Category Archives: Yin Yoga

Your Body is your Temple

You’ve probably heard of the title before, that, “Your Body is your Temple”.

And it is.

People wonder why I’m so adamant about staying healthy with eating the foods that I eat, my Yoga practice and meditation.

It supports my cycling.  And if you really must know, several years back, I had an accident where a car hit me from behind while I was training on a bicycle, knocking me unconscious for 5 to 10 minutes, putting me in a ditch.  As a result, my helmet got smashed and I sustained a concussion.  The months following, I experienced post concussion syndrome, and I had the following symptoms I tried to manage:

  1. Short term memory loss;
  2. Verbal memory loss;
  3. Attention loss;
  4. Slow processing speed;
  5. Irritability;
  6. Anxiety;
  7. Periodic emotional instability/depression;
  8. Word finding difficulties;
  9. Impulsiveness;
  10. Tinnitus;
  11. Obsessive compulsive disorder;
  12. Mental fatigue.

The months following the traumatic brain injury, I’ve had to make adjustments to my daily routine, my working habits and my social life.  I wasn’t together.

I was broken.

Then, one day, about a year later, I had a headache so bad, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I wasn’t able to function.  It was debilitating.  I had reached my limit.

Searching for solutions, I finally took the first step and attended my first Yoga class at a local studio.  From then on, I was hooked.  Not on Yoga per-se, but to taking care of my body – because no once else could.  I started with a mission, a purpose to heal myself because doctors can only do so much.

“I started to participate in my own rescue.”

I took several more classes to find the right teacher.  Eventually, I found one I liked and I’ve stuck with her ever since.

I searched the Internet for forums on advice and found a couple of resources to draw upon, reading about other people’s experiences and what they had done to heal themselves.  Most of them resorted to medications instead of natural solutions.  At some point, I found one website that gave me hope – NaturalNews.com.  They talked about many topics, mostly about eating healthy, foods that heal instead of harm.

With time and education, I transformed myself by transforming my nutritional intake:

  1. No red meat – I’ve read about how eating meat contributes to inflammation and how they include antibiotics and neurotoxins to preserve the meat.  You will also revitalize your tastebuds by not eating red meat ;
  2. Eliminate commercial cow’s milk – I’ve drank this ever since I was a little kid and swore by it.  But the nature of the milk contributed to more mucus and made my bloodstream acidic, not to mention the antibiotics and growth hormones they inject into the cows.  (No wonder I’m so tall!);
  3. Eliminate Dairy altogether – Though I sometimes enjoy a good organic cheese pizza on occasion;
  4. Eat more organic greens – I can’t eat non-organic vegetables – I can actually taste the chemicals sprayed on it and digesting it makes me sick;
  5. Eat more fruits – Berries, avocados, bananas, mangoes, etc.;
  6. Find alternative sources of protein – nuts (i.e. almonds, cashews, pecans), legumes (i.e. pinto beans, chick peas), seeds (i.e. flax, sunflower), greens (i.e. kale, spinach), etc..  Whoever said protein can only be found in carcasses, is misinformed.

These are just a few examples.  I could give you a full breakdown of what I eat down to the cooking oil I use.  If you’re interested, just let me know and I’ll do another blog post.  By eating better, you feel better from the inside.

In being a cyclist, you also look for marginal gains.  And in my case, that also meant doing what it took to rehabilitate myself in every aspect – mental, physical, and spiritual.

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I also found out through reading NaturalNews.com that Ginger and Turmeric are also anti-inflammatory foods.  That increased my healing dramatically in the past couple of years.  I have fewer instances of the post concussion syndrome symptoms coming back – though I still do get the occasional migraine from having my head cracked open.

You must be asking, “Why all of a sudden are you writing about this instead of your races and your team?”

I have a few of reasons:

  1. It’s time people, my social circles, understand where I’m coming from and my motivations in doing all that I do;
  2. More and more, I come across people who have had brain injuries and they still have symptoms.  So it is my purpose to help them where I can;
  3. With Amazon having just bought Whole Foods, people need to be aware that Whole Foods is not all that they promise according to this article;
  4. Rid the myth that NaturalNews.com is a fake news site.  If NaturalNews were fake, then it wouldn’t have helped me and millions of others improve their health naturally.  Would you talk about something bad that influenced so many people in a positive way?

There you have it.  It’s something I’ve wanted to say for a long time and I hope you’ll take my message seriously.

Ride on!

Ben

Prelude to a Better Year

With the “bad” year behind, or you could call it a learning year, longer rides and centuries consumed the end of the cycling season.  Off-season started in November, where for about a week, I did nothing and ate almost everything from my refrigerator and pantry (and had to fill it up just as quick).  It was also a time to plan for what I was going to do to increase my fitness and have some structure.  At the time, this was my plan:

  1. Do CrossFit to increase my general fitness;
  2. Do lots of Skate-ski to build up my VO2max;
  3. Lift weights to increase my physical strength;
  4. Do Yoga, both Vinyasa and Yin to work both core muscles and connective tissues;
  5. Get a VO2max test done;
  6. Indoor trainer with Trainer Road.

I only got to three of the five activities in this plan as I discovered quickly that I didn’t have the time and energy to do everything.  A couple of CrossFit community classes put my body out for the entire day.  I wouldn’t recover in time to do every other activity I wanted, so I had to ditch it.  Granted, I probably would have adapted to the high intensity, but I also wanted to have compassion for my body.  And I tried to get outside as much as possible to go Skate-skiing.  But of course, this past winter was another winter with very little snow.  So I had to build my base in other ways.

I began with the medium volume, base training plan from Trainer Road and worked around that.  I could still feel remnants of my injury, the lingering fatigue and strain in my lower back and gluteus so I had to take it easy.

Once I completed the 8-week plan, I did the VO2max testing to determine how hard I have to train the rest of the off-season.  I was getting ready for the Killington Stage Race and needed to know these numbers.  Let me just say, going through that testing was anything but having compassion to your body!  Breathing through a restricted mask, sweating like buckets and getting finger pricks on a frequent basis were literal pain points to the test.  Other than that, it was fun!

After learning about my numbers, it gave me extra motivation to select a build plan from Trainer Road and then later, a specialty plan for climbing.

Next up was doing my full-body weight lifting to prime and condition for more intense efforts in the new year.  Before last year’s injury, my FTP was substantial and I experienced plenty of power I never knew I had.  What was missing was muscle strength in the gluteus and lower back to support the higher output.  By the time January hit, I concentrated on developing these muscle groups by doing specific exercises.  YouTube is a great resource for that!

To round out everything, I did Vinyasa Yoga about once a week to keep my core strength, and Yin Yoga twice a week to address the connective tissues to keep my flexibility.  The meditative qualities of Yin Yoga did wonders.

During this time, I also held a Yin Yoga for Cyclists series at Riverbend Yoga for the cycling community to experience what the practice can do to compliment their indoor training.  The idea is to discover a new routine to restore your body (addressing the connective tissues) and mind  – something you can carry onto the cycling season as a regular practice.  It was very well received and I’m looking to do another series soon.

But of course, none of these activities could happen without revising my nutrition.  As my previous trainer taught me, 80% of staying fit is about nutrition.  With the number of calories skyrocketing due to doubling up on activities four times a week and working out six times a week, I started to eat more protein.  As a pescetarian, my typical day consisted of eating:

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Breakfast – 3 organic eggs, avocado, turmeric, a couple of ounces of organic nuts;

Lunch – sweet potato burrito or crab cake sandwich;

Dinner – depending on the mood, sweet potato and Brussels sprouts and/or salmon or scallops with soba or udon noodles with spinach and kale.  Sometimes Kimchi before the meal.

In between the meals, I would have wellness bars from my business or an organic banana.  The great thing about the wellness bars are that they are non-GMO and gluten-free.

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For the post-activity protein shake, I use Nutiva hemp protein with SO Delicious organic coconut milk, turmeric, Maine maple syrup, ginger, black pepper and a banana.

My goals for nutrition were:

  1.  Increase the amount of akali (versus acidic) foods thus reducing the amount of muscle and tissue inflammation;
  2.  Reduce the amount of regular fish intake, supporting goal #1;
  3.  Find protein alternatives that my stomach and taste buds can handle.

I can say without a doubt that with the cycling season now in the full swing of things, I’ve realized some gains.  Read more about them in my next post!

 

Ride on!  Or should I say, “Eat on?”

Ben

Road to Recovery (again?)

When your level of play increases, you expect to push that little extra to get into shape, to have an edge, follow a plan and to destroy your competition.  Well, none of that is useful if you don’t listen to your body or execute the fundamentals. That’s what happened over a month ago as I was starting to ride outside again after a long season of indoor training, but not before enjoying some downtime cycling in Florida.

Apparently, my body doesn’t like the cold, even though I grew up in Canada where the winters can be biting towards -40 degrees Celsius.  Riding in 17 degrees Fahrenheit on the other hand felt balmy.  But that’s where I was mistaken.

It was one of the first few Saturday morning rides of the year and there was a bunch of us ready to pick up where we left off last year after the Doppio Ciclo.  (That’s “double loop” for those who aren’t Italian.)  I was feeling great after having come off vacation and felt I could continue on the work I did when I was in the warmer climate.  I pushed just as hard as I did in the Fallen Heroes Ride – except in the last few miles before the big sprint, my legs and body gave out and I went backwards as the group surged on.  I didn’t think too much of it – not with the amount of training I had put in since November.  But as the days went on, it turned out to be almost 2 weeks before I went to get diagnosed.  I could feel the power in my legs dissipate and the fire slowly burn dimly.
Back strain was the first culprit.  The people at Maine Medical Orthopedics and Sports Medicine made the diagnosis and immediately set out a plan for rehabilitation.  The reason my back was strained was because my core was weak.  I realized that by taking part in more Yin Yoga, I had forgotten to take care of my core by doing Vinyasa Yoga.  In the first couple of weeks of doing Vinyasa, it was painful.  My body wouldn’t bend the way I wanted it to and I was completely stiff.  Part of the therapy regiment was staying off the bike – initially.  I wasn’t okay with this, but I had no choice.  I remember the moments when my body, especially around the lower back, hips and gluteus muscles where they were screaming ever so silently, “No more!”  They were fatigued after the amount of stress I had put them through.

The only bike activity I was allowed to have was if I pedaled below 100 watts – which was soft pedaling or, “Look pro, go slow.”  Even though I felt devastated, I also knew the consequences if I didn’t follow my doctor’s and therapist’s advice.  The good thing is that this happened early enough in the season and not in the midst of it, even though I could use some additional conditioning.  The silver lining was that I was able to ride with friends who had a more leisurely pace.

I had a four week plan after two weeks of trial and error.  Along with back-strengthening exercises, I was to gradually increase my power output on the bike each week, but only if I followed the guidelines exactly.  If I were to exceed the guidelines, I would have to revert back to the previous week as a form of punishment.  Actually, the purpose of that was to not re-injure myself and create more fatigue and strain, producing unnecessary muscle inflammation.  One of the ways to reduce inflammation was to concentrate on nutrition.  Less fish, more vegetables, more nuts and avocados and turmeric on everything.

By the third week, I had felt better having continued with Yin Yoga, but also doing more Vinyasa Yoga in the gym as well as at the Greener Postures studios.  Although I was doing this activity, I felt a need to get a specialist I hadn’t called upon in a long time.  My intuitive masseuse, Amber.

After just two sessions, she was able to pinpoint and address my pains.  Not only was it coming from my lower back, it was all connected into my hip flexors, gluteus areas, piriformis and psoas.  I discovered that while Yin was able to relieve much of my pain in the connective tissues, I also needed direct manipulation in the form of massage.  Afterwards, I felt out of sorts and my body couldn’t coordinate with the effects of the massage.  My body was that messed up!  But I knew it was all the accumulated toxins that was floating around that made me this way.

Miraculously, I was able to race the next day in the Scarborough Criterium Series even though I had my doubts having already missed two of them.  I finished with the peloton, which was my goal, but I wasn’t competitive.  Another Vinyasa class, another Yin class with the mindful instructor, Sagel, a fast Monday night ride, another therapy session and Yin class over the course of a few days, and finally – I felt like myself again!  Yes, that’s today!

What I learned from this experience are the following:

  1. Injuries teaches you patience – in the mental and physical aspects;
  2. Listen to your body – you only have one, so know its voices;
  3. Always eat nutritious foods – avocados, turmeric, maple syrup, steel cut oatmeal, organic and raw cashews, almonds and pecans and bananas are my go-to foods;
  4. Always exercise your core – this is fundamental.  There are so many benefits with Vinyasa Yoga;
  5. Get massages – especially after some hard training and racing;
  6. Listen to your sports doctors and physical therapists.

As of now, I feel 100% healed.

And all it took were a number of people and events to make it happen. Feeling blessed?  Yes.  Feeling motivated?  Of course!

I’m ready to ride bikes!

 

Marginal Gains and Yoga

Ever since Dave Brailsford used the term, “Marginal Gains” for cycling, it has been the buzzword everyone seems to gravitate towards.  And with good reason – Team Sky has seen great success because of it.  Minute changes in behavior result in a positive outcome.

Maybe I’m late to the game, Yoga can be considered as a marginal gain – or maybe not so because its benefits are much greater than that!  Roughly for the past three years, I’ve been practicing yoga as a sort of training and maintenance program to improve my cycling.  My initial intent, however, was to relieve myself of some post-concussion syndrome symptoms as well as to heal my fractured vertebrae in a horrific crash I had during a race.  Little did I know it was to transform my life, not just in the cycling world.

What’s interesting is that men still have apprehensions about the practice, thinking it’s too feminine.  But if you look towards its history, the practice has been around for thousands of years in Hinduism, before the bicycle was even invented.  NFL players embrace it.  Prisoners found solace in it.  It’s also being taught in grade school and among the elderly.  So of course, why not for athletes?  Why not for cyclists?

First off, there are different kinds of yoga, and depending on what you want to achieve, certain types will benefit you in different ways.  I’ll summarize briefly what I practice and then write about it in more detail in later blog posts.

Vinyasa Yoga – This is one many many different types of yoga where it works your muscles, also known as yang tissues.  It’s the same muscles you use in cycling, but by posing in different postures, it builds strength, most notably, core strength.  By doing this asana, you recruit muscles that hold your body into position so you can put the power down to the pedals.  You’ll also find how you move on the bicycle either out of saddle or on generally is less fatiguing.  Since my overall fitness improved because of it, I was able to go faster.  (Practice this at least once a week to see benefits in 3 months or sooner.)

Yin Yoga – This practice strengthens the connective tissues and lubricates the joints.  The objective is to reduce the amount of fixation caused by poor posture or repetitive yang movement such as cycling.  By doing Yin Yoga, you increase flexibility and support for yang activities.  This increase in flexibility means you can get lower and more aerodynamic in your body position on the bicycle.  I also found that certain poses alleviate chronic muscle problems such as lower back pain.  (Practice this 1 to 2 times a week, especially after a hard race or intense training.)

Yoga Nidra – Also known as “yogic sleep”, is still quite new to me.  The objective of this practice is to reduce tension in the body and anxiety.  It is held in a prone state (Savasana) where you surrender yourself completely to the ground, and you are instructed to become aware in each part of your body in a sequence.  It’s is known that 1 hour of this practice is equivalent to having 3 to 4 hours of sleep.  It completes the suite of yoga practices.  (Practice this 1 to 2 times a month.)

When you practice any version of yoga, you are exploring yourself and getting to knowing yourself in your physical, mental and spiritual states.  I am always asked,

“What do you get out of it?”

If you do it only once in a while, not much.  But if you dedicate yourself to the practice at least once a week, you will see changes within yourself.  If you do it a few times a week, you will see an awakening and a transformation in your entire self.  Over the course of the first six months, you’ll see big changes in all facets of your being.  Your mind will become more clear, and you will be more aware of your body.  You will also find that your breathing patterns are enhanced – all of which are extremely important in cycling.

Here are a few steps to get started:

  1. Ease yourself into yoga by finding a few local yoga studios to try.  Start with community classes as they are inexpensive.  It’s a good way to test out if yoga is for you and get a sense of what it’s like to do certain poses and find out how your body responds to them;
  2. Once you know you want to do more yoga, start finding an instructor or two to follow to get a sense of what they’re teaching and how.  Their level of difficulty, pace and flow are great indicators of how well they match your style.
  3. Dedicate yourself to the practice weekly.  You’ll get to know the different poses intimately and feel like you need it every day.  Don’t limit your practice to just going to the studio.  You can start doing it every day in the morning for 5 to 10 minutes.  This will wake you up and get the blood flowing.

I’ve written this article for the sole purpose of educating my Tall Sock Racing teammates and my friends in the cycling community.  Hopefully, you too will start getting curious about yoga and what it can do for you in your cycling adventures.

Feel free to ask me questions and comment here to discuss what you have tried.

But for now, Namaste and ride on!