Guest blog post is by Sharon Cowdery.
Sharon is a long-time cyclist and Iyengar Yoga practitioner. She regularly attends yoga classes at Seattle Iyengar Yoga Studio and is a proud advocate for active lifestyle and a balanced approach to well-being. She often rides to the studio. When she does not, she takes bus or walk to take yoga classes.
Bicycling has been an integral part of my existence for nearly all of my 50 years. And still after all this time, whether looking to have some fun, get some exercise, take a vacation or for daily transportation, I often look to my bicycle as my first choice. When new acquaintances learn that I’m an avid cyclist, the most common points they mention are sore muscles, hills and inclement weather. Proper bike fit, conditioning, and the right gear are the keys to alleviating those discomforts typically associated with cycling, though I appreciate the opportunity to engage on a topic way more interesting than sore muscles or rain: Iyengar Yoga. At first glance it might seem unrelated, but Iyengar Yoga has made me a stronger rider and enables me to have even more fun!
Cyclists, like many athletes, develop postural and muscle imbalances due to the specific body positioning and demands of the activity. Numbness in the genitalia is the ‘buzz topic’ we hear the most about, but really, those symptoms are easily alleviated by proper form and standing up out of the saddle at regular intervals to improve blood flow. The forward rounding shoulders, tight hamstrings and the overdeveloped quadriceps that result from the bent over position on the bike make for less sensational cocktail party conversation, but are the more common culprits that discourage people from cycling when they manifest symptoms such as neck pain, low back pain, numbness or worse.
My practice in Iyengar Yoga has been the antidote to the aforementioned muscle imbalances, allowing me to ride pain free for hours at a time, day after day, with a smile on my face. The same actions that I apply in yoga are relevant to cycling: proper muscle alignment and usage, unrestricted breathing, and staying present in my body and my surroundings rather than spacing out.
Holding yoga poses or asanas for long periods of time has helped me learn to relax on my bike. Instead of dreading long climbs or head winds, I focus on my breath and scan my body: Am I releasing my trapezius muscle down my back rather than scrunching my shoulders up and shortening my neck? Am I lifting my chest? Are my hands over gripping the handlebar? Are my groin muscles relaxed? Are my hamstring and gluteus muscles engaged instead of my quadriceps doing all the work? Am I keeping my feet level and pushing through the balls of my toes? Is the effort balanced through the inner and outer edges of my feet? Am I holding my breath? Can I maintain the same level of output with less effort? Almost always the answer is “yes” and it makes me smile.
And there is the issue of safety: Iyengar Yoga helps with cycling in that regard as well. Balance is obviously critical to learning to ride a bike and it is an invaluable skill for staying upright when I encounter unexpected obstacles. Enhanced awareness from my yoga practice helps me anticipate and avoid unsafe situations on the road. Yogic concepts such as friendliness (maitri) and non-violence (ahimsa) remind that we all share this world – drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike – and should aspire to act accordingly.
Just as the experience is different every day when I go to my yoga mat, each bicycle ride is unique and I look forward to the next adventure, even if it’s on a route I have ridden many times before.