Yoga Headstand for Cycling. Improve your posture the ancient way.

A yoga headstand is great for your posture and legs.

If you do a lot of cycling, your posture can be compromised. Learning a yoga headstand can keep your posture healthy and benefits your legs too.

I love cycling.

As a bicycle commuter, I'm happy that my daily travel counts toward my aerobic exercise goals. I got a hot new bike this spring, a Motobecane Cafe Latte. I LOVE this bike. So hot!

Motobecane Cafe Latte

I recently joined Map My Ride which is a great tool for tracking rides.

Cycling isn't great for the posture. You're in a flexed spinal position, you're hip flexed and your neck is in extension. Those things can tend to lead to forward head posture and upper & lower crossed syndromes. What that means for a cyclist is potential neck, shoulder and back pain.

Another potential physical difficulty for cyclists is foot pain and swelling. Those cycling shoes are unforgiving. You've got to wear them very tightly and you need the soles to be stiff possible. Wearing those tight shoes and pedaling for 1 to 4 hours a day can really get the dogs barking. Let's also not forget the effect cycling can have on the legs themselves. I love cycling and like the way it keeps my legs strong but they can also get very tired and stay leaden after lots of riding.

A great way to alleviate discomfort in the lower body and legs is through inversions. I know some people use inversion tables but I'm not a fan. A better option, and one that is more active, are yoga inversions, in this case, a yoga headstand.

A completed headstand

The benefits of a yoga headstand for cycling are numerous.

Starting with the legs and feet, headstands reverse the flow of gravity, allowing excess fluids in the legs and feet to be circulated and any waste products to be eliminated. Because of this, headstands can help prevent varicose veins.  The heart gets to work less hard with this reversal of gravity; it doesn't have to pump as hard to get venous return from the lower body.

Spinally, headstands make your body work to be in a very upright position. This can counter the hours spent in a flexed spinal position on the saddle. Additionally, to stay in a headstand for any significant amount of time, you'll use and strengthen your primary core muscles: internal and external obliques, transverse abdominus and rectus abdominus. When you try these headstands, you'll see... your abs will WORK.

For the neck and shoulders, a properly positioned yoga headstand makes you work and strengthen the lower shoulder muscles: the lower traps and the rhomboids; which will counteract the tight anterior muscles that are being used when leaning over and gripping the handlebars. It will strengthen your deep cervical flexors and lengthen your extensors, specifically your sub-occiptals, which are constantly shortened when in cycling position. That directly translates to better posture, reduced neck and shoulder pain and reduced possibility of tension headaches.

So let's get to it! Give yourself plenty of space... you may fall out of it and you don't want to hit anything. Also use a yoga or exercise mat for a little bit of cushioning.

There are four primary steps to performing a headstand:

1. Starting on your hands and knees, place your head on the ground in front of your hands, so that your hands and head make roughly an equilateral triangle. Draw your shoulder blades down your rib cage (since you're in an inversion it is technically "up" but...). You'll feel your collarbones widen, your arm muscles become active and your neck brace. You don't want to proceed with an inactive neck and wobbly head.

2. Come up onto your toes. Then walk your feet in until your knees are on your elbows. Continue to focus on the muscles in between your shoulder blades and keeping the shoulder blades really connected to your rib cage.

3. Carefully, lift one foot off the ground. If you're new to headstands, this might actually take a few tries. Once you've got one foot off the ground, start testing the other until you can stay up with both knees on the elbows and both feet off the ground. Pull the ball of your foot towards your knees in what is called "flexed" position. This will activate the muscles of your lower legs and give you more stability. You won't even have to think about bracing your abdominals because you can't be in this position without them working.

If you're new to a yoga headstand consider this your completed position for a while. This will be challenging enough. Hold the position for as long as you "comfortably" can. To come out of it, lower one foot to the ground, then the other.

4. Once you feel very comfortable and stable in this position (and don't rush to get to a full headstand, be safe) you can move to a full headstand. The best way to do this is to, with control, take both feet straight up at the same time and bring the feet together, keeping them flexed. Keep those shoulders down! You may only hold it for a few seconds the first several times. When I first started learning headstands, I fell out of it a whole mess of times before I was able to sustain it. Don't be afraid to fall or roll out of it. That's why I said give yourself space.

As with anything that's worth doing, it takes practice, practice practice. So go ahead and get upside down. You'll like it.

If you've never done headstands before and you're trying them for the first time, let me know how it's going in the comments.

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