This is where I try to tackle the hard questions, get into the nuts and bolts and do my best to push you off the fence, if that’s where you’re feeling comfortable right now. If you have questions, I’ll try to answer them here so that everyone can benefit.
WHAT IS YOGA?
Unfortunately, yoga is about as generic a term as exercise, which is where much of the confusion arises. And, unlike with exercise, the person running PR for team yoga has, in my opinion, done a terrible job. Yoga means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
Yoga can be a purely mental discipline that includes meditation, chanting and breathing techniques; some schools like Ashtanga teach a set sequence of poses that never changes; Bikram is practiced in a heated room; Iyengar focuses on alignment and relies heavily on blocks and straps; Power Yoga is athletic and typically involves challenging poses like inversions and arm balances; in Yin yoga you hold poses for 3 minutes or more; and then there’s Tantra, which I’ll let you do your own research into. For some, yoga is a spiritual practice and for others, it involves the pursuit of physical and mental mastery.
I actually love all styles of yoga. Well, most of them, at least in small doses.
WHY SHOULD YOU PRACTICE YOGA?
Because it works.
I’ve never come across a group of people who have had such consistently dramatic results with yoga as mountain bikers. And no-one is as surprised as me. I fell into this completely by mistake and I’m still amazed at the stories I hear of life-transforming relief from pain.
Mountain bikers suffer for their passion in numerous ways, but nowhere more so than on their bruised and battered bodies. My first mtb student boasts only half a kidney on one side due to some gnarly handlebar action and his best mate is called ‘Collarbone John’. Injuries are inescapable, but what is possibly worse are the creeping aches and pains that start off as innocuous and suddenly overnight become debilitating and unmanageable. These are typically caused by:
- An imbalance between the muscles you use and those you don’t.
- The narrow range of movements required by your sport.
- The anatomically strange posture you put yourselves in for long periods of time.
The concept in Chinese philosophy of yin and yang—depicted as two serpents that represent oppositional and interdependent forces—is how I see mountain biking and yoga. Mountain biking is dangerous, competitive, aggressive, fast and furious and yoga is peaceful, restorative, reflective and nourishing. I think that’s why they complement each other so well.
WHAT ARE THE TOP 20 REASONS THAT MOUNTAIN BIKERS NEED YOGA?
Aside from the undeniably attractive possibility of enlightenment, the yoga I teach has two purposes—recovery and performance, and two dimensions—physical and mental. It is a practice designed to teach you how to control your body and mind, so you can move and perform like a pro.
- Pain relief, especially at the lower back.
- Releases tight muscles.
- Counteracts muscular imbalances.
- Increased postural awareness, on and off the bike.
- Speeds up recovery and reduces muscle soreness.
- Relieves stress.
- Promotes relaxation.
- Improves the immune system.
- Enhances sleep quality.
- Adds years to your riding.
- Improves balance and proprioception.
- Strengthens the core.
- Activates weak or inhibited muscles.
- Improves body control
- Lubricates and stabilises the joints.
- Improves movement efficiency and precision.
- Enhances coordination.
- Trains all planes of movement.
- Increases lung capacity and breath efficiency.
- Enhances focus, concentration and mental clarity.
IS YOGA A MAGIC BULLET?
Of course not. Nothing is. Yoga should only ever be one of many arrows in your quiver. I recommend you also recruit a good physical therapist or functional movement specialist to your team. Having said that, when it comes to reducing aches and pains, improving core strength, increasing range of motion and correcting poor posture, yoga is hard to beat.
WHY NOT JUST DRINK A COUPLE OF BEERS?
Sort of! Except that unfortunately one of the side effects of drinking is that it’s a powerful psycho active subject that muddles your thinking and steals energy from your tomorrows. Which is no good if you want to put in a world class performance on your bike the following day. Yoga done right doesn’t really have any down sides. You just have to find the right dosage and delivery mechanism for you.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO GET STARTED?
I have tried to keep equipment to a minimum in the videos but unfortunately, the tighter you are, the more props are going to help you out.
- A mat: don’t be too cheap as this will be frustrating in the long-term. Make sure it is grippy, durable and long enough if you’re tall. I have a heavy Lululemon mat which is excellent except when I travel. Manduka are another great brand.
- Comfortable clothes that you can move freely in. Baggy clothes don’t really work.
- Cushions and pillows to prop you up.
- A towel or blanket to put under your knees if they give you gyp.
- 2 blocks and a strap (a belt is just as good).
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF PRACTICING AT HOME?
The cons are that you don’t have a teacher to give you feedback on your alignment. Once you’ve got a few sessions under your belt, you might even like to go to a class and ask a few questions related to your specific issues. Until then, it means you have to be extra careful to follow my alignment cues. And you can always ask me questions. The pros for you mountain bikers are way more than for the typical group of individuals. Pull up a pew:
- No-one is going to see you faceplant.
- If this is a whole new world for you, it’s probably best to work out a few things in the comfort of your own home, before you launch yourself onto a fancy pants studio.
- Yoga classes can be pretty pricey and if you’re still on the fence, online yoga classes can act as a low-cost experiment.
- Unlike out there on the trails, competition does not help in yoga. This is one area of your life where it’s ok to be entirely self-focussed. You’ll get the best results that way.
- Without the distractions of a class, you may find (and I certainly do) that you learn more about your body and what it needs.
- You can tailor your practice exactly the way you like it.
- It can be very hard to find a class that you jive with unless you live in a highly-populated urban area.
- It’s convenient and you can do it covered in mud. Not so appreciated in aforementioned fancy pants studio.
- If yoga isn’t your most favourite thing to do, it’s going to be difficult to motivate yourself to spend any more time than you need to getting to a class.
HOW SHOULD YOU STRUCTURE YOUR YOGA PRACTICE?
This is a really difficult question because so much of it depends on your preferences, schedule and how your body runs. I can pop up out of bed, take a couple of deep breaths and do a deep back-bending routine no probs, but then I’ve been doing this stuff for years. The younger and more supple you are, the more latitude you have, but whoever you are, it’s important to practice safe yoga. Yoga can be dangerous. Not dangerous like wing-suit dangerous, but fairly high risk if you’re not a perfectly optimised athlete—and a lot of that comes down to timing.
My videos are divided into 5 skills and I can give you a rough guideline for when I think each of them will be most appropriate. I recommend you experiment for a few weeks and design the program that suits you best:
- The Flexibility videos are based on static stretching. So when would you normally do static stretches? When you’re warmed up, and not before high intensity, explosive or strength-related activities.
- The Strength videos involve activating inhibited or weak muscles so it’s great to practice in the morning or before a ride.
- The Balance videos are challenging and require full concentration. It’s therefore probably not something you want to do very close to bed as it is so physically and mentally demanding.
- The Relaxation videos are fairly self-explanatory. These sequences involve breathing techniques, gentle stretches and short guided meditations. They are best to do in the afternoon or evening when you’re winding down for bed. They’re also good if you’re shattered or injured.
- The Mobility videos are relatively fast-paced—like a vinyasa or flow class, with traditional yoga poses like Warrior 1, 2 and Triangle. If you’re a pro these are great sequences to do in the morning or as a warm up, but if you’re a little stiffer, they’re more suitable for later in the day.
I hope this helps. I’d love to hear what is working for you in terms of timing so that we can crowdsource our experiences.
DO YOU NEED TO BE FLEXIBLE TO PRACTICE YOGA?
I would argue that the less flexible you are, the more benefits you’ll experience. It’s similar to asking if you need to be well to see a doctor, when being well is exactly what your doctor intends to help you with. If you’re super tight, there’s no doubt that it is going to be uncomfortable at first but as long as you start off gently and stay consistent, you have the most to win.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO SEE RESULTS?
This depends on a number of factors so I can’t give you an exact answer. The bad news is you have to make a solid commitment, as miracles are not going to happen overnight. The good news is that you should experience noticeable improvements right away.
HOW DO YOU MOTIVATE YOURSELF TO DO SOMETHING THAT IS UNCOMFORTABLE AND BORING?
I find pain is a solid motivator. If you don’t enjoy yoga and you don’t need to do it, then don’t! I don’t have irrefutable confirmation that yogis get to heaven faster. But if you’re stiff, inflexible or suffering from aches and pains and don’t enjoy yoga, just do the least necessary. Start with the articles—trying a few different poses to see if that makes a difference.