By Christopher Cudworth
Just so’s you know: yoga for runners and cyclists is really hot right now.
In fact Hot Yoga is really popular. But guys and gals, be careful not to get confused. Hot Yoga is not supposed to be gawking at the great bodies in your yoga class. It’s not polite to judge such things.
In fact you’re not supposed to judge anything at all in yoga. “This is not a competition,” our instructor always says. But try to tell that to my hamstrings when my quadriceps are competing for dominance of everything below the buttocks. And competition hurts.
Yoga is like that. You are not supposed to feel pain per se but I will let you in on a secret. Unless you’re the Boomshamalama Yogi from somewhere south of New Delhi, yoga hurts and always will. That is one of the tarsnakes of practicing yoga. It often hurts to get better.
It’s a simple principle you see. Cyclists are quite familiar with the saying “It never gets easier, you just go faster.” The entire enterprise of fitness is based on the principle of pushing yourself well past your ability to tolerate pain and exhaustion. No pain, no gain they say. Yoga begs to differ but yoga begs a lot of things from you. Best to ignore that small voice in your head saying that you’re about to break in two and do your best to get that heel up over your neck and shut the hell up.
New Forms of Old Pain
No matter what actual type of yoga I am practicing, it feels like Inquisition Yoga. That is, a nice little combination between torture and confession. When the instructor walks by and whispers “How are you doing?” she might as well be discussing the feelings of a man about to be drawn and quartered by a set of four powerful horses driven by the evil henchman of a corrupt Pope.
That is not what yoga is supposed to be like. You’re supposed to be increasing your flexibility and strength while moving toward a state of inner bliss equal to the feeling of Haagen Das® Rum Raisin Ice Cream coating your brain.
So okay. I still suck at yoga. But wait, that might mean I simply invented a new form of practice. Suck Yoga is for all those people who cannot not reach their toes if you pay them a million dollars. That means you simply suck in your gut and stretch as far as you can while thinking to yourself, “I suck at this but at least I’m trying.”
Come to think of it, I have actually experienced an entire litany of new styles of yoga. Here are descriptions of some of the types of practice that are not well documented, but just as real for many of us trying to use yoga to improve our running and riding.
You start with the imagined feeling you are piece of long pale fruit and wind up feeling like a brown banana coated with bruises from pressing body parts down onto the mat so hard your clothes almost peel off your body. Welcome to Bananarama, my friend, where all you want to do is strip off your clothes and inspect the damage for yourself. Just be sure you don’t slip into something too comfortable or you’ll never get out the door for a run or a ride.
There’s this wonderful fable about the fact that a frog dumped into boiling water will immediately jump out while a frog placed in water which is then raised to boiling temperature will sit there and slowly cook to death. Well, when it comes to yoga, sometimes I am that frog in the slowly heated water. My body is cooking from the inside out and I am anxious and impatient rather than meditative as the hour of practice whiles away. I wind up a gelatinous green heap by the end of the class, apparently devoid of bones and with a very stupid expression on my face. I can tell you this much: it can be very hard to go out and run when you are in a gelatinous state, but it does teach you how to survive the last few miles of a marathon or a cycling Century.
There are times when yoga puts you in a state of bliss. Of course that involves quite a bit of concentration, sometimes to the point where you actually achieve an out of body experience. Things get so peaceful it almost makes you wonder if it is worth all the trouble of coming back into this world. Bury Me Now Yoga puts you in that state of mind where you are faced with that awful choice of actually returning to reality to pay your bills or going instead for a long, long run or ride with the angels. Trust me there are days when that choice is much harder to make than you might imagine.
Wicked Witch of the West Yoga
If you do yoga properly, the deepest muscles in your body are engaged and the world starts to shimmer and shine with promise and enlightenment. The inside of your brain feels like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. But then sweat starts to stream down your body as if there is no tomorrow. At that point you begin to realize that there is far more water in your body than solid matter. You begin to melt into the floor like the Wicked Witch of the West when she gets hit with water. “I’m melting….melting!” you cry as you slip down between the cracks in the yoga studio floor. All that is left of you is a stretchy little yoga outfit and the RoadID bracelet you forgot to take off your ankle. At least they’ll know who you were to call your family.
Gumby and Pokey Yoga
Most of us familiar with Gumby and Pokey know their amazing flexibility. It helped they were made of rubber with twistly little wires for bone structure. Unfortunately most of us are not borne with Gumby and Pokey anatomy, but that is a fact entirely lost on most yoga instructors. Instead they encourage you to twist into shapes and poses that are not meant for humans. Downward Dog? Sure. Child’s Pose? Okay, all good. Head Up Your Ass? That’s asking a bit too much of your yoga practice. But don’t be discouraged. We can’t all be Yogi Shamalamadingdong. Settle for imitating Gumby and Pokey, the original yoga practitioners from the 60s.
Now you know more about yoga for runners and riders than you probably ever hoped to know. Here at We Run and Ride we’re always on the forefront of current trends in running and cycling. So we encourage you to go find your own brand of yoga bliss. Because that’s the right spirit, you adventurous little minks and minkettes. Run on. Ride on. And yoga down. It all works together.