I’ve started teaching a yin yoga class for cyclists, runners and other athletes. At the first class there were nine people. Women were outnumbered two to one – a rare thing in the world of yoga! The majority were new to the practice. It felt great to be sharing yoga with so many newbies.
If you’re thinking about coming along – or you’d like to find a class near you – here are my reasons why yin yoga is great for cyclists and sports people.
I’m focusing on cyclists as the class is run with The Hub, a cyclists’ cafe in Redbourn, Herts, but it can equally apply to runners, swimmers and any other endurance athletes.
1. Injury prevention
A handful of athletes may get acute injuries – broken bones and such like – but most injuries are from overuse. It’s the repetitive nature of endurance sports.
Imbalances in your body can cause inflammation and excessive wear on tissue. A regular yoga practice brings your body back into symmetrical alignment and corrects flexibility and strength imbalances. You’ll be able to compete for longer. Take Ryan Giggs for example. He credits yoga for the longevity of his football career.
2. Stretching out
Most athletes know that having a stretch before and after exercise is good. If there’s a freer range of movement, your body can find the most efficient path and use the least energy.
Also, cycling long distances with the body fixed in one position takes its toll. Spines become rounded, shoulders hunch and the connective tissue around your hips tightens. Yin yoga counters these positions – offering backbends to open and lengthen your spine and improve posture. We’ll also work on postures to improve the flexibility in your hips and your lower back.
3. Yin vs yang
You may have heard of the terms ‘yin’ and ‘yang’. They come from Taoist thinking. Yang relates to movement, creating energy and heat in the body. Yin is about finding stillness, being calm and cooling the body.
You need both to come into balance and stay in optimum condition.
Cycling is yang activity but if you only ever focus on the yang, your body can suffer from fatigue and burn out. Yin yoga provides the balance.
4. The power of the breath
Your breath gives you energy and power to carry on and complete the race – even when you think you’re done in. Yoga teaches breathing techniques to allow you to inhale more and encourage more gaseous exchange in your lungs – sending more oxygen to your internal organs.
If you find yourself struggling to pedal up a never-ending hill with the wind in your face, focus on your breath. Time your breath with your pedal strokes and you’ll be up it in no time.
Doctor and triathlete John Hellemans recommends that the best breathing for top athletic performance is deep diaphragmatic breathing… Dr Hellemans also notes the importance of getting into a rhythmic flow with your breathing and synchronizing your breathing with your movement.
You can do that by taking a breath when you plant your foot during a stride or when pedalling on a cycle. Find a rhythm and speed of movement that allows you to work within the confines of your breath capacity so that you are not building up an oxygen deficit.
Donna Farhi, The Breathing Book (Taken from ‘Pedal Stretch Breathe – the Yoga of Bicycling’ by Kelli Refer)
5. Staying power
In yin yoga we aim to spend a minimum of five minutes in each pose (all are seated or lying down). This builds mental stamina. You breathe and you get through it – whether it’s the final minute in a yin pose or the final few miles of a race.
Of course, you can always ease off and make adjustments to your pose, but you become more aware of what’s going on inside and more in tune with your body. Surely that’s no bad thing for an athlete.
6. “I’m going to win!”
Endurance athletes like to win. It’s all about the competition – with each other and with yourself – trying to improve your personal best.
Yoga teaches you that there’s more to life than going faster or further. It’s not about looking around the room to see who’s struggling to touch their toes and whether you’re doing ‘better’ than them.
It’s about accepting where you are today – not comparing yourself to before you had that hip/knee replacement, or thinking about how fast you were ten years ago. Gushy and naff as it sounds, if we’re able to accept our bodies as they are today, we’ll be happier individuals.
So there’s my six reasons. If you’re in Hertfordshire, feel free to come along to the class on a Wednesday evening in Redbourn. You’ll be made to feel very welcome and you don’t need to be flexible in the slightest. In fact, the less bendy you are, the more you’ll fit in.
Find out more on the class schedule page.