In last week’s post I discussed the physical benefits of practicing yoga when you are a cyclist. This post is about the mental and emotional benefits of practicing yoga when you are a cyclist, especially when you are over 50.
Aging isn’t terribly kind to your body. It’s easy to get frustrated when you can no longer perform the way you once did. Even healed injuries can interfere with your body’s normal functionality. Observing what happens in your body, without catastrophizing or underplaying, can vastly improve your relationship to your body. Yoga teaches you to notice your body without attachment, meaning you observe objectively, rather than subjectively. Fewer stories in your mind, means less emotional suffering.
During your ride, unless you ride on a relatively flat route, you are bound to encounter a hill. Or many. Or maybe a questionable surface. Navigating these challenges with a calm and clear mind definitely saves you a lot of wasted mental energy. When you start panicking about the upcoming hill or your ability to climb it, or any of a number of doubts and fears, it’s as if you are a leaky bucket. Your mental energy “leaks out” unnecessarily and can leave you feeling drained, thus detracting from your overall experience.
Strength and Ease
Strength, or Stability, and Ease are 2 principles of practicing yoga that affect your ride. You want enough strength to keep yourself stable, but enough ease so that you are not rigid. You want enough ease so that you move easily through a range of motion, but not be so lax that you lose power. Practicing yoga teaches you to find this balance in every pose, not matter what you do. This also applies to bicycling. You want enough power going into the pedals, but you don’t want hard muscles that won’t lengthen when you stand up. The balance of Strength and Ease comes from your mindset.
Can you stay calm when you are up against a challenge? Do you relax when you start to climb or do you tense up your body? Can you keep your mind focused during an arduous route?
Yoga for Cyclists
While yoga is a physical practice, it also affects your mind. When you practice yoga, you are doing poses with your body, but you are completely focused on what is happening right now. If you are standing on one leg, it is difficult to think about anything except trying not to fall over. This presence in your body, teaches mental focus. When you focus on one thing for an extended period of time, this trains your mental stamina. Focusing on your ride without getting distracted helps you notice your surroundings to avoid injury.
Certain styles of yoga, like Vinyasa yoga, combine the physical yoga (asana) practice with specialized breathing (pranayama) while you move. Connecting your breath to your movements improves your ability to calm yourself under moments of stress and frustration. This metered, controlled breath practice helps calm and focus your mind while you are challenging your body. This is something that you could potentially apply during that difficult climb on your bike.
If you have a challenging ride in your near future, practice a few minutes of meditation ahead of time. This helps you focus your mind and manage the challenges as they come up, rather than anticipating them and wasting your energy.
If you know the route well, visualize yourself riding the route with strength and ease. You can go through the entire route in your mind, or just the tough parts. When you get to those parts on your actual ride, you’ll feel less anxiety. You’ve already done it in your mind, so it’s not new and scary. Even if you haven’t done this route before, use your imagination to go through what the ride might entail. Keep your breath steady and focus your mind on what the ride feels like.
Click here for my free video, “Post Bike Stretch,” a 20 minute stretch class for after your ride!
Join Judy Clawson and myself for Yoga and Bicycling, a fundraiser for the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden in Harvard, MA on July 15th. Click here for more information or to sign up! All proceeds go the the Healing Garden.
Curious about meditation? Click here to get my free eBook, “3 Myths About Meditation, and Why it’s Easier than You Think!”