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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Yoga offers cyclists with a way to become even better in how they live and ride

Yoga offers cyclists with a way to become even better in how they live and ride
By:  Michael Lander

Yoga is a philosophy with mental, physical, and spiritual dimensions
that often relies on regulating one's breath as well as assuming
postures or poses (known as asanas).  The asanas may be seen by
some as having an almost artistic, dance-like quality and beauty
to them.

Cycling is part mental and part physical and, like any sport, it is not only impacted by what you do on the bike, itself, but what you do before you ever even get out on your bike and ride.

At the very least, this can and should involve proper nutrition, hydration, and maybe even some off-the-bike physical conditioning. 

Being able to ride is one thing, but to become even better at it, it is important to develop the mental and physical acuity, which for those who are open to the idea, could come through the discipline and practices of yoga.

Yoga originated in India and has become popular around the world for all that it can offer to those who practice it. 

“The word ‘yoga’ comes from the
Sanskrit word ‘yoke’ or ‘union and it is a philosophy of physical and mental techniques, along with spiritual disciplines, which, when practiced correctly, will unite the mind, body, and spirit.” Pat Fielder said.

Yoga classes typically include the yoga student (or yogi) assuming
various poses and stretches.  Each posture, according to Amy
Lenkszus of Sumits Yoga, is designed and sequenced to build
strength, flexibility, and balance as well as providing improved
posture, focus, and a reduction of stress.

Fielder began her yoga practice in 1966 and she has a Master of Education degree and has taught for many years with the
University of Memphis Physical Health and Education Department.

Even though there is a wide spectrum of schools, practices, and goals by practitioners around the world, according to Fielder, the most widely known of these is Hatha and Rāja yoga.

“Hatha yoga is the practice of using physical postures or
asanas to discipline the body while regulating the breath,” Fielder said.

Learning how to breathe, alone, is something that many cyclists might find especially useful while riding.

“Hatha yoga is also a prelude to Rāja yoga, which includes mental concentration and meditation.  It is the beginning path to prepare the aspirant for other forms of yoga,” Fielder said.

“The sheer physical well-being that is naturally achieved by proceeding very gradually into each position up to the point of feeling the body doing what it can do without pain, is the object of Hatha yoga.  I always like to say that yoga meets you where you are and there is no comparison of yourself with any other body,” she said.

In the western world, yoga may only be viewed as the physical
practice of asanas (or poses), but it is actually a state of being
involving both the mind and body.  The asanas, Lenkszus asserts,
are defined by yoga sutras as only one of eight limbs on the path
 to where the mind is fully expanded to a state of pure awareness
known as Samadhi.

Fielder believes that there are many reasons why cyclists, or anyone else for that matter, should consider practicing yoga.

“Practicing yoga can give a person relief from tension while improving blood circulation, energizing and revitalizing the body, doing away with fatigue, and calming the nerves.  Increased emotional control, improved sleep, and the ability to be relaxed also comes from the calm and equanimity produced by the general effects that a moderate daily practice of yoga has upon a person,” Fielder said.

Amy Lenkszus is the owner and manager of
Sumits Yoga Memphis studio and she founded her business with a commitment to teach and foster the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of yoga in a loving and community-based setting.  She started her yoga practice in 2007 and she believes that yoga techniques can be particularly useful in helping cyclists.

“In many ways, it’s good from a cross-training standpoint, but also for injury prevention and recovery as well as for the training on focus, concentration, and learning how to control your breathing and dealing with distractions,” Lenkszus said.

Yoga can be seen as being therapeutic and could be especially
beneficial to athletes and cyclists for conditioning, injury
prevention, and recovery, and helping to enhance focus,
concentration, and controlling one's breathing.

While cyclists can benefit from all types of yoga, Lenkszus thinks that they would get the most out of styles that focus on continuous movement.

“Styles such as Sumits yoga and other
Ashtanga and power flow classes are steady flowing, work through a full range of movements and build great muscle endurance,” Lenkszus said.

“Cyclists need to focus on leg strength, flexibility, and lower back strength since cyclists typically experience tight hip flexors and strain on their backs.  Many yoga poses target the hip flexors and lower back, helping to balance muscle strength and prevent injury,” she added.

“Yoga also keeps students focused on a deep and steady breath, forcing their muscles to work aerobically.  Training their muscles in this manner and learning how to control their breathing are two very important aspects of training and racing for endurance athletes such as cyclists,” Lenkszus further added.

According to Lenkszus, it shouldn’t take cyclists long before they start seeing some possible improvement in their cycling.

For some, yoga may be perceived as a practice that promotes mind
over matter, but it may be more accurately described by those who
ascribe to it as being mind and matter in harmony and in unison
with one another.

“Cyclists should almost immediately see an improvement with regular practice.  If cyclists can practice three times a week, they should start to experience an improvement by the end of two weeks,” Lenkszus said.

All students, whether they are cyclists or not, will learn more than they might imagine from doing yoga.

“Yoga students learn to practice a sequence of yoga positions smoothly and slowly, using proper breathing while recognizing the different muscles that are either stretched, contracted, or relaxed.  Concentration and the integrity of mind, body, and spirit is acquired or increased during these exercises,” Fielder said.

“Students also find out how to use breathing techniques to cleanse the respiratory system, improve oxygenation, and they learn ways to help manage stress and quiet the mind.  They also acquire the use of a relaxation process to detach from all activity,” she added.

Yoga also has a way to bring the mind and body together in unison in a way that many people have never experienced before.

Yoga has been described as a process that allows for a greater and
more enhanced awareness, focus, and a deeper connection between
the mind and body, which can lead to spiritual development,
enlightenment, and a full realization of oneness.

“The unison of mind and body is attained by correctly practicing each asana during the yoga session.  The practitioner keeps the mind centered on every breath, as well as the feel and utilization of every muscle in the body, being aware of the physical effects during the asana, as well as controlling the breathing, and the length of time spent before coming out of the position,” Fielder said.

“I like to tell my students that we practice ‘kindergarten yoga’ because real yoga doctrine is spiritual disciplines and techniques of meditation, which enable the practitioner to achieve unity with the Divine,” Fielder added.

“After the position is over, it is important to become cognizant of the body by noticing the effects from the asana, then consciously relaxing before going on to the next movement.  During this mental and physical discipline of concentration and realization there is established a harmony with the source of one’s being that leads toward the ability to meditate,” she further added.

Sumits Yoga is unique in that the yoga sessions are held in a heated
room, which is thought to allow the muscles to stretch more easily
and it opens the body to experience a detoxification affect.

Transcendental Meditation, Fielder said, is the trademark name for the yoga meditation founded and taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

“When persons become adept at the unifying action of doing Hatha Yoga, it begins to influence their philosophy of daily living.  These yoga practices can help a person become more mindful of everyday activities,” Fielder said.

“A person’s life can be enhanced by living life the way we practice yoga, paying attention to the ‘now moment, and, afterward, feeling the effects of the mental state caused by it; then actually learning to ‘let it go’ both mentally and physically.  In this way, we follow the
rule of Dharma, which is for each of us to live up to the best in us,” Fielder said.

Whether it is for cyclists, or for anyone else, living up to our best and seeking to reach our full potential is something that we should all aspire to and yoga may be the key for helping to take us there.

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