This post is for the cyclist who wants to start doing Yoga as a means of unraveling tightness and pain.
Everyone knows that there is no other endurance sport more gruelling than competitive cycling. Even noncompetitive cycling can lead to pain and suffering. With all the highs and lows associated with a passion for cycling, there is every reason to minimise unnecessary pain wherever possible.
In Yoga, we are concerned with the regulating tapas (vigorous devotion to practice) so that it becomes possible to differentiate between what is possible to change with effort, and what must be accepted as unchangeable. As a fellow cyclist and avid yogi, I offer my cyclist friends this manifesto, 10 tips for pain management, so that you may know your pain, and categorise appropriately.
1. Build gradually
Whether you’re at the start of the season, resuming cycling after injury, or building up for a specific event, it is common practice to build up relatively gradually. You already know this. Fitness is like maintaining a castle in shifting sand, already unstable, so you’re best to let the foundations settle as much as possible before starting each new layer. The same is true for integrating Yoga practice into your life. Do a little bit every day and pack it in around your existing successful habits for best results. Rebuilding after trauma, illness, or natural breaks is much easier when consistent patterns are already established.
2. Do Surya Namaskaras (Sun Salutations) every day
It takes 10 minutes to do 5 A and 3 B. Sun Sals are a coordination of movement and breath, not a bunch of stretches, and you can learn the breath/movement coordination (Vinyasa) relatively quickly. Doing the postures in the correct method (ie, with the breath) will address the entire tensegrity structure that is Your Body. The great thing about doing the Ashtanga Sun Sals is that you are doing what is essentially the warmup for the Primary Series, which means you will have a foundation for building up a Yoga practice over a long period of time. Its like putting £20 in savings every month; it doesn’t seem like much, and you won’t miss it from your time budget, but before you know it you’ll have developed a nest egg.
And the very habit of practice means you will have a “stretching’ routine you can turn to in times of disrepair, and perhaps give it more attention when such is available. By starting a simple ten-minute Sun Salutation practice, you’ll learn that “stretching” is accompanied by breathing techniques which provide the actualising factor needed to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, and this discovery underpins the great range of healing benefits associated with Yoga practice.
3. Yoga After Cycling
Do the Avid Yogi Post-Ride Protocol apres-spin. Treat this protocol for your body as you would maintain your bike: clean it before you put it away, and it will be fresh for your next ride.
4. Address Your Core Instability
You’re only as strong as your weakest link(s). You can do it at the gym, or crossfit, or Pilates, I don’t care. Obviously I think Yoga techniques are the best way to understand the constitution of the core but you can use whatever method suits you. A weak core is the heart of darkness and will undermine all your efforts in ways you’re not even aware of. I recommend finding a great Power Yoga class at a convenient time and sticking to it, week after week. Go twice per week if you can, or do the Avid Yogi Core Essentials series on your own time.
Apply castor oil to your knees and if possible, warm them over a radiator or apply a hot compress. Not kidding! I did this after both of my knee surgeries with excellent results. Abhyanga means oil bath, and it comes to us from the Ayurvedic practice of bathing the entire body in copious amounts of medicated oil.
“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”
Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89
(One of the Great ancient texts of Ayurveda)
The science on this one is completely out-there, and whether or not any nutritional properties are transported topically is up for debate. Trimmed body parts may not be what we’re after, but what seemed to work for me was the ritual. Actually bathing my skin and cutaneous tissues in the oil and palpating the knee perhaps mitigated scar tissue formation and a net increase in circulation is always going to aid the healing process, in addition to the positive association of ritualising the healing process.
6. Know Your Pain
Pain is like ice cream, it comes in many flavours and can give you a headache. Some flavours are complex yet palatable; others are so subtle you can swirl them with other flavours and forget what you started with. Certain flavours of pain are corrosive. Tim Myers talks about the definition of pain as that sensory experience which is accompanied by the motor reflex to recoil. If you are a cyclist you know about categorising discomfort and the same is true for learning a Yoga practice. Discriminative judgment means pushing the boundaries to a sensible level and learning to soften into the limitations. What links cycling to the practice of Yoga is the use of breath; the respiratory process is the gauge, the tool we use in Yoga to differentiate “bad” pain from “good” pain. If you’re suffering from bad pain, enquire with your doctor at MHFS. If you know what good pain is, you are doing it right.
7. Become a Connoisseur of Breath
As the wise rider changes the route in response to the prevailing wind, the breathing technique we use in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is the essence of the practice. It is not just an afterthought. Breath control, a.k.a pranayama, drives the pace of the practice, builds detoxifying heat, enhances connection, aids in pulverising stuck connective tissue, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and provides the engine for shape-change that shifts the anatomy trains for full structural integration.
8. Get Light
This could be read doubly. Literally, consider what you’re taking in. Nourish yourself with nutritionally dense whole foods and cut out anything processed. Metaphorically, get lighter – smile more, whistle while you work, be friendly to others appearing miserable, give a push to those who are in need. Be light, generous, helpful, and you’ll feel your load becoming lighter. Heaviness is depressing, it weighs in on our posture, reinforcing negative self-talk and the tendency to quit or, worse, to continue with habits that further ingrain the misery that brings on more pain. The lightness we feel translates into the fabric of our being: the extracellular matrix (ECM).
As we know from the Anatomy Trains concept, the ECM is a reactive tensegrity structure that responds to all forms of impact and reinforces posture around emotional, mental, and energetic patterns, creating our very physical shape and all its associated sensations. The more positive our intake, the higher the energy, the better we’ll feel, the lighter we’ll be, the faster we’ll go, the less we’ll be tied down by unnecessary pain.
9. Sleep, a lot
Adequate sleep is not enough. Rest, do nothing sometimes, and be peaceful with your lot. In Yoga we refer to this contentment as santosha. Yoga Nidra is an excellent practice for shifting consciousness levels from one brain wavelength frequency to another, methodically rotating consciousness, and it brings the practitioner a sense of alert restfulness which keeps the mental processes functioning properly. Quality sleep and an attention to restfulness whilst waking is essential for the body’s parasympathetic nervous system to carry out is essential functions.
10. Feed Your Head
The body is a vessel for carrying us around in this life, the agent of consciousness, a playground for the ego, and its easy for athletes to get too caught up in feeling the sensations of the physical body. Yoga as a practice is beautiful cultural tool for gaining insight as to how the seer (as in, your inner self) gets totally absorbed by what he or she is seeing. We define ourselves by the momentary suffering or elation or boredom we happen to be feeling at any one time.
Through the practice of discriminative awareness and self-study, and study in general, each person gains control over the senses and learns to differentiate the mind from what which the mind is dealing with in the sensory world. Look into the vast beauty of Indian philosophy of mind and you’ll find an unparalleled tool for mental sharpening and ultimately, peace of mind.