Asanas for the Cyclist

Feature photo by Kassandra Bracken, Asana photos by Caren Hui of Yogalife Studios

Feature photo by Kassandra Bracken, Asana photos by Caren Hui of Yogalife Studios

Many Edmonton locals are choosing to leave the car keys at home in favour of bike shoes and helmets as a means of commuting around our lovely city. As mentioned in a previous post, Edmonton’s warm summers have allowed for the development of a large density of summer festivals (see our festivals post here), and what better way to get to these festivals, and evade what is often a parking nightmare, then to hop on a bike and pedal to your destination.

Those who don’t use cycling as a way to commute may be found in local spin studios, which have grown in popularity within our city with the growth of studios like YEG cycle, Spinunity, Soul Cycle and Tru Ride. If you’re one of these two people, this post is catered to you, looking to provide yoga asanas that help to combat the common aches and pains that may follow heavy cycling.

Image from YEG Cycle's blog

Image from YEG Cycle's blog

Though a fun way to get around, and an easy activity to get your heart rate up, cycling for long distances (or in the case of spin classes, long durations) comes with its fair share of ailments if not balanced with cross training and stretching activities like yoga. Like any repetitive activities, we need to pay attention to the position our body is in for the duration of the activity, and look at what stretches and movements get us out of those postures we hold for so long. We should choose positions that counteract the ensuing tightness that is inevitable when fixed in a certain posture for a long time.

In the case of cycling, first of all we are either seated, or up on the pedals. Both positions keep the lumbar spine in a flexed position forward, with our hands on the pedals. In this position we invite tightness into our hip flexors, and also immobility into our lumbar spine as we aren’t really doing any rotations at that point in our back throughout the activity. Second, the chest is typically bent forward over the bike handles, with our shoulders rolled forward on the trunk, resulting in tightness in our pectoral muscles, and decreased mobility into our shoulders into external rotation. Finally, and most obviously, cycling is a lower body heavy activity – our glutes, our hamstrings and our quads are constantly working in sequence for the duration of the activity, and after long sessions on the bike can result in global leg tightness.


So how do we address these issues? Below are three categories of stretches as well as specific asana examples to work on the potential tight areas following an intense cycle session.

Lower Body Asanas:

Depending on the position of your body over your feet during cycling, you could work almost all major areas of the lower extremity – those who cycle with the upper body bent further forward work the glutes/hamstrings whereas those who cycle with the upper body more upright work the quads in a greater proportion. With the legs, it’s all about the feel of the postures. Whichever postures feel the most challenging and result in a higher intensity stretch are the ones to work on. For all cyclists, make sure you incorporate a hip flexor stretch that works into the iliacus/psoas complex as these are notoriously tight no matter how you cycle.

Low crescent lunge (Anjaneyasana)

This posture is great for addressing hip flexor tightness. Make sure, as you deepen into this posture that you are keeping the hips tucked in, and working towards elevating your chest towards the ceiling. By tucking your hips in and pushing them forward towards the front foot, you will feel a hip flexor stretch into the back leg.

 

Revolved triangle pose(Parivrtta Trikonasana)

Any forward fold, with the knees kept straight will address hamstring tightness. Revolved triangle is a great option for addressing both hamstring tightness and trunk immobility as it incorporates trunk rotation into the posture as well. If this is not accessible to you, a standing or seated forward fold is a great option to address both hamstrings simultaneously.

 

Reclined hero pose (Supta Virasana)

If you find that your quad muscles (the front of your thighs) are big problem makers after your cycle, reclined hero is a great posture lengthen out those areas. Go to a depth where a stretch is felt along the front of the thigh, either to your wrists, elbows, or fully on to your back.

 

Pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

An effective way to address the deeper gluteal muscles that get tight during cycling is through pigeon pose. For the greatest depth, keep the front leg parallel with the short end of your mat, and move slowly into sleeping pigeon. If this is not accessible, fire log pose, or the figure four position on your back is a suitable alternative.

 

Upper Body and Heart Opening Asanas

For the most part, while cycling our arms are fixed, grasping the handlebars of our bike. This keeps the shoulders and pectoral muscles in the same position for long periods of time. It’s important to counteract the resulting tightness through moving our upper body in the reverse direction through heart openers.

Upward facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

This posture has the dual benefit of not only opening up those hip flexors, but also reverses the posturing of cycling by moving into lower back extension, while simultaneously opening up the heart and addressing potential pectoral tightness as a result of being fixed over the bike handles.

 

Bow pose (Dhanurasana)

This posture allows for the chest to open, relieving those tight pectoral muscles, while also inviting more mobility into our shoulders. Make sure during this posture that the shoulder blades pulling towards each other is what guides the movement of the arms, not just the reach for the feet. If this is not in your repertoire of postures, modify by interlacing the hands behind the back, and again allowing the shoulder blades coming together to elevate the chest off of the floor.

 

Lower back Asanas

Supine Twist (Supta Jaṭhara Parivartānāsana)

A quick and easy way to invite more mobility into the lumber spine is through any supine twist. Laying on your back, with your knees together, drop them to one side making sure to keep the shoulders fixed to the mat. This focuses the twist on the lower body. Choose a leg position that allows for the greatest tolerable depth in this position.


If you are looking for more appropriate postures that can address the specific issues you experience from cycling, don’t hesitate to ask any one of our qualified instructors for advice following your class, or to book a one-on-one session to troubleshoot any issues you think need special attention. General guidelines: make sure the asanas produce a “stretch sensation” and not sharp pain. Muscle tension is good, but pain that is abrupt and cutting is not, and could be indicative of a more serious over use injury. In these cases, take these concerns to your local physiotherapist or physician to get a better diagnosis. Remember to keep all your health care providers and yoga instructors in the know! (see our previous article yoga and physiotherapy here).

Enjoy the ride this summer (and maybe even early Autumn too!) and make sure to keep yourself injury free by balancing out your cycling with a good yoga session!

Teacher Feature | Chris Shewchuk

All photos featured in this blog were taken by Jenn Clara Photography

All photos featured in this blog were taken by Jenn Clara Photography

Don't be fooled by his calm demeanour or his gentle voice in class - when Chris teaches at our studios, you're guaranteed to walk away feeling worked, but refreshed and blissed out. While Chris is a relatively new face on our roster, given Yogalife's long 7 year history of being open, he has already amassed a following amongst our students who seek out his strong, balanced yoga style. Chris continues to contribute his positive energy to both our north and south studios, so we thought now is as good a time as any to fully introduce him to our community! 

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HOW DID YOU GET YOUR YOGIC START?  WHO BROUGHT YOU TO YOUR FIRST CLASS, WHAT WAS THAT LIKE, AND WHERE WAS IT?

The first class I ever went to was at Moksha West Edmonton. At the time I fought wildfire with Alberta Forestry and I had a bit of time off, and one of my fire buddies convinced me to go. To be honest I barely remember anything other than struggling like crazy in the heat and feeling totally lost. I kept looking around to see what other people were doing, and knew that what I was doing wasn’t even close. Very humbling. I hated it and decided yoga wasn’t for me.

Of course a few years later I dropped in on a gentler hatha class in an unheated studio, and decided maybe there was something to all this yoga business after all.

SHARE A FAVOURITE QUOTE, LESSON, OR TEACHING THAT INSPIRES YOU.

My favourite teaching was dropped in a north side hot flow by Cole Williston a few years ago. He had brought up the topic of work, and my attitude toward work at the time was to either avoid it as much as possible (in private), or to overwork and be a martyr about it (in public). I couldn’t understand why life was so hard! Anyway, Cole said something to the effect of “your attitude toward the work that life gives you determines how that work will go”. It was an ah-ha moment, and in an instant I saw how much of the suffering in my life stemmed directly from my resistance to doing the unglamorous work life gave me while seeking the glamorous stuff. Ever since, my relationship with work has been very different.

WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE MUSIC TO PRACTICE TO (OR DO YOU PREFER SILENCE!?)

Depends on how I’m feeling… silence is golden, but sometimes you gotta get your jam on. Sometimes the practice is just to dance!

YOUR FAVOURITE BOOKS, YOGI-INSPIRED AND FICTION.

I don’t read very many books these days, but I used to love Isaac Asimov. It might sound boring, but all of my yoga books at this point are reference books — if you really want to know, my favourite reference book for yoga is Hatha Yoga Illustrated.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR FIRST TEACHER TRAINING.

Ah, it was at Noorish with Jana Derges (Roemer). Things were very weird. I was going through a lot of depressing stuff and trying to figure out if life was worth living. There was very little stability in my life. I sold almost everything (and all of my musical gear) to afford the teacher training, and was bouncing between living in a tiny wood-heated cabin on a farm outside of Edmonton and living with my parents. And I wasn’t even sure I wanted to teach yoga!

In the end the whole process was hugely transformational, and was exactly what I had needed at the time.

WHERE'S YOUR FAVOURITE VACATION SPOT?

That’s a secret. But my second favourite vacation spot is here in Edmonton. There is so much to do! Bike trails, the valley, river swimming, acro jams, festivals, live music, and of course yoga. Plus no packing or expensive tickets required!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MEAL TO MAKE AND SHARE WITH FRIENDS?

Curry stir-fry. Yum!

WHO INSPIRES YOU?

So many people have inspired me along my journey that it’s impossible to list them all. There’s a quality to a person who is living their truth, and it shines through every action and word. These are the people who inspire me.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FESTIVAL TO ATTEND?

There are a couple wonderful electronic festivals at Metis Crossing near Smoky Lake. The land out there is beautiful, and I love returning there to celebrate life and party!

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IF YOU COULD STUDY WITH ONE PERSON WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY?

There’s no one teacher I feel drawn to. I’m ever grateful for the dedication and knowledge of teachers like Ricky and Melissa, who pour their passion into what they do.

WHAT IS THE BEST CONCERT YOU'VE EVER BEEN TO?

Tough choice. It’s tied between Emancipator and the Cat Empire.

WHERE'S THE NEXT PLACE YOU WANT TO TRAVEL?

I don’t have too much of a travel bug at this moment. The last few trips I’ve taken were painful in profound ways, and I’ve really come to appreciate Canada.

SHARE YOUR FAVOURITE SELF-HEALING PRACTICE.

Of my two favourite self-healing practices, one isn’t family friendly, but the other is getting into nature. The patterns in nature are infinitely more complex than anything we’ve created as humans. They inspire the soul and free the mind of restriction. There is space to think, to be, to breathe. I’ve always felt that cathedrals have tried to emulate the spacious feeling of an old-growth forest, and there is a reason people are drawn to cathedrals to pray.

SHARE ONE OF YOUR LIFE GOALS.

To be free.


Find Chris on our schedule!

Stay Connected: 3 Poses For the Wandering Yogi

With summer in full swing there is no doubt the YEG yoga community will be setting out into the world to enjoy some vacation time! Long hours in the car, sleeping in tents, crashing on couches and airplane rides are all wonderfully balanced out by staying connected to your practice. Here's 3 yoga poses you can do to restore the mind, body and soul of the wandering yogi. 

Edmonton Yogi Travel Poses

TWIST

No matter how you're travelling, your body is going to crave a nice wring-out when you arrive! Twisting comes in many forms: reclined, seated, of the lunging variety, worked into a standing sequence... there's many ways to scratch that itch! Benefits of twisting include relief of lower back pain, cleansing and detoxifying the body, stimulation of circulation and digestion and reduction of stress and anxiety. Bring your breath into the juicy spots along the spine, hips and shoulders. 

Edmonton Yogi Handstand

GET UPSIDE DOWN/PUT YOUR FEET UP!

Inverting is an amazing way to reset and restore the body, and there's so many ways to get there! You don't have to pop up into a handstand or headstand to achieve the wonderful benefits of inversions. A simple 'legs up the wall' will help reduce stress, improve circulation, ease back pain and generally assist in posture. 

Edmonton yoga and travel

SLOW DOWN AND BREATHE

Vacation time is excitement time! Yes, you may plan to relax, kick back and unplug, but you can also find yourself overrun with sights to see, plans and activities. It's always a great idea to remind yourself to take a few deep breaths and reconnect back inwards. The rest of your trip will thank you! 

Wishing you the most epic summer adventures coupled with health and happiness that will carry you into Fall. Don't forget to visit us when you're home! 

Sticking around YEG for the summer? Here's our must see and do events of Edmonton!