Yoga for Cyclists | Q and A with Alice McNeil from Hope Yoga
Many of us cyclists are guilty of only taking care of one thing - your pride and joy that is your bicycle. We invest hard earned cash to buy the bike and carry on this trend throughout it's life to make sure it is running in tip top condition. But what many of us overlook is our own bodies. We put our bodies through mile after mile of sitting in the same position, often carrying our equipment in panniers or similar bag. And if you are like me, you sometimes bring along a little too much!
I recently attended the Cycle Touring Festival where I had the pleasure of going to a yoga session with Alice McNeil from Hope Yoga. It may have only been an hour session, but i really felt the many years of aches & pains from cycling and constant computer use (I work in IT) coming out. Now Alice isn't your everyday yoga teacher; Alice is a keen cyclist and her honeymoon was a 2+ year cycle tour from the UK to New Zealand! An injury during that trip drove her to become a qualified yoga instructor and physiotherapist. The session Alice delivered at the festival was aimed at us cyclists and you can download the routine right now. Once you are up to speed, it should take around 10 minutes. Please note that this routine is to only give you ideas and is not medical advice. Always seek medical advice when starting any new exercise to ensure it is appropriate for you.
Alice has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about yoga for cycle touring and yoga in general. Let's get started!
Where did you train to become a yoga teacher?
I trained in Rishikesh in India, and despite being a little bit commercial on the yoga front, it was a magical place to learn more about yoga. My course was from a school called Chandra Yoga and it was in some ways one of the hardest, yet most rewarding, things I have ever done.
What equipment do you need for yoga? And if out on a cycle tour, can you get away with improvising?
You don’t need anything. It helps to have a flat-ish surface, if this is a little soft, like grass then that is ideal. If you are inside on a hard floor, then a yoga mat (a sticky mat) is helpful to cushion the body and to stop your limbs from sliding. Other props which are useful include a brick or block (can also use a thick book) strap (use a belt, rolled up towel). I have never taken a mat/props on a cycle tour, and even when I’m teaching I end up off my mat somewhere in the room – just watch your knees!
Is it ever too late to get into yoga?
Absolutely not. There is a form of yoga for everyone and every body.
An injury on your cycle touring honeymoon kicked started your passion for yoga, but before this happened did you do anything before, during, or after cycling (or other exercise) to take care of yourself?
I had practiced yoga for a number of years prior to the ‘honeymoon’, but I had limited knowledge about which postures might be beneficial. Each evening myself and husband Pete made ourselves do some stretching. If I had known what I know now, I might have done a different stretching routine!
While on the bike-ride we made sure that we ate well and stayed hydrated, which in fact, probably a little too much as we both gained weight during our cycle journey!
How does yoga benefit cyclists?
From a physical perspective, yoga can help to neutralise the sustained postures we get in cycling. For example, when cycling hips are never fully extended which can cause tightness in these muscle, therefore stretching these muscles helps to re-dress this balance. Another bonus is that it makes you more aware of your body, so when it is out of balance you can do something about it before it’s too late.
The cyclist yoga routine you put together, how many times a week is best to run through this to see the benefits?
The latest scientific evidence suggests that a stretching routine should be performed 3-5 times a week to be effective, but doesn’t matter if this is during, before or after exercise. The aim is to counteract the physical effects of being in the saddle. So if this 10 minutes a day on a daily commute, you won’t have as many effects to counteract as you would if you were slogging out 150 km a day on rough terrain. However, you should always listen to your body – so if you think you feel like stretching, you probably should!
What tips do you have for stretching whilst cycling (obviously when safe to do so!)?
Do what feels nice. It might sound simple but if you listen to your body, it will tell you what to do. If you have a range of stretches to ‘dip into’, this makes it much easier
What are the most common injuries cyclist pick up from just cycling ? And what are the best ways to help prevent them?
Piriformis syndrome, lower back pain and neck pain are all common occurrences. We are all different so the guidance would vary depending on your set-up, previous injuries etc. However, a good rule of thumb is to firstly have a bike which fits you; and build up distances gradually. Changing position regularly (i.e. hand position) is probably also good advice.
As with any exercise, cycling is great for the mind as well as keeping fit. Does practicing yoga give similar same results?
Yoga comes in many forms. Originally, the purpose of yoga postures (or asana) was to enable the practitioner to sit for long periods of time in meditation- some forms of yoga focus only on the psychological/spiritual side, whereas other forms have a bias towards the physical. A balanced yoga practice will include elements of physical postures, breathing exercises and meditative exercises. In essence, yoga is a form of moving mediation as the idea is to combine movements with breath, and carrying out those movements with awareness and focus.
You have two minutes before you rush to work, which yoga moves would you suggest and why?
I would either complete a few rounds of sun-salutations, as it awakens the body nicely, or I would take a moment to focus on an abdominal breathing exercise in order to calm the mind before diving into the chaos of the day.
Should yoga be practiced before or after cycling, or does it not matter when?
Regular practice is the best advice. But if you can gain a deeper body awareness from yoga, you will be able to feel when you need to do a yoga practice, and also what you need to do.
Many of us have had all kinds of injuries over the years - what is the best advice before starting out with yoga?
Respect your body. No pain no gain is definitely not appropriate.
We all pick up pains every now and then when out cycling, what is the best thing to do if a little niggle starts?
Respect the niggle! Carry out gentle movement and, you’ll start to see a pattern here, do what feels right/nice.
What are your top tips for people wanting to start practicing yoga?
Find a few local classes, try them all and see which one suits you best. There are so many different types of yoga and within that, so many style of teaching that there is bound to be one that resonates with you.
Name three unexpected places people could practice yoga as part of their day?
The first one that came to mind (not sure why) was the bathroom! It is a quiet, private space where you can spend a few moments to carry out some breathing exercises to calm the mind, maybe even do a couple of balance poses....
The second would be a tent (or bed) . If you are camping on a cycle tour, the tent is a great place to do some lying down postures. If you are anything like me, you will get all tucked up in the tent before remembering that you were meant to stretch... it’s never too late! The third one, hmmm, that’s difficult, so many to chose from! To be honest, I seem to do quite a lot of yoga in the kitchen. Waiting for the kettle to boil, toaster to pop, microwave to ping... some nice pockets of time to do a couple of yoga poses.
Many of us travel to work using public transport - do you have any tips for fitting in a few yoga basic moves or stretches without upsetting other passengers?!
Absolutely. Tadasana, or mountain pose is a standing posture where you focus on making a firm foundation with your feet, activating your legs, standing tall with a neutral pelvis – just like a mountain. You could also do small movements like shoulder rolls or calf raises but carry out the movements in time with your breath. For example, raise up onto your toes as you breath in, lower the heels back to the floor as you breathe out. If you move into more ‘subtle yoga’ techniques you could do simple exercises such as trying to close your eyelids as slowly as possible, or imagining breathing through one nostril at a time.
Yoga or bike ride - if you had to choose?!
I’m going to cheat here and say both... Yoga isn’t just a set of physical exercises, it is also a mental state, and it can be a way of life as well. I find cycling to be a great form of moving meditation, particularly when riding through deserts as there are few distractions.
What was the most memorable setting you have practiced yoga?
Ooo that’s a hard one as I have had the privilege to practice yoga in so many memorable place. Perhaps the stand out time was doing yoga on the ramparts of a castle in Rajasthan India, with my mum and the ‘King’ of that region. I remember being in a headstand and laughing to myself that I was doing yoga with the King of the Castle at sunrise overlooking the deserts of Rajasthan.
Tell us about Hope Yoga. Where do you run classes? Where can people find out more?
Hope Yoga was a way for me to be able to continue to practice yoga both as part of, and separate to my physiotherapy practice. As I also work full time as a physio in the NHS, I am currently doing 2 classes of ‘Yoga for Adventure Sports’ a week in the Hope Valley, Peak District.’ I’m also hoping to start a class for the management of chronic pain. You can find out more through my Facebook page @hopeyogaphysio.
Do you have any cycle tours planned?
We have just resurrected Telia the Tandem! We made it as far as the pub in the next village....Next year we hope to do a long distance bike-packing (NOT on Telia!)route in the Peruvian Andes.
Where can people find you on social media?
Any more sessions at cycling events planned?
The festival season is almost over for me, but I will be teaching at the ‘Basecamp’adventure festival at the start of September. I’m also quite excited that Pete and I have just been asked to teach at a yoga and mountain biking retreat in the Lakes in November. For more information on this, check out: https://www.cowdance.co.uk/yoga-and-mountain-biking-retreat