Slow Down To Go Faster - Yoga With Abi

Jul 31, 2018
by Abi Carver  
Corpse Pose for faster recovery pain relief and reduced muscle tightness. Photo credit Paul Baker

Savāsana is the Sanskrit name for the pose that comes at the end of every yoga class, where you lie on your back and try not to move. The literal translation is 'corpse' or 'dead man’s pose', and depending on the length of the class, it can last anywhere up to 20 minutes. Many yoga teachers refer to it is the most important and difficult of all the poses — which I think is a bit of a stretch — but it does have a number of profound benefits, especially for wild and reckless mountain bikers.

Method

1. Get comfortable.

- Lie on your back on a yoga mat or relatively hard surface.
- Bring your feet out wider than hip-width apart and let them fall open.
- Relax your hands, palms facing up and roll your shoulder blades underneath you.
- Close your eyes and try to stay completely still.

If your lower back is uncomfortable, you can put a pillow under your knees to adjust the angle of your pelvis. Pain and discomfort create tension in the body which can make it more difficult to relax.

2. Don’t move.

Not even a little bit. Resist the desire to scratch an itch or alter your position in any way. If your body is moving, it’s harder for your mind to find stillness. This is a great exercise in itself.

3. Scan your body for sensations.

Starting at your feet, scan your body all the way from the tips of your toes, up to the top of your head — systematically relaxing any areas of tension that you come across.

4. Focus on your breath.

- When you have finished scanning your body, bring your attention to your breath.
- Follow the gentle rising and falling of your chest and abdomen.
- Tune into the subtle sensations of expansion and contraction in your torso.
- Try to sharpen the quality and precision of your awareness.

When your attention is fixed on your breath, you give your mind a break from thinking.

Benefits

Savasana has a number of benefits, from the physiological and psychological to the spiritual and ineffable, but I’ll just cover a couple here that are most relevant to your riding.

1. Faster recovery

“The better we are at recovering, the greater potential we have to endure and perform under stress.” Joshua Waitzkin.

Optimal performance requires adequate recovery — especially if you’re riding hard for multiple days back to back. Growth comes not only from relentlessly pushing yourself to your limit, but also from disciplined periods of rest, in which your mind and muscles have time to repair and grow stronger. We know this intuitively and from personal experience but that still doesn’t persuade most of us to give recovery the time and attention it deserves. Unfortunately, it’s just not all that exciting.

Savasana is a technique that you can practice to optimise your recovery — whether you tack it onto the end of your yoga session, include it in your post-ride cool-down or schedule it as a standalone session. Lying in a relaxed state, practising diaphragmatic breathing triggers the relaxation response, switching you from “fight or flight” into “rest and digest” mode.

A common issue we see in modern society is that people are chronically stuck in the sympathetic zone of the nervous system, in which the body prioritises survival over healing and repair. Regular practice of savasana trains your nervous system to come back into balance after you put life and limb on the line out there on the trails. If you’re injured, in pain or experiencing excessive stress, you’ll find this technique especially useful.

2. Increased body awareness

One of the techniques I guide students through in savasana is a body scan meditation. When practised consistently, this exercise increases your body awareness — both your interoception (the sense of what is going on inside your body) and your proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space).

In a sport rife with injury, the risk is that you get so good at shutting out pain that you lose the ability to tune back in when you need to. More often than not, pain is a signal from your body that damage is imminent, and it’s crucial that you “hear” this message so that you can respond appropriately. In the body scan, we systematically move through every part of the body, examining sensations and consciously relaxing areas of tension.

Paying attention to these subtle sensations enhances neuromuscular connections, enabling you to make technical and postural adjustments on the bike with greater ease and rapidity. Knowledge is power, so the more you know about what’s going in your body, the better rider you’ll be and the greater chance you have of avoiding joy-crushing injuries.

3. Emotion regulation

Meditation, of which savasana is one technique, has been shown to improve emotion regulation. If you’ve ever tried meditating, you’ll have quickly discovered that thoughts and emotions pop up in your mind without your assistance. You can’t think a thought before you think it or decide to feel an emotion without the relevant context. In high-pressure situations — facing an intimidating drop-off or lining up for an important race — the thoughts and emotions that you experience may not actually be all that helpful. Your brain has evolved to keep you safe and steer you well clear of risky situations, but where’s the fun in that? Your nervous system is like an over-protective mother, so thank her for her concern and then do whatever it is you need to do. 

Savasana helps with emotion regulation through the pathways that I have outlined above — firstly, by eliciting the relaxation response and secondly, by fine-tuning awareness of your physiological and emotional response to high-risk situations before it overwhelms you. The body scan technique also trains your ability to repeatedly bring your focus back to the object you have chosen to put your attention on. With consistent practice, you’ll be able to manage your arousal response more effectively, think more clearly and calmly under pressure, and protect yourself against being hi-jacked by unwelcome thoughts and emotions.

4. Reduced tension

“Do not be tense, just be ready.” Bruce Lee.

Mountain biking creates a lot of tension in the body. Specific areas of tightness include the hips, hamstrings, calves, lower back, upper back, neck, shoulders, chest, forearms and hands. Essentially, most of your body. Some amount of muscular tension is critical in high-pressure situations but if this state becomes chronic, it can block your ability to repair and heal properly. Additionally, excessive muscle tension is associated with pain, knots, fatigue, stress, headaches, muscular imbalances, restricted blood flow, insomnia and a reduction in mobility — none of which are conducive to being a fast, powerful and agile rider.

In the body scan meditation, first you detect areas of tension and then you systematically let them go. An extended savasana of 15 minutes or more allows not only for surface tensions to dissipate but also relaxes layers of tightness deep down that may be restricting your flexibility and range of motion. After you have systematically let go of tightness in each part of your body, try to let go of tension more globally. On every exhalation, soften and let go a little more. Imagine yourself melting into the mat as you sink deeper and deeper into a state of relaxation. Try to drain all the tension from your muscles.

Mastery

As with everything worth doing, to get the most out of this technique, the key is to be consistent. If you stick with it, in time, you should experience a gradual unravelling of tension that you can wind up nice and tight as soon as you get back on the bike.

I’ve filmed a 15-Minute Guided Savasana that I’ll make available for free on my site for the next week. I’d love to hear how you get on with it.


43 Comments

  • + 30
 I've been blending Yoga and PT together for about 18 months now and I am more flexible at 50 then I think I ever have been.
  • + 7
 Had knee surgery in December, couldn't ride until Mid June. Started PT immediately and yoga a month or two later. 8 months since surgery and I am the most flexible I've been as an adult, my rides are longer, I feel smoother, and I'm setting new PRs on strava a couple times per week. Turns out technical skill and courage will only take you so far before you start needing to be more well rounded.
  • - 8
flag WAKIdesigns (Aug 1, 2018 at 3:47) (Below Threshold)
 @CaptainBLT: if yoga got you this far, imagine where power lifting and basic gymanstics could take you Smile
  • + 1
 apart from teaching me the hip-hinge motion, powerlifting got me good at powerlifting, and needed a lot of supplementary exercises, stretches and mobility work just to keep me functioning well. Powerlifting didn't really translate well into riding.
  • + 1
 Amazing. Which PT exercises do you find most effective?
  • + 1
 @yoga15app: Body weight squats on a bosu ball was probably the best challenge. Increase difficulty by closing your eyes, having a partner give little pushes of different force from different directions, pass-and-catch, and/or add a band around your knees. Slow and deliberate movements, keeping the bosu level.

The little instability from pushes or the distraction of trying to catch a ball make this much harder than I expected. 3 sets of 15 is usually enough to light up all those little muscles - this isn't about bulking up your quads.

One leg yoga poses have a lot of similar effects, you usually need a longer duration to really wear out the muscles though.
  • + 1
 @CaptainBLT: Interesting. Those Bosu ball exercises as well as improving balance and proprioception are excellent for increasing hip stability and mobility. Introducing an unstable surface is fantastic—building muscular endurance and stability rather than bulking up, as you say.
  • + 1
 And you @DBone95? Which PT exercises have you found to be most effective?
  • - 2
 @carpeomnia : that is great for some core stability, mobility, ability to hold riding stance which is a good starting point. But it does not solve the main issue of riding a mtb down the hill which is explosive hip hinge. No power from hip hinge, forget about results. Yoga is an isometric exercise with stretching. That’s it, there’s lots to it, but that’s all. I’ve heard numerous people having plenty to say about how useless strength training is, the trouble is, I do not know a single athlete who does not build everything they do on power lifting and targeted cardio exercise. You will never repeatedly bunnyhop a 14kg mountain bike, manage hard landings, forces in berms at speed, push through too hard gear when there’s no chance to shift, over the course of a 2-5 min track, basing your conditioning on yoga pilates and all other forms of alternative conditioning. Once you get basic results on functional movement system, you can stop developing your stretching, if you cannot touch your toes, do a squat then yes start with yoga. I personally have all that covered. But once you are there, and want to call yourself a mountain biker, hit some weights, you can do a lot of things with small engine, but bigger one does much more. It just fascinates me how men with predisposition to weight lifting and low mobility focus on weight lifting without covering mobility, while women who are naturally more flexible neglect that gift and keep getting flexier, it’s beyond me like most hype driven behaviors
  • + 3
 @WAKIdesigns: That stuff is great—no doubt— but this article is about something different. I'm not talking directly about improving core stability, mobility, posture or flexibility. I'm talking about the importance of recovery. My argument is that recovery is the element—above and beyond strength and cardiovascular training—where many riders are leaving money on the table. If you can't recover as quickly between rides as your competition, no amount of explosive strength is going to get you to a win. You're just not going to be able to put the necessary training in.
  • + 17
 As I get older I've realized yoga and weights are something I'll need to do regularly until I die.
  • + 4
 That sounds like a very balanced approach. Love it.
  • + 16
 I'd need to set an alarm clock for sure. There's no way that wouldn't turn into a nap
  • + 3
 Yup....zzzzzzzSmile
  • + 11
 I’ve been doing yoga by accident?

No joke. I’m over 5 weeks into a concussion and office work worsens my headache, triggering all kind of stress related issues in the body. My solution is to close my office door and lie flat, eyes closed, concentrating on nothing but breathing and relaxing each part of my body separately.

Perhaps I should read up on it to improve the technique...
  • + 1
 Oh gosh. I'm so sorry. I hope the guided meditation on my site helps.
  • + 12
 This is good, Pinkbike, keep it coming (occaisonally). Mountain bikers may not all want this, but they will all need it eventually.
  • + 5
 Amazing! That should be my slogan. Do you work in marketing?
  • + 6
 I'm 36 years old. I've been riding mtb aggressively at a fairly high level for over 20 years. I used to be invincible. Now I've finally figured out I'm not. I'm currently paying dearly for my past transgressions. I really need to get motivated to do more yoga, but it's hard.
  • + 2
 You just have to commit. It will be worth it in the long run.
  • + 2
 I promise that a regular yoga routine that gets you some quiet time and stretching tired and broken bits is the best thing when you get to be an older guy. I am 45 and stopped racing a few years ago but kept up with my yoga and good diet. I still pop up out of bed at the crack of dawn during the summer for a 90 minute mountain bike ride, get to my day of work then head home for a walk with my wife and yoga in the evening. Feels good not to snap,krackle and pop in the mornings like everyone else I hear complaining! Ya gotta get on that train!
  • + 1
 @CrispiRider: Agreed. Athletic recovery/yoga is a hard sell but the advantages are so worth the price of entry. Riding faster, for longer, more often and without discomfort is a pretty big upside.
  • + 2
 Great excercise, this year i start a different aproach on my training and riding, change bike/gym/race for bike/calisthenia/some yoga and i’m impressed, just don’t know how to step up the last one and better mix it with the first two
  • + 1
 You'll find lots of 15-minute yoga videos on my site. Try the 15-day free trial and see how you get on: yogaformountainbikers.com
  • + 2
 This pose is only so amazing because of everything that precedes it! Also, try putting a block under your back/between your shoulder blades and try to relax into it. Then remove the block with the least amount of movement as possible. It feels like every muscle instantly relaxes and you melt into the floor.
  • + 1
 Nice. You could also do that with a foam roller if you don't have a yoga block.
  • + 4
 This is the best move ,and on a beach with 33 degrees Celsius I can almost fly
  • + 0
 I don't think I'll ever evolve to this this level of self-understanding.
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