The Cyclists Guide: Getting the Best of Yoga for Cool Down
What a great ride, but now you get off your bike and you’re feeling a bit tight and worn. It’s time to stretch out all that tension, and open up those joints so we can feel revitalized again. Let’s have a look at the deeper side of yoga and make the best use of our time when we are lengthening those muscles and joints.
When you look at yoga pose what do you see? Do you see a stretch? Do you see tranquility? Maybe you just see a contortionist and say, “That is definitely not for me!” It does often just looks like a stretch, but it can be so much more if you just understand them. You can get that light stretch or that deep down internal stretch and relaxation that all yogis rage about, and it can be the great start or finish to a day of cycling.
When we are cycling we are bent over at the hip, our legs are moving in a repetitive motion, and our weight is impacting our shoulders, pelvis, knees and ankles. We may even feel tension in our feet, since balance is achieved through our feet, shoulders, and core as we push deeply into the pedals. Cycling for a long period will cause hip flexor muscles to tighten and result in lower back pain from misalignment; our shoulders and chest could feel sore, and possibly ankles will also have muscle tension from balancing and holding the positioning for the duration of our ride. Lastly, our leg muscles will be tight and sore from the intense workout.With this in mind we have come up with the following 3 yoga / yoga inspired moves that will help you open up your hips, lengthen your spine, pull your shoulders softly out of that compressed tight state, gently lengthen and soften your leg muscles, and maybe even help your feet release some tension. When you are stretching be patient with your body and don’t overstretch to achieve a pose. When you breathe, breathe deeply through your nose and be aware of your breath. Let’s get started.
1. Wide legged Standing Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana A, B, C, and D)
- Don’t let this simple looking forward bend fool you. There is a lot more to this series of poses than meets the eye, so let’s break it down.
Pose A: Wide legged Standing Forward Bend (hands on the floor):
- Begin with your feet together.
- • Inhale and step out turning your body to your right with your arms straight out to the sides.
- • Breathe deeply until your legs are about one and a half leg lengths wide. Exhale; bring your hands to your waist.
- • Inhale; stretch and look up. Exhale, bend at the waist with your core supported and lower your arms hip wide to the floor.
- • Inhale, look up with your spine straight and hands still on the floor. Exhale; drop back down trying not to round the back placing your head between your hands. Breathe deeply for 5 breaths through your nose inhaling and exhaling fully.
• While you are in this position work towards ensuring your legs and back are straight and that you are balanced equally. Keep your knees soft.
• As you are inhaling, pull your abdominal muscles into your pelvis and feel the hip joints opening farther. Think about keeping your spine long and straight as you bring yourself deeper into the pose. Allow your shoulders blades to fall towards the ground lengthening and relaxing the muscles and feel the bottom of the shoulder blade moving father towards the ground away from your back.
Coming out of the Pose A: Inhale and bring your hands to your waist and rise to a standing position. Exhale; release your arms to the side.
Pose B Wide legged Standing Forward Bend (hands at waist):
• Inhale arms straight out. Exhale arms to your waist and lower your body to the floor keeping your core nice and strong.
• Continue to bring your abdominals into your pelvis area, feel your spine lengthening and allow your shoulders blades to fall towards the ground.
• Push your hands into the waist lengthening the arms. Breathe and hold this for five breath counts.
Pose C & D (Hands clasped behind your back / holding big toe):
• The last two poses you will come out of the pose the same way as you did for Pose A; however you will be clasping your hands together and bringing your hands towards the floor for Pose C, and grasping your big toe for Pose D.
• These poses should all receive 5 breaths counts.
• Always keep your legs and abdominals strong, lengthening on the exhales.
2. Seated Forward Bend (Dandasana and Paschimottanasana)
These poses will lengthen the spine and hamstrings as well.
Staff Pose (Dandasana)
• Begin seated on the ground with your legs stretched out in front and your feet together. Sit tall and think about getting a good grounding with your sitting bones on the floor. I like to think about how it feels to go up in an elevator with that floor pressure. This is what it pretty much feels like when you are grounded.
• Make sure your pelvis is neutral and not tilted. If you need to find a towel and place it under your sacrum to tilt you forward a bit.
• Firmly press your palms into the ground and make sure your chest is open, your shoulder blades should be pulling down the back.
• Tilt your head up, then bring it down and tuck your chin in towards your chest to lengthen your spine and neck.
• Flex your feet pushing your heels into the ground, firm up your thigh muscles and feel your legs internally rotate. Take care not to hyperextend at the knee.
• Take five breaths in this position. Use your abdominals and pull into your pelvic area and pull in underneath your chest cavity.
Seated Forward Bend Paschimottanasana
• From the staff or stick pose, release your hands from the floor, raising them up over your head with an inhale.
• Exhale and bend forward keeping your spine nice and long as reach as far as you can towards your big toe. Keep your legs long and your pelvis sucked in.
• Chest remains open and your back is long not rounded. Hold this for 5 breaths and release the pose.
• If you would like to try a bit further reach around and try and grasp your wrist or bring your fingers together around the feet.
3. Assisted Bridge Pose Stretch
This pose series is not actually taking you into the full yoga pose but more inspired by one. It uses a variation of Setu Bandhasana Sarvagasana (Bridge pose), but the intent is to open the hip flexors up, which in turn should help to relieve tension in the lower back.
This pose does require a prop. I would suggest a yoga block but a pack or blanket could work in a pinch if needed.
• Begin in a layout position (flat on the ground). • Inhale; slide the soles of your feet on the ground towards your buttock.
• Make sure you are about hip width apart and knees should not pass your toes.
• Exhale; while pressing your back towards the floor.
• Inhale with a strong core support and raise your pelvis up and place your block evenly underneath your pelvis at your sit bones. Take care not to place it in your lower back, if you feel any pain reposition or refrain from doing the pose.
• Exhale; lower your legs into a straight leg position, allowing your legs to rotate slightly outward. Just chill out here for a while. Re-adjust the block as needed.
• If you want to deepen this stretch, bend your legs at the knee and tuck your legs in with your feet coming beside the block on either side. Try and reach down and touch your feet. If you have knee issues this one is not for you. Again, breathe deeply and just relax.
• As the last part of this pose, you can push up from the block maintaining your weight evenly on your shoulders, not the neck, and grasp your ankles. The bend should be distributed evenly throughout the back, so if you are not ready for this I would suggest refraining from it until you have increased flexibility.
There are many poses that a cyclist could easily benefit from but these ones are sure to give you a good start.