Cycling, once the most prevalent way of transport, has taken a backseat to the modern way of travel. The good news is there has been a revival of cycling albeit from a healthy perspective. Cycling works not only on cardio vascular system of the body but also benefits the endurance level as well as the strength. Along with being a beautiful outdoor activity, it also keeps one connected with their social community.
This blog focuses exclusively on how Yoga application can play a crucial role in preventing asymmetry which results from regular cycling. While performing any physical activity, we assume a certain position. This position in itself is not harmful. However, repetition of the same or being in the same position for hours, over a period of time, and not performing counter stretches to negate the continuous holding of the body in one particular position begins to shake the symmetry of your body, eventually causing associated injuries.
Cycling – an activity in only one plane
While cycling, specifically, the continuous extension of some parts and continuous compression of others will lead to adapted asymmetry which is the root of many problems and will definitely affect your cycling performance in the long run. Also, cycling does not allow our joints a full range of motion, thereby; keeping the muscles continuously contracted which leads to their stiffening over a period of time. These tight muscles pull on the bones and lead to the creation of postural misalignment – in other words, beginning to prepare the ground for related injuries. Analyzing it from “plane” perspective, cycling is an activity which occurs only in one ‘plane’. There is no rotational or lateral movement; continuous use of a particular movement works on particular group of muscles. There is not much engagement of any other groups of muscles on the other ‘planes’ leading to lopsidedness or imbalance in the other planes.
Yoga application encircles wellness
One of the major sources of injuries is imbalance, in some form or the other. This imbalance occurs due to overuse or unequal use of muscles and joints. Yoga application has a multidimensional role to play in the enhancement of your cycling performance. It can be applied:
- With intensity during off season
- In restoration & recovery during season
- For flexibility in the areas that are stiff
- For strength building in the areas that are weak
- For balancing movement
- For breath enhancement
Asanas targeting the upper back
While cycling, your body is in a forward flexed position over the handlebars, resulting in compression and stiffening of the anterior part of the spine and lengthening and weakening of the posterior– one of the major breeding grounds for imbalance. The positioning of the shoulders contracts the chest area, affects rhythmic breathing and creates stiffness in the neck and the upper back. I am listing some of the postures which will focus on the upper back and help restore balance in this region.
This is a classical yoga posture popularly known as ‘Cobra’. In this asana, you assume the position of a cobra, thereby, deriving the benefits of a supple spine.
How cyclists can benefit from this:
- During cycling, the upper body is in outward curvature for as long as you are on the pedal, keeping the external part of your spine extended and the internal part compressed constantly. Shoulders are in drooping position, thereby congesting your lungs and obstructing rhythmic breathing. This comfortable bhujangasa is a counter stretch to ‘this’ cycling position. This helps align your discs, in between your vertebra, by counter-acting the outward curvature of the back, thereby keeping your spine lubricated and supple.
- It releases all the tension and stiffness from your back
- Shoulder are rolled back and shoulder blades are pushed against each other in this posture. This helps expand your chest cavity and frees your lungs of all contraction improving your breathing pattern.
Urdhava Mukha Savasana
Urdhava Mukha Savanasana, popularly known as “upward dog” is the opposite of downward dog and advanced variation of Bhujangasana. In this particular posture, only your palms and frontal part of the feet are on the floor. Rest of the body is off the floor.
- Get into Adho Mukha Savanasana (getting into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana from Adho Mukha Savanasana brings optimal engagement of all the involved muscles)
- Come on the toes; your heels are off the floor and pointed towards the ceiling; you will feel a light vacuum in the lower abdomen; holding that vacuum tight, without disturbing your normal breathing pattern, move your body slightly in front with the core muscles
- In the process of the movement, you are on your toes; slowly slide your toes out and rest the frontal part of your feet on the floor (if too uncomfortable, be on the toes itself); drop your hips (with control) down towards the floor and lift your chest towards the ceiling
- Push the frontal part of your feet and the palms on the floor firmly to move your body against the gravity and away from the floor
- Keep sliding your whole body first in front and then lifted up; lift your chest and sternum bone up; roll your shoulders at the back; the shoulder blades are close to each other
- Squeeze your hips and push it down; at the same time push your thighs up
- The abdominal muscles are completely engaged and you should not feel any stress on the lower back (in case you feel stress on your lower back, it is because of non-involvement of your abdominal muscles and lack of contraction at the hips)
This is a strength building posture and works exclusively on building up your arms, core, back and thighs.
Benefits for the cyclists
This posture infuses strength in the areas which have become weak and releases tension from the areas which have become stiff due to regular cycling.
Ushtrasana, known as “camel pose” has most of the benefits of the previous two postures. However, this opens up your chest even wider and one can feel the freedom and ease of rhythmic breathing in just a few practices. Ushtrasana targets your spine from a different angle and releases even the deep rooted stiffness from the upper back.
These three asanas – Bhujangasana, Urdhva Mukha Savanansa & Ushtrasana when practiced after cycling will work extensively on your spine and upper body. Similarly, different group of asanas can be made a part of your regular fitness regime to focus on other parts of your body. Planned in an integrated way, the practice can have an integrated development which will not only enhance the areas of performance but at the same time take care of the areas which are not in use during cycling.
Shammi Gupta, founder of Shammi’s Yogalaya holds an MA in Yoga Shastra, is a certified Yogic Therapist and Naturopath, has completed an Advanced Yoga Course and holds a Diploma in Yoga Education from Mumbai University. She is a certified trainer from American College of Sports Medicine and holds an MBA in HR & MBA in Finance from The University of Akron, Ohio, USA. She conducts Health Awareness Workshops for Corporate, Yogasana Workshops for Athletes and Yoga Therapy Workshops on different medical issues for patients. Among the celebrities Shammi trains are eminent personalities from the film and television industry and corporate world.