I love the freedom of dancing through the woods with my mountain bike as my dance partner. I also love to reflect on what I’ve learned from this dance. Your bike has a lot to teach you in this school called life. At Women’s Quest, we will be dancing on our mountain bikes this summer in Colorado and this fall in Vermont! And then we’ll be heading to beautiful Tuscany, Italy to pedal quiet, scenic country roads.
One of our fantastic yoga instructors, Julia Ingersoll, has put together a sequence of yoga postures designed to help get you ready for a bike ride. Incorporate these poses into your pre-ride routine (and also our post-ride cool down!) and you’ll be pedaling joyfully all summer long… and beyond.
When I was racing mountain bikes for a living, I made sure to take extra good care of myself, both so I could optimize my performance and so I could feel good in my body at the same time. I discovered later that yoga had truly been contributing to my long-term health by easing the effects of pushing myself so hard on the bike during my competitive years.
Yoga was a key component in my self-care as a professional athlete. I had a short routine including sun salutations, a few standing and seated poses, followed by a short meditation, which I practiced daily, rain or shine, race-day or travel day. This ritual not only kept my body supple and helped me recover from the rugged training miles, but it also became a treasured refuge of centering and calm, a haven in the stress of competition and constant travel. Stepping onto my yoga mat was like coming home no matter what state or country I was riding my bike in that day. And the nourishing, life-enhancing practices of yoga are ones that will carry me through my entire life.
We love riding our bikes, don’t we? That’s one of the best treats that springtime brings. This quick yoga sequence is specifically designed to help open your body and your breathing for an optimized bike riding experience.
Yoga for Cyclists: Pre-Ride Warm Up
Connect with your breath and open to grace. Stand with your feet hip width and parallel, hands at your heart in prayer position. Firm the muscles of your legs and hug them to the bones.
With a big inhale, float your arms up to the sky on the wings of your breath. Root down from your hips as you stretch up.
Parvattansana in Tadasana (standing raised arm stretch). Interlace your fingers and press your palms up. Stretch up, even as you draw your tailbone down, and breathe evenly into the front and back of your body. Hold and expand for at least 5 rounds of breath. Opens the shoulders and chest to optimize your breathing.
Heart-Opening Shoulder Stretch. Interlace your fingers behind you and, with elbows bent, rest your thumbs at the base of your spine. Lift your heart, draw your tailbone down, and move your waistline back. Maintain this engagement and extend your arms straight behind you. Inhale deeply and lengthen the sides of your body. Breathe and extend for several rounds of breath. Opens the heart space, shoulders and upper back to counteract rounding.
Standing Forward Bend with Shoulder Stretch (Uttanasana variation). Standing with your feet hip width and parallel, and your hands clasped behind you. Make your legs firm and strong. Lift up through your heart and exhale as you bow to the earth, extending your clasped hands overhead. Reach your hands towards the earth, even as you draw your shoulder blades up onto your back. Draw your tailbone down and lift your low belly in and up to support your spine. Stretch for a few rounds of breath. Inhale to rise. Stretches and warms the hamstrings, low back and shoulders.
Twisting Lunge. From Standing Forward Bend, place your fingertips on each side of your ankles and step your left leg back into a deep lunge. Bend your front knee to a square, and press your back leg straight. Lift from your hip to straighten your back leg, then sit deeper in the legs. Hug the muscles of your legs firmly to the bones, and scissor the legs isometrically to the mid-line. Extend your heart forward and stretch out through the bones of both legs. Keeping this engagement, lean into your left palm. Extend your right arm up into a twist. Draw your left ribs around, twisting from left to right. Curl in your upper back, tip your chin back, and look up. Breathe deeply. Repeat on the other side with your right leg back. This pose stretches legs and torso.
Downward Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana). To prepare, come to all fours, on hands and knees. Place your hands shoulder-width apart, with your wrist creases in line with each other, parallel to the front of your mat. Spread your fingers wide and root the finger pads down. This protects your wrists. Firm your arms and lengthen the sides of your body. Tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back. Press the ground away with your hands and soften the space behind your heart. Stretch your sit bones high to the sky and the tops of your legs back. Reach your heels towards the ground. Breathe deeply, fully, richly. Oxygenate ever cell in your body as you lengthen your spine. Stay (like a good dog) at least 5 rounds of breath. This pose stretches and warms all the major muscle groups at once.
Plank. Inhale forward to plank, the upward push-up position. Hold your body in a straight line by lifting your low belly and filling your kidney area with breath as you draw your tailbone down. Look slightly forward. Exhale, lower down to the ground. This pose strengthens and activates your core.
Locust Pose Variation (Shalabasana C). Lying on your belly, clasp your hands behind your back and point your toes. Scoop your tailbone under and INHALE as you lift your head, shoulders, and legs up, drawing your hands back towards your feet. If you can, squeeze your palms together. Lengthen your legs back as you lift your heart higher. This pose tones and strengthens the low back, opens the chest for expanded breathing, and stretches the shoulders. Hold at least 3 rounds of breath, then release down. This pose strengthens your lower back, opens the heart and shoulders.
Thigh Stretch. Come to a lunge with your right leg forward, knee bent to a square. Lower your back knee to the ground. Bring your hands to your front knee. Tuck your tailbone under and lift your low belly. Keeping this engagement, sit deeper in the legs, letting your front knee come over your toes. Bend your back leg, and reach back with your left hand to take hold of your foot. Draw your foot to/towards your outer hip. Scoop your tailbone strongly, lower your hips to sit even deeper. Breathe fully, deeply. Release and switch legs. This pose lengthens the quadriceps, which work hard on the bike.
Foot Stretch. Come to your knees, tuck your toes under and sit your weight back on your heels. This is a strong stretch for most people—a tad torturous, but very therapeutic for the fascia of the soles of your feet, which will soon be locked in position on your pedals. Endure this pose for 60 seconds, then release. Repeat whenever you feel like it (or not)!
Gratitude Pause. Close your eyes. Sit for a moment and turn your attention to your breath. Receive the breath, this gift of life, in gratitude for a healthy body and this wonderful day.
Have a great ride!
JULIA INGERSOLL is a former top-ranked, professional mountain bike racer, a certified yoga teacher and an artist, and has been leading retreats for Women’s Quest since 2004. Julia began practicing yoga in 1991 with Richard Freeman, and her continuing studies include extensive training in Vinyasa Flow and Anusara styles of Hatha yoga. She maintains an active teaching schedule at the Esalen Institute and the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, California where she lives. Julia also teaches yoga, cycling, and art on Women’s Quest retreats internationally.