing intentionally and moving into and out of poses, there is little room for the usual business of mind to creep in with to-do lists and stresses. Essentially, your to-do list while you practice yoga is 1. Breathe 2. Move. This type of quieting the mind can be deeply relaxing as well as cultivating a present-moment focus that becomes especially handy on race day or during a hard ride effort when the external and internal chatter seem incessant. Here are 10 yoga poses to benefit the physical body and well as the mind, focusing on the areas that tend to feel most restricted in the cyclist’s body.
Begin your yoga practice either seated or standing, eyes open or closed and observe your breath for a few moments. Notice if your breath feels shallow and stressed or open and relaxed. Feel where your breath is restricted such as in the upper chest or if you are breathing deeply into your chest and abdomen. Begin to lengthen your inhale and exhale evenly through your nose for 5-10 breaths. Take a few rounds of breath sighing out your exhale through your mouth. Observe the chatter in your mind and rather than forcefully trying to get rid of it, gently acknowledge that it is there and return your focus to your breathing.
At anytime during your yoga practice, if you notice you have become distracted by sounds or thoughts, return to focusing on your breath with long, even, intentional inhales and exhales. Counting out 5-10 breaths is often helpful.
More Mo to come with seven more postures made to release the tensions created by cycling.
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