Trying out something new, especially a group activity, is nerve racking for even the most socially gregarious of us. When that activity involves sweat-inducing amounts of bending & stretching, often in close company and under the instruction of a teacher so serene you'd think the very air was piped in from the Himalayas, well, you could be forgiven for being a tad apprehensive.
I'm of course talking about Yoga, an often misunderstood, possibly even slightly maligned activity, that I have found myself practising for the past year, and one which has had some quite unexpected benefits for my cycling fitness.
First off, I'm going to admit to being totally unprepared for what Yoga really was all about. Stupidly I thought it would help me to relax and stretch off the aches from the daily bike commute. Big mistake. Yes, the relaxation part when it comes, is phenomenal and surprising in its intensity (that's the good stuff at the end of the session), but Yoga is in no way easy. In fact, to even hold a position (let's put grace and poise on ice here), is really tough. Regular Yoga practitioners have a core strength that defies belief, a sense of balance to rival a tight rope walker, and mind-blowing flexibility.
Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured
Founder of Iyengar Yoga, Mr. B. K. S. Iyengar
One year later and I'm still a pathetic novice, but under the tutelage of a great teacher and supportive Yoga centre, I can now hold a position with a semblance of control - toe touching is only the work of a moment, and throughout the week I feel calmer and more present; which is not an easy thing when you run a business that demands more of you than there is to give at times.
To the Bike Mobile
Now that's the off-bike stuff - the really interesting part came after a few weeks during my daily 13 mile commute out to Hampton from London. Two words - Big Ring (no tittering at the back). In short, my leg strength began to show signs of improvement, and as a climber, the effect was most in evidence during short, sharp hillocks. More punch, better recovery - I can only attribute this to Yoga, and it's been getting better and better. Aside from the blessed pins, Yoga seems to have amped up my on bike balance considerably, most evident during fast corners, and also enhanced my upper core strength, which seems to have be of greatest benefit over a full week's full commute.
Hey rubber-ducky, you're the one. You make bath time lots of fun
Would I recommend Yoga? Yes, wholeheartedly. After being sceptical and more than a little nervous of group activities, Yoga has been a revelation, both for my off and on bike life. Whilst hard to fit in to a busy schedule, it is a part of your day that has the potential to significantly help other areas of your life. And let's face it, in this mixed up muddled-up world, taking the opportunity to do something that improves both body, mind and presence in the moment, has to be worth a try.
If you'd like to start Yoga but don't know where to begin, a good and economic option is to call your local Yoga centre, and explain to them that you are a newbie and would like to try it out. Most times they will extend you an introductory offer. Alternatively, sites like Group On et al often have offers running.