Wheel Poses

Sonya practicing her craft. Photo: Steve Zdawczynski/stevezphotography.com

I had been racing my mountain bike for eight hours. The biting pain in my shoulders and the tweaky ache in my left IT band had become distracting, to put it mildly. The finish line was so close I could hear the music and the cheers. I should have been thinking about my victory or maybe about diving head first into the beer cooler, but after 100 miles, all I could think about was my yoga mat. I knew when the Bailey Hundo was said and done, I would step onto that mat and heal the mental distress and physical pain from my efforts on the course.

It’s a no-brainer that maintaining any position for a prolonged period of time is hard on the joints and muscles. And regardless of how much I love my bike, I know it amplifies that physical hardship. Also, the mental pressure of training and racing causes stress that has negative repercussions on the body. Fortunately, five years ago, I found yoga. It’s been a huge benefit for my obsession with endurance sports, from both a mental and physical perspective. Mentally, it teaches me stress management, breath awareness and mindfulness. Somatically, it improves strength, balance, spine health and posture.

After practicing yoga regularly with a good instructor for about two months, I noticed my entire outlook on life had changed. I suddenly had more patience and self-acceptance. And self-acceptance is one of the most difficult issues to overcome as a cyclist due to the desire and pressure to be fast.

“All emotions have a component of a somatic sensation and a thought story behind it. If you can create a distinction between the two, you diminish your suffering in relationship to all those negative emotions,” says Boulder yoga instructor Matt Kapinus. To me, this means that the philosophy of yoga combined with the asanas (or poses) teaches the practitioner to open a deeper part of human emotion and to release hang-ups.”

Another Boulder instructor, Tunde Borrego puts it this way: “You get good at what you practice—everything from yoga asana, to breath and even thoughts. So when I teach, it’s about practicing kind thoughts, and not taking oneself to seriously.”

When I applied this mindset to cycling, it became the recognition that any negative thoughts in response to a difficult physical effort could diminish my enjoyment of my ride. Just by practicing kind and positive thoughts, I had more fun and I even performed better. With a little awareness and some practice, old thought patterns of “I suck or I’m not good enough” could be changed to “I’m doing my best” and “that’s great.”

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