One of my early yoga teachers would lead her class into a pose so contorted you weren’t sure which end was up. And then she would say, now find your mountain pose here. If you’re not a yogi, mountain pose (tadasana) is simply standing tall on two feet. I was hard pressed to understand how my twisted body balancing on what felt like one toe had anything to do with standing up like a regular person. My internal thought stream at moments like that wasn’t very yogic. Contemptuous, yes. Compassionate, not so much.
I’ve heard a lot of bullshit in yoga classes over the years (probably spewed my fair share as a teacher too), but that teacher’s instruction was right on. What new practitioners eventually learn is all that crazy posturing is simply meant to lead you back to center— to a tall mountain pose where everything flows freely. You move from one extreme to the other in order to find your true balance in the middle.
And there it is again, yogic talk that sounds far removed from the contorted pose you’re wondering how will lead you to enlightenment. The truth is it’s hard to talk about yoga. It’s like talking about wine. In the end it sounds farfetched and pretentious. Better to practice I say: shut up and get in a pose, open a bottle.
I’m leading with this anecdote in an effort to explain how yoga has changed my posture in everything that I do, including cycling. I’m constantly looking for mountain pose on my bike. Yep, that’s standing tall while bent over handle bars with legs in motion. Imagine putting yourself in your most relaxed, most natural, most balanced, tallest standing posture and then keeping that natural length and balance in everything that you do. That’s mountain pose. Mountain pose feels beautiful on two wheels.
Again, it’s hard to talk about yoga without sounding full of crap. But here are a few cues for standing mountain pose:
plant your feet
adjust pelvis so tailbone is pointing toward the ground
lengthen your spine
open your chest
gently engage lower abdominal muscles
move shoulders down toward the ground
bring head and neck in line with spine
Here it is in Yoga Journal in more detail, with a nice video showing the alignment you’re looking for.
Once you’re comfortable in your standing mountain pose, finding it in the saddle can help you pedal without cycling side effects like sore shoulders and back. If you’re in your true mountain pose, your core will be engaged, a game changer for cyclists.
Though strong legs move your pedals, the real power of a cyclist is found in the core. If your abdominal muscles are engaged, your core acts as a solid board. Imagine swimming in a pool where you begin your strokes in the middle of the deep end. Compare that to starting on the pool’s edge where you can push off from the side. That’s the difference an engaged middle makes on the bike. Your core provides a base for pushing pedals.
Here’s an article in Bicycling that talks more about the importance of core strength.
But I still think it’s best to chuck the language. Join us on a tour in southern France and we’ll put the pose to practice (and open a few bottles along the way).