Friday, March 5, 2010
Endurance Yoga - Getting and Staying Aero on the Bike Part 1: Bakasana (Crow Pose)
Recently, I was asked by one of my students if there was anything they could do to help them get ready for staying in aero position on the bike for long races like 70.3 and the Ironman distance. I smiled and told him, "Yes."
I don't think he knew what he was asking for when he asked if we could spend a couple of classes working on being comfortable for long periods of time in aero position. Last month I wrote about a pose called Malasana, or Garland Pose, which is essentially a deep squat. At any rate, we were using Malasana in order to both open the hips and experience a greater connection to our feet which can be useful in running for moving with greater ease (especially after a hard bike leg) and generating more power resulting from greater range of motion.
Like many yoga poses Malasana can be a preparation for or a segue into other more challenging but very useful poses. And as it turns out it can also be a great beginning to an exploration of getting and staying aero on the bike. So what we are going to do over the next few posts is move from Malasana into a few more poses that can be added in sequence to promote the necessary bodily transformations that can make long bike legs less difficult from a positioning standpoint which in turn, ultimately, can lead to more efficient runs.
The next pose we explore in our sequence of aerodynamic building yoga poses is a pose called Bakasana or Crow Pose. The reason this pose is so important in our quest for aerodynamics is that it can promote the necessary core integration we need to support our torso out on the aerobars. Although in yoga Bakasana is an arm balance and when you first see it you might think it is a pose for strengthening the arms. Nothing could be further from the truth. By and large arm balances in yoga are core cultivators. And for our purpose of getting aero and being comfortable on the bike, Bakasana can train us to properly engage our core to provide the "lift" we need to comfortably maintain a flat back.
To come into Bakasana, we start in Malasana - a deep squat with our heels together. Place your palms on the floor out in front of you about a foot and a half away from your feet. You want your knees up even with your triceps. Shift your body forward bringing your weight fully onto your hands. Bending your elbows keep shifting more and more of your weight into your hands while keeping head up and your gaze on the floor in front of you. With your body centered over the palms, try bringing one foot off the ground. Engaging your core by bringing your navel in and up toward the spine as though you are lifting and filling the area near the kidneys with air. It is this internal movement that provides the lift in the hips and keeps the knees high up on the triceps. Technically for our purposes, you could stop at this point and work the pose by alternating between lifting your right and left feet off the ground and bringing them up toward your hips. Trust me 3 to 5 reps with each foot is a workout.
If you are comfortable with balancing on your hands and have no problem with the pose while one foot is on the ground, then try taking both feet off the ground at the same time. Again, be sure to keep your head up with your gaze out in front of you and in between your hands. If you have open hips and can get the sense of lift through your core you may find you are able to get quite a bit of height in the pose. If so try holding the pose for about 6 to 8 unhurried breaths before bringing our feet back to the ground.
If for some reason the arm balance doesn't work for you, say balance is an issue, or you have weak wrists, you can still reap the benefits of the pose by taking the balance aspect out of it and practicing Bakasana on your back. In fact almost all yoga arm balances can be practiced while on your back allowing you to strengthen the core as you work your way up toward practicing the actual arm balance.
Coming into Bakasana on your back is very similar to practicing it upright. Start with your heels together and your knees apart. Your back will be flat against the ground. First you will rotate your pelvis up toward the ceiling which will cause your knees to rotate toward your shoulders. Now, as if you were doing crunches, bring your shoulders off the floor and move the torso up toward your knees. Hook your elbows on the insides of your knees and draw your navel down and in toward your spine. This will assist in deepening the fold. Hold the position for anywhere from 4 to 8 breaths, then relax. Repeat the movement 3 to 5 times.
Working Bakasana regularly, aside from being a neat trick you can show your Tri-minded friends, will give you the core awareness and integrity that we will need for the next pose in our aero building sequence. There aren't to many issues with practicing Bakasana other than wrist issues and fear of falling so if you have any reservations, try the version where you explore the pose on your back for a while. I actually find that version more difficult. Until next time, train well....