I should really come for a class but I am the least flexible person in the world, says pretty much everyone who has ever discovered that I am a yoga teacher. We may meet at a party or in our local coffee shop and immediately you’re articulating the personal battle between your internal fitness fanatic, who is desperate to try a new skill, and your inner demon who is terrified of failing or damaging your joints.
Lets start by addressing the student who is so stiff they cannot sit cross-legged, let alone bend their head towards their knees. It may be reassuring to know that you are already about 10 steps ahead of where I was when I first came to yoga 4 years ago. (WARNING – this competitive mindset will disappear the more true to the practice you become.)
Instead of seeing this tightness in the body as an obstacle, I invite you to look into your tension with curiosity. Muscle fibres have to work double as hard to stay in a static position as they do when they move. The build up of scar tissues (knots in the muscle fibre) are more likely to form the stiller we are.
Lets look at the position you take on your bike, the cervical and thoracic region of the spine are statically curved forward, shortening both pectorals minor and major – say hello to back and neck tension. The hips are moving in a forward and backward motion (similar to walking and sitting) meaning that unless you are going out of your way to open your hips and gluteus max, you will building a lot of tension in this area.
How does breathing correctly into painful areas help us? When a muscle is tense from a hard workout or there is build up of scar tissue, the area is suffering from ischemia (lack of oxygen.) Yogic breath is similar to altitude training in that we teach the body to re oxygenate cells efficiently so that we can work more effectively whilst starting the healing and regeneration process. Perhaps this is one of the reasons some of my new ride yogi’s are experiencing PB’s on the bike.
Yoga has been around for hundreds of thousands of years – practices like Buddhism stem from yoga. This should help build some reassurance that with the correct breath and teaching methods injury will be avoided. However pain is a part of yoga. Tapas (austerities) are integral to the practice. Students may experience a lot of discomfort in the first few months as we begin to open areas of the body that have been blocked and tight for along time. After bringing the breath under control, the mind will follow and show us that pain and discomfort are a mindset. These sensations are not to be ignored, rather explored. For example I found that very slow movements in areas of extreme pain taught me exactly where I held the most amount of tension and where it stemmed from.
To conclude this short introduction to Yoga I would like to leave you with the words of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of ashtanga yoga, who said “yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory,” hopefully encouraging you to come and try a class at ride republic and experience for yourselves the magic of this practice.