(Published in the May 2017 issue of BMW Owners News Magazine; photos courtesy of Stephanie White & yoga instruction by Beth Urban – “thank you ladies, for this amazing collaboration!”)
Riding season for most of us has officially begun. Each time we prepare for a journey, we run through our checklists of gear to be packed and motorcycle maintenance that needs to be done before departure. Many of us like to share riding tips and tricks with each other, so I have one unique tip to share with my fellow riders out there: leave your turtle necks at home, please. Bear with me while I get to the point…
In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that after a series of long days in the saddle, my body is toast. While I certainly don’t consider myself an earthy kind of gal (yet have the utmost respect for those gals), I have often wondered about the benefits of yoga as a remedy. Yes, I said that four letter word. I believe I have many more years of long-distance riding left in me (and don’t care to rely on the bevy of painkillers out there to get me through a couple of decades on two-wheels), so I’ve toyed with the idea of yoga – really for the physical benefits of flexibility and core strength. And recently, to seal the deal, I was approached by a friend of mine, Beth Urban, who happens to not only teach Fitness Yoga, but also is a serious bicyclist. She “gets” my two-wheeled lifestyle and wanted to know when I was ready to work on some “Crazy Eights” and ditch my “Turtle Neck.” I have to admit, I was intrigued (maybe somewhat frightened) and wanted to learn more.
We’ve all heard the old saying “use it or lose it.” Well, that’s the basis of our human muscular makeup. If we don’t use them, we are eventually going to lose use of them. Utilizing simple yoga poses and stretches regularly puts muscles and joints into positions that we don’t assume on a daily basis, therefore building flexibility and keeping our joints lubricated. This is especially important for our bodies to help decrease our chances of injuries…dramatically. Yoga can help lessen the impact of damage to our bodies due to an unfortunate mishap on the highway or even a simple stumble over a tent stake when returning from the Beer Garden at midnight.
Flexibility in muscles and joints equals better odds in unpredictable situations. Another added benefit of yoga, once you regularly apply good posture and stretching, is improvement of our digestive, immune, nervous, and lymphatic systems. With our insides being stimulated and our internal organs being massaged through yoga positions and stretching, our bodies are able to release toxins, which in turn keeps us overall healthier.
So, how in the world was I going to do Crazy Eights and lose my Turtle Neck? And how would I apply all of this to a day of riding? Through Beth’s expertise, we worked out a great yoga plan for not only a day in the saddle, but for my daily routine. And so I share some of these wholesome tips to my fellow riders…
ON THE DAILY
—Tadasana (pronounced: tah-DAW-sah-na; meaning “mountain pose”)
This pose is all about good posture. Practiced on the daily, Tadasana helps relieve stress, aches and pains, and strengthens core while helping your physique look taller, healthier and thinner. Stand with your feet straight and in-line with your hip bones, then tuck your tailbone in; drop your shoulders and open them up; keep your hands straight by your side with your fingers pointing to the ground; and make sure your neck is straight.
This can be done using a flat, sturdy surface that is equal to your inseam: a table, the back of a couch, even the seat of your motorcycle. Once you’ve achieved your Tadasana (good posture position), slowly bring your bent leg onto the surface, relax, breathe, and feel the stretch in your hip. After you feel the release, switch legs and repeat steps.
—Shoulder Warm Up
Hands cup top of shoulders. With a neutral neck, extend the crown of your head to the sky. Use a full range of motion with your shoulders so your elbows make circles; go forward and then backwards.
—Ban the Turtle Neck
Did you know that a human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds? A 15-degree tilt of your head equates to 27 pounds of pressure on your neck. At 30 degrees forward, the strain on the neck equals a 40-pound head. The greater the angle, the greater the strain. How much does your helmet weigh? Mine weighs just over three pounds, which adds greatly to the overall weight when my neck is tilted forward. Remedy? Retract your head to be aligned with your spine, with a neutral chin, and always try not to scrunch your shoulders. Ditch that ol’ turtle neck and you’d be amazed at how much better you’ll feel at the end of your ride.
—Belly Breath and Girdling
Use your front and back muscles to support your spine and then use a few deep belly breaths as resistance to massage these muscles and the spine. Breathe slowly in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth. This will also help with any anxiety or stress you may be carrying with you on the road. After a few of these “girdling” exercises, you may actually begin to enjoy the ride instead of worrying about that unfinished spreadsheet on your desk hundreds of miles away.
DURING REST STOPS
A kid’s card game? Absolutely not! Think of a belly dancing move…put your hands on your hips, stand with good posture and slowly rotate your hips to form an “eight” pattern, then reverse, releasing the tightness that’s built up in your hips and lower back after hours in the saddle. Be sure to do this exercise gently, listening to your body and your limitations. (Think of the slow and concise rhythm of belly dancing music…and don’t be surprised if you’ve got onlookers at the rest stop!)
—Neck Release Stretch
In a sitting position with good posture, lean your head to the right as you gently pull down with your right hand. Hold for 5 breaths. Release and use your right hand to gently raise your head back to neutral position. Then repeat for the left side.
Using one finger at a time with your palm facing the front of your bike, stretch each finger against the handlebar. Be sure to drop your shoulders and open your chest while doing finger stretches.
Piston? Now we’re talking some motorcycle language! Clasp hands together in front of you, keeping forearms and elbows close to each other. Then much like the movement of the pistons in your engine, rotate your wrists around carefully and deeply (in figure eight patterns) to release the muscles and tendons that can get tense and tender throughout a long day of riding.
AT DAY’S END – INVERSIONS:
(Disclaimer: Like all things in life, inversions are not for everyone. Certain injuries and illnesses will not allow for these positions. Please check with your physician prior to giving these a try.)
Ah, the mighty inversion! Once you’re off the bike for the day, you’ve showered, eaten and are ready to relax – I’m thinking a great inversion will be just the remedy for a fantastic night’s sleep. Any yoga pose that puts your head below your heart is classified as an inversion. Inversions improve circulation and use gravity to provide the brain with more oxygen and blood. Inversions can increase your mental function and immune system, therefore curbing illnesses, and gives you temporary relief from the pull of gravity. They are also great mood enhancers…if your day in the saddle wasn’t quite enough!
Throw a towel (or yoga mat) on the floor of your hotel room, tent or grassy area outside and get on your hands and knees. Slowly raise up so that your buttocks are pointed towards the sky, legs and arms extended, feet and hands solidly pressed into the floor/ground, creating an “A” shape with your body. Breathe in and out allowing relaxation, gentle stretch and blood flow to the upper part of the body. Hold for 5 breaths.
On your towel (or mat) on the floor, lay on your back, bend both knees and place your feet flat on the floor hip width apart. Slide your arms alongside your body with your palms facing down. Press your feet into the floor, inhale and lift your hips up, rolling your spine off the floor. Lightly squeeze your knees together to keep the knees hip width apart. Place a couple of pillows (or yoga blocks) under your hips to create a cushion, and relax keeping your feet firmly planted. Breathe and hold for 4-8 breaths.
When you’ve completed your inversions, enjoy a couple of the stretches/poses that feel good for you before turning in for the night. Then, rise and repeat. Always be mindful of your posture, and never do a yoga stretch or position that causes pain. Yoga is meant to build your flexibility and core strength, therefore its purpose is to keep you more pain-free by the end of the ride…and in life. Practice much and you’ll reap amazing benefits. And hey, those Crazy Eights may stir some attention at rest stops, but I promise you’ll never regret leaving that turtle neck behind!