ruby’s tuesday | pedal, stretch, breathe
posted: January 21, 2014
For Kelli Refer, yoga and bicycling are twin disciplines for connecting the body to the present moment, a theme she explores on her blog, and in more depth in her useful little tome Pedal, Stretch, Breath: The Yoga of Bicycling.
Here, she explains why yoga and cycling go hand-in-hand and offers tips for stretching it out after a long spell in the saddle.
Which came first for you, yoga or cycling?
“Bike riding came first. When I was a child I remember my first long bike ride was from Frisco to Breckenridge, Colorado and back. I was blown away by how far I could travel by bicycle. I discovered yoga many years later, in 2005. I was hooked with my first class and started practicing regularly. After graduating college, I moved to Denver where I committed to riding a bicycle as my main form of transit. I loved how swiftly I could navigate the flat and sunny city. It was at this same time that I decided to pursue teaching yoga, and by the time I moved to Seattle in the fall of 2009, my yoga practice and teaching were intimately tied to my bicycle rides before and after class.”
Why are they such natural bedfellows?
“Yoga and bikes are both great tools to enhance wellness; bikes are a great tool for getting around in a healthy and affordable way, yoga is a tool for relieving stress, building strength and finding flexibility. Pedaling is a very repetitive movement that can take a toll on your body, and after a long ride it just feels good to put your feet on the ground, take a breath and stretch. Doing a yoga pose or two when you arrive somewhere is like a little pat on the back you give yourself for the effort you put in on your bike. But yoga also cultivates presence of mind, which is useful tool for the everyday bike rider. Staying alert and noticing the shifting seasons and the changes in your neighborhood also contribute to the joy of riding year round.”
What’s breathing got to do with it?
“Taking time to breathe fully and deeply on your yoga mat helps train your body to breathe deeper, fuller breaths off the mat, too. It’s that whole muscle memory thing. On the bike, breathing fuels our vitality and enhances endurance. Focusing on your breath is helpful for that last mile before home. In a larger sense, riding your bike also contributes to better, more breathable air in your neighbourhood.”
How do you apply wider yoga teachings to your time in the saddle?
“Staying present is really a big thing for me because my natural tendency is to hop from thought to thought. Yoga taught me how to ground myself a bit, which is really helpful when navigating tricky intersections. Riding a bike can also be a moving meditation, and this is especially true when you have enough time to take the long, scenic way home. Pay attention the smells, the shadows and sounds of your ride. One yoga teaching I think is very important to practice is Ahimsa: Non-harming, which means being mindful of others on the road and maybe make the effort to smile and say hello.”
One of the themes of the book is the ‘philosophy of truthfulness.’ What you mean by this, and why it’s relevant to both biking and yoga.
“I wanted to include a section in my book on the Yamas and Niyamas, or the general guiding principles of yoga. For example, “satya” is a yama about truthfulness. I’ll admit it was a bit of a challenge at first to write about truth in relation to bikes and yoga, but when I started paying attention I noticed people lie to themselves a lot, and that some of my favourite self-lies often apply to biking or yoga. Little lies like, “I’m not flexible enough for yoga; I don’t have enough time to ride my bike; I could never ride that far; or yoga is too easy to be exercise.”
Kelli’s top three yoga poses for stretching out after a long ride:
• Straddling your bicycle, reach back and grab your saddle
• Squeeze your shoulder blades together
• Lift your heart and gaze skyward
• Check out the weather today!
Down Dog Twist With Your Bicycle
• Stand facing the side of your bike placing your hands shoulder distance apart on either the top tube or on the saddle and handlebars (whatever is comfortable for your style of bike)
• Step back until your torso is parallel to the ground
• Your ears should be in line with your biceps
• Gently bend your right knee, keep your left knee straight
• Hold onto your bike with your right hand
• Inhale, extend your left arm into the air
• Exhale, twist a little deeper
• Release and switch sides
• Stand with both feet hip distance apart on the ground
• Gently bend your knees, shift your weight onto your right leg
• Balance your left ankle so it rests just above your right knee
• Your hands may rest together at your heart or hold onto your bike to help you keep your balance
• Release and take the second side
Whether it’s interviewing Lady Gaga, unveiling the latest trends in fashion, or getting under the skin of our most neurotic social trends, Ruby Warrington is at the forefront of it all. She’s a British lifestyle writer, the celebrated creator of the blog The Numinous, and a regular contributor to the lululemon blog.