Such an awful term that is too commonly used in the cycle scene. I’m sure I don’t need to explain to anyone reading this that it’s a derogatory reference for those of us who prefer road cycling, and the often rigid cycling style this brings. I apologise to anyone who is reading this and is offended – this is not my intention at all as I hope you will understand if you read on…
So, I’m the stiff-pole roadie of the team, worse than that I’m into all that hippy stuff too – you know: organic food, fair trade, meditation, yoga. What kind of a cyclist am I?! What am I doing on The Bike Picture, a predominately male mountain bike team into hard-core endurance suffering in the wilderness?
Well, team mate and friend Endurance Oliver tops me on the moon-child front, but cycling for me (and I assume the rest of the team) definitely goes beyond the physical. I use cycling – any discipline of it – as a means to let go of my conscious and then connect to my raw feelings, to experience my lungs at full capacity and put myself under a level of physical demand and fatigue that our bodies were designed for, but these days are rarely used.
I think this is why a lot of us find sport, or dance, or meditation. They take us to a place that our evolutionary expectation wants met. We want to push ourselves, we want to find our limits and broaden them. We want to let go of conscious thought and move into that place that is instinct. Something our internal dialog does a good job of taking over… I question if ‘language’ has boxed our ability to think beyond what we can verbally communicate.
Yoga and cycling have always run hand in hand for me. Initially both done for hobby, I’ve found as I developed to become a cyclist I’ve wanted to develop my yoga too. Initially I expected the yoga to benefit my cycling in terms of flexibility – I’d naively overlooked the spiritual and mental focus that is also required and it is this that has been most valuable and transferable to the bike, in particular for my timetrials.
I practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. This form of yoga requires stamina and focus to perform a fluid sequence of poses (vinyasa) which are linked with breathing. The practice starts with a chant, then goes into a sequence of Sun Salutations, followed by static standing poses, meditation and relaxation. My practice currently takes about an hour. As I get stronger this will take longer due to an increase the length of my breath, and hopefully I’ll be able to take on more advanced steps and stages within my Sun Salutations and standing postures. What I aim for is to practice with total concentration.
You may have already noticed the pattern here… a yoga practice is much like that for cycling: For racing I start with a clear focus of what I’m going to achieve, followed by a warm up, then the event which involves total concentration and the ability to maintain a relatively uncomfortable position for a period of time, then there is a reflection on my performance and a warm down. Yoga has taught me to transfer my conscious away from my body and into my mind, to reconsider physical pain/fatigue as a positive feeling, to resist the urge to fidget and not to relax into a more comfortable position; an essential practice for timetrial where maintaining an aerodynamic position is so critical.
I’d encourage every cyclist to give yoga a go for these reasons alone. If you are too embarrassed to go to a class, there are some great DVDs available.
So, whilst I hope my riding style isn’t too ‘stiff-pole’, I’m pretty confident that my general flexibility is way beyond that of the average rider.
Wikipedia has more detailed information on Ashtanga Yoga if you’d like to read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashtanga_Vinyasa_Yoga
My yoga DVD collection includes tuition by Tara Lee, Nicki Doane and Rodney Yee.