This week, we work on opening up our shoulders which, after many hours hunched over those handlebars, could do with a little straightening out
How did you find the warm up? Beginning to find a little space in places now? Make sure you do this warm up before you start these following sections.
When you cycle you work key areas of the body: legs, back and shoulders. We are going to start at the shoulders and work our way down with this section of the series focusing on opening up your shoulders and counteracting that hunched posture we inevitably cultivate on a long ride.
With all these postures it is important to work within your limits and gently nudge the boundaries of your muscles’ comfort zones rather than barging on through.
Find your edge and hold it. Then, if you feel like your body is opening up, gently push the pose on your exhale. As cyclists and racers we want results quickly. Yoga requires patience. If you push too hard, too fast you will damage yourself.
Garudasana arms (eagle arms)
We are focusing on our shoulders here and in some of the warm up – cat/cow, child’s pose – we already began to direct our attention to them. But that’s no reason to forget the legs and now is a good time to gently start stretching the quads.
Come to sit on your heels. If this is too strong for you or you have a knee issue, place a blanket, block or bolster on your calves and sit your butt down on that. If you really want to work your feet, tuck your toes.
This can be crucifying and you may not be able to hold it for too long. But the muscles in the soles of our feet rarely get stretched and this is a nice opportunity to start playing with opening them up.
Inhale and take your arms outstretched wide at shoulder height. Keep your core engaged – this is not a lower back bend. Exhale and bring your arms forward (not down), take a bend at your elbows and drop your right elbow under your left.
Keep your elbows at shoulder height with the backs of your palms touching.
This may be where you stay. If you feel like you can make your palms touch then go for it. Hold here, breathing deeply into your shoulders.
After one and a half minutes, inhale and keeping your arms bound, raise them up so your elbows are higher than your shoulders. Breathe here for five breaths.
On your next exhale drop your arms down so your elbows are lower than your shoulders. All the time you are breathing into that space across your upper back. Try and keep your forearms parallel to your face and in line with your nose – don’t let them tweak out to the left.
Inhale and take your arms wide. Exhale repeat this time with your left elbow under your right.
Gomukhasana arms (cow face arms)
Usually we do this asana (posture) with a rather intense leg position, but if you’re doing these postures before or after a long ride, you don’t really want to be requiring a load more power output from your body. So we’ll stick with kneeling but if you’ve got your toes tucked perhaps release them now and give yourself a break. You may also want a strap handy for this and I urge you to use it.
Raise your right arm so your upper arm is alongside the right side of your head. Bend it at the elbow so your forearm comes over your head. Gently hold your right elbow with your left hand and apply a little bit of pressure to pull that shoulder over.
Try not bow your head – keep your neck and spine long, engage your core. If your shoulders are tight or you have a rotator cuff injury this may be where you stay and that’s totally cool.
Otherwise release your left arm and place it by your left side body. Bend your elbow and take your forearm up your back so the back of your palm sits between your shoulder blades. Perhaps you manage to link your fingers. If so make sure to do this you aren’t leaning forwards, keep that torso strong and spine and neck long.
If you’re struggling to reach your opposite hands but want to take the stretch deeper then release your arms and grab a strap – this could be a towel, belt, or dish cloth.
Hold it in your right hand as you reassume the positioning with your arms. Allow the strap to drop down your back and catch it in your left hand. The strap is a great way to gradually apply pressure, to slowly nudge the edges of your comfort zones.
Release and repeat on the opposite side.
Uttanasana with linked hands
For our final posture we want to be back on our feet. So slowly make your way to stand, find your tadasana and perhaps shake out your arms. Take a moment to focus again, perhaps close your eyes and feel grounded.
Inhale and take your arms behind you catching your hands and interlace your fingers. This is not a back bend, it’s a shoulder opener so concentrate on sending your chest and heart space forwards and up rather than compressing your lumbar spine into a bend.
You may want to stay here and work on breathing into your pecs. Otherwise after a few long breaths on your next exhale, take a bend in your knees and fold at your hips keeping your hands linked.
You may want to keep your arms low if your pecs are very tight. Otherwise try and raise your arms up – not to a point that is challenging. You should be able to rest in this pose.
Stay here for one minute, breathing deeply through your nose. To come back up, with that bend in your knees, take an inhale, push the floor away and raise your torso up, releasing your hands as you go.
In part three next Monday, we’ll have some postures that benefit your legs