In my experience as a yoga teacher, most cyclists and athletes I meet have little or no experience practicing yoga. Almost all of my students at my bike shop classes are newbies, which I love because it gives me an opportunity to give them an awesome first impression.
From my own personal experience, a big reason that I never tried yoga was that it never seemed very accessible to me. Maybe it was due to the myriad of stereotypes is has, such as that it’s only for people who are super flexible, hippies, or kale drinking folks (not that there is anything wrong with those things).
I also didn’t want to look dumb. I didn’t know how to get into a single yoga pose and I didn’t want to show up with a group of people who knew what they were doing.
On top of that, it’s also hard to know where to start when there are so many options these days (see below). Even just looking at the class schedule of one studio could leave you overwhelmed with questions about what the heck is going on.
All of these things add up and make trying yoga sound like an afterthought.
I kind of stumbled upon yoga by “accident,” at a time when I needed it the most – totally cycling unrelated – which I’ll share at another time. I didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Hey, I think I’m going to try yoga today on top of the other 5,000 things I need to get done.”
When I found yoga, I had no idea that there where zillions of different styles of classes. Yes, there are zillions if you didn’t know. I was “lucky” (though now I don’t believe in luck) to find a style and a community that resonated with me right away.
Several years after the journey I started following my first yoga class, I’m pretty confident saying that if I had stumbled upon a class that was the wrong fit for me, I would not be where I am today.
Now that I have had the time and experience to explore different types of yoga, it has become pretty clear that some I absolutely love and have changed my life in immeasurable ways, and some I absolutely hate. Well, hate is a strong word…let’s just say turned off by.
That’s why I wanted to give you a guide, whether you are a cyclist are not, to choosing the right class the first time you decide to try it out. The truth is that the more educated you are on a topic, the more accessible it becomes. If I had this information years ago, I might have started my practice (and have been seeing all of the benefits) sooner.
That’s where my job comes in. As a cyclist, I get you, and I want to give you information that will save you time and make yoga accessible. I also don’t want you to show up to just any yoga class, hate it, and give up on it immediately.
My goal here is to familiarize you with the styles of yoga that you should know about. The following list by no means comprehensive and may grow over time, but it represents the styles that commonly found at a gym or studio, and the ones that you might want to consider as a cyclist or endurance athlete.
Here is my list of styles you should check out:
- Vinyasa Yoga – a relatively faster-paced form of yoga. The focus is on flowing postures from one to the next by linking them through one breath per movement or holding postures for only a few breaths at a time.
Athlete benefits: Linking breath to movement helps the mind to stay present, especially for people who are used to always moving and have a hard time sitting still or meditating. It also creates focus, clarity, and mindfulness, which have proven benefits in aiding athletic performance. In addition, it focuses on a style of breathing through the nose, called “ujjayi” breath. Despite the funky name, nasal breathing has numerous physiological benefits over mouth breathing, especially when it comes to athletic performance. Vinyasa can train you to become a nose breather during exercise.
- Hot Yoga – also known traditionally as Bikram Yoga – typically slower than vinyasa with more holding but in a room that is very hot and humid (up to about 105 degrees F). You will sweat your brains out and probably feel like you are dying the first few times, but once you get used to it, people start to love it.
Athlete Benefits: This type of yoga is said to flush toxins out of the body, though I think the science to support that isn’t quite there yet. But it will help you learn how to breathe through discomfort and develop focus. The heat also makes the muscles more flexible and you will likely feel a lot more open – but be careful, it’s easy to overstretch and tear a muscle when you feel like gumby.
- Power Yoga – also a more vigorous and faster form of yoga. Appeals to a lot of athletes because it will give you a kick-butt workout and make you sweat. It’s basically the opposite of what most people think yoga is (i.e. stretching and chanting OM). Classes can be warm (heated) or cool, and often incorporate vinyasa. This is the style that I started with and has helped keep me healthy on an off the bike. I find it to be the most accessible to athletes.
Athlete benefits: This is a great form of yoga for building full body strength, balance and flexibility through dynamic stretching. This form of yoga will build strength in key muscles that cyclists and other athletes need to stay injury free, such as the core and glutes.
- Restorative Yoga – Essentially the opposite of Power Yoga. It is exactly what it sounds like. Restorative is about restoring your body by allowing it to recover. Poses are held much longer, for about 10 to 20 minutes at a time, and they are incredibly relaxing. The goal is to have to stress on the body, not even stretching. Unlike the previous 3 classes, you will use LOTS of props (blocks, blankets, straps, sandbags, bolster, pillows, etc.) in a restorative class. I like to call it yoga dessert. Who doesn’t like dessert?
Athlete benefits: Restorative yoga is about calming the mind and body, particularly the nervous system. In order to get stronger as an athlete, you must recover. Restorative yoga focuses on recovery and relieving physical and mental stress. I always feel incredibly well rested and lighter after a restorative class. This style is also great for beginners and is very accessible.
- Yin Yoga – also a very slow paced style like restorative, but it incorporates some gentle stress. Poses are usually held about 3 to 5 minutes and some props are involved, usually blocks and straps. Yin yoga poses target connective tissues like fascia, ligaments and tendons with the focus on strengthening and keeping them heathy rather than stretching them.
Athlete benefits: Yin classes, like restorative, can also help an athlete calm the parasympathetic nervous system, which will help the body recover from exercise and stress. Because it also focuses on healthy connective tissue, it has lots complimentary benefits to a vinyasa or power class that focuses on muscle. Healthy connective tissue is extremely important to keep you healthy as an athlete. It’s the same reason foam rolling and myofascial release are so important and effective.
Which ones have you tried or want to try? Which do you like the most or the least? Look out for my next post on the biggest mistake athletes make when choosing a yoga class. And as always, send me your questions.