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Yoga for Athletes

Enjoy the Ride: Yoga and Biking

Nothing's more freeing than the open road—unless it's the space you create inside.

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Nothing’s more freeing than the open road—unless it’s the space you create inside. Yoga and Biking have a lot of similarity. Learn how you can combine your two passions.

It’s approximately 120 miles by bike from Pacifica, California, to the small town of Pacific Grove on the Northern California coast. Every year the recreational cycling club I belong to rides the distance together to celebrate the end of another season of great rides. For me, the ride is less a physical endeavor than a practice in gratitude.

Riding on Highway 1 early in the morning, we pass fruit stands in the fog. Flying brown pelicans, big gangly birds that are so graceful in the air but so awkward and funny looking on land, make me think of the first time I sat on a road bike. The position of the seat relative to the handlebars puts the upper body in a stretched-out, slightly hunched posture that can take some getting used to for beginners, but it felt just right to me from my very first ride, almost like the fetal position.

See also4 Science-Backed Benefits of a Gratitude Practice

There’s no question of zoning out on a long ride: Cycling on any road requires a vigilant awareness of everything around you. Missing a bit of gravel on the road, a car pulling over, or another cyclist’s flat tire could have disastrous consequences. But with practice, this hyper alertness becomes second nature, a state of mind cued by the touch of the bike seat, the sound of shoes clicking into the pedals. And once I’m settled in and pedaling, once I’ve stopped fidgeting in the seat and wondering whether I really want to ride today, space is created that wasn’t there before. It’s the same as in a flowing asana practice, when your focus and motion take on a life of their own. It might take 15 minutes to get to that place, or an hour and a half; maybe it’s 5 miles, or 95. But as muscle memory takes over, it doesn’t matter whether I happen to be feeling strong and full of energy or tired and creaky; that space opens, every time.

For some people, this space is where they solve problems, get creative inspiration, or let go of hurts. For me, this space makes room for gratitude: for my legs, strong enough to pedal; for my fellow cyclists, who come up behind me with an encouraging word or make room for me to pass; for the weather, no matter what it is; for all of the things I wouldn’t have noticed by car—the spiky leaves and purple blossoms of artichoke plants, surfers zipping into their wetsuits, tiny lettuce seedlings, the warm, moist fragrance of strawberries.

See alsoYoga for Athletes: 4 Poses For Spinning + Outdoor Cycling

I ride for the same reason I practice yoga—because when that space opens, I know this is who I really am. It’s a lot like when you leave your sunglasses on indoors for a while without realizing it. When you finally take them off, there’s that simultaneous flood of light and recognition, and you think, “Oh that’s right, of course—this is what things really look like!”

By mile 75 it has started to drizzle, and my stomach is growling. My knees are stiff, my knuckles feel frozen to the handlebars, and I think I might have taken a wrong turn a few miles back. But no one of these sensations or thoughts dominates. There’s room for everything, and more besides.

See alsoA Post-Workout Meditation All Athletes Must Try

Double the Fun

Want to make the connection between yoga and sport? Check out events that combine them.

YRide This “conscious cardio” class at YYoga’s Flow Wellness Center in downtown Vancouver combines indoor cycling with yoga to strengthen the body, connect with the breath, and refresh the mind.

Running with the Mind of Meditation and Yoga This weekend retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Center in the Colorado Rockies offers meditation instruction, yoga for runners, and contemplative group runs; see shambhala mountain for dates.

See alsoApplying Yoga to Running

The Centered Athlete Explore classes, workshops, and retreats featuring yoga for runners, cyclists, and triathletes in the greater Montreal area.

Ananda Velo This cycling club in the yogic community of Ananda Village in Northern California is dedicated to joyful group riding. The club sponsors yoga and cycling retreats at The Expanding Light; see expanding light for details on the September retreat.

Yoga for Runners Christine Felstead teaches yoga classes, workshops, and retreats designed for runners and endurance athletes in Toronto, as well as a Yoga for Runners teacher training program.

See alsoRunning to Stand Still