Cycling is one of my great joys. I get fresh air, exercise, the glee of skimming past traffic jams, and I don’t have to cram myself into a tube carriage with angry, sweaty commuters. But hours on a bike has an impact on our bodies, and when I undertook my yoga training I became more aware of the potential ill effects, and began exploring how I could use mindfulness and yoga to mitigate and balance some of these effects.
The importance of the core is drilled into us, but it covers several muscles with different functions. I find that core stability is a more helpful concept. Try to circle your wrist. Easy right? Now try to circle your wrist without moving your forearm at all. Different? Harder? When you’re cycling your legs are the primary body part that’s moving, but if we cannot effectively stabilise the rest of the body then that movement can move up into the pelvis, which can result in lower backpain. To avoid this we need to stabilise the pelvis by recruiting muscles around it; gluteal muscles, obliques, abdominals. I test my stability from time to time by seeing whether I can let go of the handlebars and steer the bike effectively from the pelvis. Learning how to correctly recruit the core in order to stabilise movement in other parts of the body can minimise the impact of cycling on the body.
Cycling, while low impact in some respects, involves repetitive movement through one particular range of motion. When our bodies only move through one range of motion they begin to lay down layers of collagen which prohibits other movements. If you’re engaged in running, cycling, rowing etc you are working consistently within the sagittal plane of motion, as you move forward and backward. But you can also move side to side through the corronal plane (think star jumps, wide legged positions), or through rotation in the transverse plane (twist, diagonal movements). In a yoga class we (hopefully) move the body through all planes of motion, which is why yoga acts as a perfect complimentary movement practise to cycling.
These are just some of the key themes we explore in my Yoga for Cyclists workshops, learning movements and poses which develop core strength and move the body through it’s full range of motion to create balance in the body. We also look at optimising breath, and staying mindful behind the wheel, but I’ll save these topics for another time.