It is a wonderful thing when we can combine the physical benefits of classic exercise with the historic yogic tradition. One of my favorite “hybrids” is the “yogic bicycle.” For many years I”ve done and seen people do the bicycle in fitness environments and about 15 years ago I saw it appearing on the yoga scene.
Unlike many other “aerobics” type moves, which I don’t love to see as part of a yoga class, the bicycle fits right in for many reasons. First, yoga has very few classic abdominal strengtheners other than the dreaded “boat” pose. Also the boat doesn’t do much for the “side abdominals” or the obliques. This is an area that we do want to get strong as a way to support our backs and just to keep a healthy agile body in general.
The other reason that the bicycle is a nice fit for a yoga practice is that is actually a vinyasa. Vinyasa basically just means a “breath and movement sequence”, and the bicycle is just that.
There are a couple of points that I need to mention however, when doing the bicycle as part of a yoga sequence. The main thing to keep in mind is the breath. If you are doing this at the gym, do whatever you want, breath however you want. But when you are practicing yoga, your energy field is open, there is more going on with you than you know. These are sacred postures that have been done for thousands of years, so they carry energy with them that gets passed on as part of the tradition.
I say that because the way you breath in yoga really effects your level of energy when practicing because the outer layers “koshas” begin to drop. The practice helps us to access our deepest selves. Because of this, we are more open, more vulnerable (but in a good way…) If we do an uneven breathing pattern while in this open state it can ultimately leave us feeling unbalanced. This may be a little slower than you are used to moving, but slow can be very challenging, give this a shot…
Begin on your back with your knees into the chest and the knees together. Keep the knees here as you interlace your fingers behind your head and sit up slightly. This is the inhale position, on the exhale squeeze the outside of your right arm to the outside of your left thigh and straighten your right leg. Inhale to come back to center with the knees into the chest and sitting up straight. Exhale to twist to the other side. Repeat for at least a minute, up to 5 minutes for best results. This can be practiced every day.
The reason this is so imperative is that if you just go from side to side and breath that way, you will always be inhaling on one side and exhaling on the other. The yogis have a system of energy channels, called nadis and they believe that the right side of the body represents the sun channel, or the masculine, extroverted side of the body while the left side is the moon channel, the feminine or receptive side. If you are always inhaling on the left and exhaling on the right your energy can drain, you can get introverted and depressed.
On the contrary, if you are always inhaling on the right you can over agitate your system and get a nervous condition. The breath pattern matters if you are going to make the bicycle a yogic practice because when practicing yoga you are dealing with more that just the physical body, you are dealing with energy and as wonderful as it is that yoga has made its way into the mainstream practice, it is important that we tread with caution and honor the great tradition.
The flow of prana “life force energy” takes its most obvious manifestaion as breath and although it may take years before we are able to really feel the fluctuations of energy, as beginner yogis we take our first steps with the obvious balancing of the breath. Just like a musician has to learn scales before she can play Mozart, we as yogis balance the breath on the road to balancing our lives…
Sara Elizabeth Ivanhoe began teaching yoga in 1995 while receiving her BFA from New York University. She holds a Yoga Philosophy degree from Loyola Marymount University as well as their Yoga and Ecology degree completed in accordance with the Green Yoga Association. She has completed teacher trainings with Erich Schiffmann, Yoga Works and John Friend in the Anusara tradition.
Sara is the instructor for the “Yoga for Dummies” series, the “Crunch Yoga” series as well as the collaboration with Russell Simmons “Yoga Live,” altogether selling 4.3 million units worldwide. She is currently on Fit TV’s “All Star Workouts” and her self-produced “Yoga on the Edge” runs on Exercise TV. Sara has been a regular on Vh1’s “Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab” and is featured as one of the “Titans of Yoga” in the new, critically-acclaimed documentary.