We cycle as transportation and as a way to enjoy life more by connecting with the world around us. We do not engage in the “sport” of cycling – not that there is anything wrong with that, but neither of us is exactly the sporty type. The health benefits of daily cycling, however, are undeniable and serve as a big reason to ride a bike.
The other side of this benefit is that the muscles can get very tight with repetitive motion and some complimentary stretching is necessary. Not to over-complicate our basic message of city cycling (“Oh, now I have to create a targeted stretching routine to bike to work? Forget that! Where are my Hummer keys?”) but a bit of stretching would do a cycling body good. We both practiced yoga before we started riding bikes and have found that yoga and cycling is a lovely combination.
Dottie: Before I started riding a bike, I practiced Bikram yoga (aka “hot yoga” – 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees) 3-4 times a week. Once I started cycling, I began tapering off my yoga classes because I felt so fantastic just from cycling, until I somehow stopped going completely for several months. This week, acknowledging my tight muscles, I returned to yoga. I thought I would be a droopy and goofy mess after such a long hiatus, but I held up well and was able to hold some poses even much more strongly than before. That really surprised me. Notably, I was more focused with poses that rely on leg strength, like trikanasana (triangle pose), garundasana (eagle pose), and utkatasana (awkward pose). Trikanasana had always been the hardest for me and suddenly I was trikanasa-ing like nobody’s business. Of course, my flexibility was down, but it felt fantastic to stretch my legs and back. I am sore as heck today, but ready to return to class soon. My body thanks me.
Trisha: As usual, Dottie is downplaying her hardcore tendencies. I went with her to a hot yoga class a couple of years ago, and I’m pretty sure that all the sweat I have ever sweated in my entire life did not equal the sweat that emerged in that hour and a half. As someone who normally avoids exercising in anything that approaches 100-degree temps, I thought I was being tortured. I walked out of that studio in only my workout clothes, drenched. It was November in Chicago. It felt good to be alive. Since then I’ve wanted to try it again just to see if the experience compares, but I can’t quit my on/off relationship of five years with my local Iyengar yoga studio, 12South Yoga. Like Dot, I’ve let things lapse a bit, and my muscles are feeling it.
Iyengar yoga is named for B.K.S. Iyengar, who created the first yoga video about 60 years ago and “brought yoga to the masses” according to Time magazine.* In classes, you’re usually taken through a slow sequence and hold poses for longer, focusing on correct form even if it means using props like bricks and belts. I love the way it makes you think about your body, whether it’s leaning a bit to the left or right, where you’re putting your weight, or what the small muscles in your arms and feet are doing. Last summer and into the fall, I was riding my bike and doing yoga — and usually riding my bike to yoga. My performance in class was never better. Poses I’d had trouble with before came more easily: even if the muscles were tighter, they were stronger. One day the teacher led us into Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand), something I’d never been able to do without being spotted. She was busy with other students, so I figured I’d give kicking up a try — and was stunned when my butt slammed into the wall and my heels went up into a perfect handstand. A magical moment.
You can find an Iyengar sequence for cyclists here.
Finally, in addition to the physical benefits, there are mental benefits – staying calm in traffic. The next time someone cuts you off, you can think, “ommm.” Or flip them off, whichever comes first.
*Anyone who doubts yoga’s health benefits should note that Iyengar is somewhere near 90 and STILL LEADING WORKSHOPS.