Go Play: Three yoga poses for recovering cyclists
Special to the Free Press
Biking isn’t gentle on anyone’s body.
Miles in the saddle looking down at the road can lead to constriction in the jaw and neck, tension in the low back, tightness in the chest and shortened hip flexors. These conditions are not only chronically uncomfortable and painful, but they can also increase the risk of injury when muscles tighten and pull bones out of alignment.
As you begin to practice these poses, be patient with yourself. Even relaxing poses such as reclined bound-angle pose may challenge stiffness in the inner thighs. Camel pose and Crescent Moon invite the front body to open in ways that it rarely opens. You may find difficulty breathing. Just keep practicing, and let the body relax in time. Try not to force yourself into a pose, and drink lots of water.
It takes just 10 minutes on a mat a few times a week to restore balance to your body with three yoga poses meant to keep cyclists at the top of their game.
Reclined bound-angle pose (3-5 minutes)
Focus areas and props: Chest and shoulders, thighs and knees
Props: Two blankets folded lengthwise to support your back, neck and head
The hunched-over posture of cycling contradicts the natural curves of the spine. It compresses your heart, lungs, diaphragm and abdominal muscles, affecting digestion and often leading to lower back injuries.
Aside from the physical strain, poor posture also affects emotions. Slouching makes you feel tired and achy and promotes low energy. The way you hold your body affects the way you feel and vice versa: Opening the front body makes you feel vibrant, full of life and full of energy.
Reclined bound-angle pose counteracts the effects of cycling posture by gently and effectively opening the chest and shoulders. In addition, this pose complements cycling by creating a greater range of motion in the hips while relaxing the inner thighs and groin.
To get into the pose:
1. Sit on the floor.
2. Bring the short side of your folded blanket against your sacrum.
3. Gently lie back.
4. Shift your hips slightly forward or back until your low back is comfortably supported.
5. Let your arms lay on the floor, palms facing up.
6. Place the soles of the feet together and let the knees fall out to the sides so that your legs make a diamond shape. If this creates too much pressure in the hips, put a rolled towel under each knee.
8. Close your eyes and count to four, breathing deeply into your belly first, chest second. Hold for a count. Exhale to a count of four, letting air out of the chest first, belly second. Exhale and hold at the end for a count. On every exhale, soften between the shoulder blades.
9. After 10 breaths breathe through the nose normally.
To get out of the pose:
1, Roll off the blankets to one side or the other. Pull your knees into your chest.
2. Lie on your side using your arm (or a blanket) as a pillow. Hold here five breaths and slowly come up to a seated position.
Crescent Moon (3 minutes)
Focus areas: Hip flexors and thighs
Props: Pillow or folded blanket (optional)
There isn’t a cyclist around who doesn’t struggle with tight hip flexors, but this pose is not just for cyclists. Non-cyclists suffer from tight hip flexors, too. We spend most of our time sitting at a desk, in a car or on a sofa.
Daily life offers very few opportunities to open the hip flexors and the front of the thighs, resulting in tight hips for many of us. Crescent Moon moves deeply into those areas. The stretch is most effective if the torso is over the hips, rather than leaning forward.
To get into the pose:
1. Start with your hands and knees on the floor, hips directly over the knees.
2. Bring your right foot between your hands.
3. Pull the right hip back to be in line with the left, dropping your hips down and forward. If this creates uncomfortable pressure on the back knee, put the pillow or folded blanket under the back knee.
4. Bring your hands to the thigh of your front leg, and drop your shoulders away from your ears. Your knee can bend out in front of your ankle, but it shouldn’t go right or left.
5. Breathe deeply through your nose. At the end of each exhale, lengthen through your spine, bringing the right hipbone away from the right thigh.
6. Draw your lower front ribs in (Do not let them poke forward).
7. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.
Camel pose (2 minutes)
Focus areas: Chest and shoulders, abdomen, spine and neck
Props: One bath towel folded in half the long way and rolled like a jelly-roll (optional)
Camel pose counteracts the hunched-over cycling posture, opening your entire front body: thighs, hips, abdomen, chest and shoulders. It also provides welcome relief to the low, middle and upper back as well as your neck by bending the spine backwards to balance out the forward bend from biking.
Camel pose can be an intense opening, so move slowly and only enter the pose after opening the chest, shoulders, hip flexors and thighs with bound-angle pose and Crescent Moon.
Keep your lower back long throughout the pose. Think about reaching your chest away from your waist as you bend backwards. Without lifting the chest, your spine will over-bend where it has the most flexibility — low back and neck — creating stress and discomfort in both areas.
To get into the pose:
1. Come to your knees with arms at your sides.
2. Ensure a distance of one to two fists between your knees. Tuck your toes under and pull your low belly in.
3. Lift the chest and gaze at the ceiling, creating length in the neck and spine.
4. Place your hands on your hips, as if you are putting your hands into back pockets.
5. Press the elbows toward each other. Slowly allow your spine to bend backwards, as if you are rolling over a giant beach ball.
6. Keep lifting the chest as you bend backwards and gaze to the ceiling or behind you.
7. Stay in the pose for three to five breaths. Breathing can be difficult in this pose, so breathe through the nose slowly and thoughtfully. Sometimes emotions can come up in this pose. That’s not unusual. Let the emotions pass through you.
To come out of the pose:
1. When you come out of the pose, sit on your heels for five breaths.
2. Bring your forehead to the floor or a folded blanket.
3. Allow your arms to rest next to your legs, hands facing up. Rest here for 30 seconds and then come back to seated.
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