This article first appeared in print in the October/November 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
It was a weekend of trail building that killed my lower back. The tight muscles, the stiffness, the core fatigue – I’d never felt like that before and the way it lingered was a bit concerning. I consulted medical experts, aka the internet, and found some stretches that got me back on track after a week or two. Still, the problems returned periodically and the claimed benefits of yoga started to pique my interest. Increased flexibility and core strength seemed to be exactly what I needed. So, of course, I never went.
Guys don’t do yoga. That’s the distinct impression I got from asking a half dozen guy friends about it and getting a half dozen shrugged shoulders or possibly a tale of trying it one summer at camp. Their reluctance was clear but their rationale was not, so I continued to dig through their concocted logic. It seems too meditative, they’d say, too spiritual. Isn’t yoga some kinda new age exercise for women? No dude, it’s been around for thousands of years and was traditionally practiced by men. Furthermore, an overwhelming amount of professional athletes, male and female alike, credit yoga for being a critical part of their training regimen.
“At 24 years of age, I couldn’t sleep due to back pain, couldn’t bear weight on my hands in push up position, I had repetitive shoulder and knee issues, and I had tendinitis in my elbows,” says professional mountain biker Ryan Leech, who offers programs specifically geared towards cyclists. “Enter Yoga, a life and body transformed. Added strength and flexibility allowed my career to flourish.”
As cyclists, we do weird things to our bodies. The crouched position that we spend so much time in doesn’t allow muscles to move through their full and natural range of motion. Over time, muscles can adapt and shorten, hip flexors in particular, leading to anterior pelvic tilt and excessive arching of the lower back. These postural changes then pull other things out of alignment and problems arise. Like lower back pain. Yoga helps to put everything back where it belongs.
Before this sounds too much like an infomercial, let’s head into the yoga studio, where I finally found myself this past winter. The vibe is quiet, calm, and meditative. And yes, its about 80 percent women but if that’s your main motivation for going you’re barking up the wrong tree. Classes are focused and immersive. Logically, I started with a couple beginner classes before adding ones that specifically target hips and lower back. While the classes are far from easy, they also wont send you to the depths of the pain cave either. Just like biking, you’ll get nothing out if you put nothing in, and so I pushed myself into some fairly uncomfortable poses.
And? What happened? The tension in my lower back melted away over a few weeks. My hips felt looser. My joints moved with more ease. That all felt very therapeutic but, with the ski season underway, on the slopes was where it really clicked. I felt more balanced on my board, more agile and more coordinated. While a warm up run is always good for the muscles, everything else felt right on point from the moment I strapped in. It felt great.
When it was time to roll the bike out, the benefits continued. Although biking involves a relatively small range of movement, it demands fine coordination of the hips and core muscles for steering and control. And the more I stretched, the more accurate that steering and control became. Sure I’d still have ‘off’ days when the legs were fatigued, but the bike handling always felt crisp and responsive. I’d even say that crashes were more of a controlled demolition than a train wreck.
For many of you, especially the master yogis, I’m preaching to the choir. But if you spend a lot of time on your bike and have let excuses and preconceptions keep you out of the yoga studio, fall is the perfect time to give it a shot. The first step to a stronger, better, tougher you is simply opening your mind.