Work It Out: 5 yoga poses for mountain bikers | SummitDaily.com

Work It Out: 5 yoga poses for mountain bikers

Pinna Gallant
Special to the Daily

Summit County mountain bikers are a hearty group of people — discomfort and the occasional injury are accepted parts of the sport. Unfortunately, chronic discomfort becomes pain over time. Pain keeps you out of the saddle and that's not acceptable with a summer season that seems to be over in a blink.

Mountain bikers are most likely to experience discomfort in the lower back, hips and neck. The remedy: balancing strength on both sides of your body while keeping muscles soft and pliable.

Try these five yoga postures a few times a week to open muscles around the hips and spine — and notice how pain begins to melt away.

1. Dragon

Dragon stretches the primary movers for any cyclist: hip flexors and quadriceps. When riding, these are habitually engaged and in need of release. If you don't release tension from your hip flexors, low back pain is likely to follow because tight hip flexors pull your pelvis forward and exaggerate the curve in your lower back.

To illustrate how this looks in your body, picture your entire pelvis as a bowl of water. A neutral pelvis is one where the water does not spill out the front or the back. If hip flexors are tight, the back of the bowl lifts up and the water pours out the front. This means that tight hip flexors shorten your lumbar spine and compress your lower back. Open hip flexors help bring the pelvis back to neutral, and dragon is a perfect posture.

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Start on hands and knees. Bring your left foot to the outside of the left hand.

Slide the right knee back until you feel a good stretch through the right thigh and hip flexor.

Sink your hips down and forward. (To intensify the posture, curl the right toes under and lift up the right knee. This will build strength in quads and glutes while putting additional pressure on hip flexors.)

For an additional challenge, bring forearms to the floor.

Breathe slowly and hold for at least one minute.

Relax. Repeat on opposite side.

Note: Another option for this pose is to leave the back leg down, reach backward with the opposite hand and capture your back leg foot, then pull your heel gently toward your glute. Let your hips sink down and forward throughout.

2. Pigeon

Pigeon releases tension in hip flexors and hip rotators. A subtle adjustment in your hip alignment will either increase tension on the hip flexor of the back leg or the hip rotator of the front leg, so feel free to adjust slightly. Tight hip rotators (specifically the periformis) can create "piriformis syndrome," an uncomfortable-to-painful condition with symptoms similar to sciatica. Cyclists, runners and people who sit for long periods of time (so just about everyone) battle tight hip flexors.

A common misconception is that your hips are at an angle in this posture. But, to get the most out of it, think about letting the hip of your extended leg come forward to be in line with the front leg hip, and keep both hips equal distance from the floor.

Start on hands and knees and bring your right knee behind your right wrist.

Place your right ankle behind your left wrist (this posture is more welcoming when your foot is closer to your quad).

Let your right shin come to the floor.

Extend your left leg behind you. Ensure that the left knee points down and the toes point back.

If the right hip does not reach the floor, place a folded blanket under your right hip or both hips, whichever feels better.

Gently fold over the front leg.

Hold for 10-20 breaths and slowly release.

Stretch out the right leg.

Repeat on opposite side.

3. Seated twist

Low backs rejoice with this luxurious seated twist, which also gets into the piriformis (in case you didn't get enough out of pigeon). As with all twists, only go to a point where you can still breathe slowly. Never force it.

Sit on the floor with legs extended.

Place your right foot on the floor outside of you left knee.

Press up onto your hands, bend your left knee and bring the left foot to the outside of the right hip. Sit back down. (If this is uncomfortable, keep the left leg extended.)

Bring your right hand behind you.

Lift the left arm up and bend the left elbow, pressing it against the right knee.

Lengthen the spine and twist to the right.

Hold for 5 breaths.

Release the posture and repeat on opposite side.

4. Fish

A deep backbend, fish pose releases tension in the spine and neck. This is an excellent posture to counteract the forward fold of cycling and the discomfort of carrying your head forward as you ride.

It's easy to compress the neck in this posture, so be mindful that you're lengthening the neck as you go back. If you feel any discomfort in the neck or throat, bring your torso closer to the floor. You can also put a folded blanket or towel under your head.

Lie on your back with legs bent and arms at your sides, palms down.

Lift your pelvis off the floor.

Slide your hands under your buttocks, keeping arms and elbows close to your body.

Rest your buttocks on the back of your hands.

Press your elbows down to create an arch in your upper back.

Lift your upper torso and head away from the floor.

Press shoulder blades together.

Release your head back to the floor. (Depending on how much your back is arched, you may rest the back or the crown of the head on the floor.)

Keep thighs active.

Hold for 5 breaths.

To release the pose, press firmly through your forearms to slightly lift your head off the floor. With an exhalation, lower your torso and head to the floor. Pull thighs up to the stomach and gently squeeze your shins with your arms.

5. Hands to feet pose

If tight hip flexors cause water to spill out of the front of your pelvis, tight hamstrings cause water to spill out the back. Opening the back of the legs and spine will help reduce lower-back pain, but be sure to keep your torso on your thighs during the entire posture. Allowing the torso to come away from the thighs can possibly irritate the low back even more. If your knees stay significantly bent that's OK — this isn't for Instagram.

Stand with your big toes touching.

Bend your knees a lot to begin.

Fold forward and bring your hands to the back of your calves, letting the crown of your head reach toward the floor.

Slide your hands down the back of your legs as far as you can and hold onto the back of the calves or ankles, or try sliding your fingers under your heels.

Pull your elbows behind your legs and let your shoulders lift away from your ears.

Press your torso against your thighs and begin to straighten your legs.

Breathe, filling the backside of your lungs.

Hold for 5-10 breaths.

Release slowly.

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