This was an outdoor yoga session followed by a picnic. It was held on Selsley common near Stroud.
The cows were fascinated by the circle of yogis and one had a go at eating a strap that was lying on the ground.
I was introduced to hatha yoga by Sally Deacon in Nailsworth and it really changed my life! I found it energising, calming and spiritually enlightening. It’s really made me a happier and stronger person. I still need to write the blog post about that!
Over the Christmas holiday I spent 8 days riding, 3 walking and had 1 rest day. I will be adding write ups on some of my favourite moments.
Each ride on average was 45km, lasted over 4 hours and consumed just under 1800KCal. That’s a total of 14,000KCal, the equivalent to 5.7 days extra energy for a typical man (2,500 per day). The average for the whole holiday was 1418KCal per active day.
I was very encouraged by how it felt. I didn’t feel any aches until the seventh ride, a punishing road and track ride through the Twyi Forest in mid Wales.
I went over the bars at Cannock when my handlebars clipped a tree and my upper body suffered no bruises or pain. I did bruise my ankle slightly which made walking a bit painful but had no affect on riding. I credit yoga and pilates for that.
I don’t want to appear smug or anything*, but consuming over 1400 KCal per day for 11 days and not really eating much more than normal meant that I lost a bit of weight over the holiday too.
*oh go on then.
I did all of the riding on my trusty Specialised Stump Jumper 26″ (alloy), now with working Rock Shox Revelation forks. These were amazing. The lock out broke towards the end though!
I picked up a few Strava results along the way. My first KOM! I was a few seconds faster than three other riders on a track climb in the middle of nowhere in Wales. It still counts though, especially considering I stopped to take a photograph half way up the climb.
I also managed a 9th out of 58 on a descent near Swindon and more significantly 8th out of 71 on the radio mast climb. I don’t set out chasing Strava results but it’s great for a few to filter through from what I regard as normal rides.
I’m a massive fan of yoga. I love it. It has made me a much happier and healthy person. I’ll talk about that in another post. Today I’m going to talk about starting yoga.
It was all a happy accident. Literally. The Friday before the Twentyfour12 2011 race I was driving to my local bike shop, Noah’s Ark. and I was in a long queue behind a slow moving tractor. I was minding my own business when I heard a scream, a skid, a bang and then I felt an impact that was strong enough to knock the radio in the car out of its slot. There was a short delay and then I thought “I’ve been rear ended”.
I climbed out of the car and found out what had happened. The Clio behind me had been rammed by the car behind it. The scream had been the passenger in that car as they’d been hit. The driver who caused the crash said “I was looking at the front of the queue rather than the back.” Fair enough, mistakes happen. It was all very amicable but I did feel like saying “well, my advice is to look at the back of a queue and not hit it” but it’s easy to be wise after the event.
At the time I was driving an old VW Golf MK3 TDi estate. I’d bought this for £250 in 2009 and spent, er, a bit on doing it up. It had totally new suspension with a Weitech lowering kit, 15″ steel wheels, decent tyres and reconditioned brakes. It looked like a wreck but it was in great form mechanically. I’d taken it to the Nurburgring the previous year! This had been a bit of fun after spending far too much time mechanically modifying cars in previous years.
The crash had put a big dent into the back of the car and I reckoned it would be a write off. I wasn’t bothered by that – the time had come to change cars anyway so this just made that happen.
I found out next where all of our insurance money goes. The very nice insurance company supplied me with a loan car. This was a brand new BMW 3 series Diesel M-Sport. Sounds great and I was quite happy with it as a loan car. From a driving perspective it was actually an awful car. It didn’t know what it was supposed to be. It was neither fast or efficient. It had rock solid suspension but was not actually fun to drive as it tram lined down any road that wasn’t billiard table flat. It had loads of slop in the steering. It was loaded with pointless electronic tat. It did keep me entertained with the cruise control game where you have to complete a whole journey using only the up/down speed control buttons.
The insurance company sold my details onto ambulance chasing lawyers who phoned and sent texts every day to tell me that I’d been injured, I must have whiplash and I must seek help. I turned down their offers because I felt fine and their attitude annoyed me.
A few months later I handed back the loan car. That meant that my insurance company would be charging the other insurance company several thousand pounds. I read somewhere that the insurance companies own the hire companies and it’s a method for syphoning money out of the insurance premiums.
All of the above happened in mid 2011. About six months later I became aware of a very stiff neck whilst at work. Years of bad posture had a part to play. Looking at computer screens and cycling both cause people to crane their necks forwards. This compresses the cervical spine and can cause all sorts of problems. I had pain in my neck and I had difficulty twisting it. I had whiplash but it had taken several months to develop.
My only previous experience with whiplash was from a head on collision in a dodgem car in the early 200s. That had given me a big headache and some pain for about a week. I was drunk at the time of the impact though and it all seemed like a big joke.
This time I decided that I needed some help. I knew a sports therapist who’d been doing massages at one of the MBSwindon events so I contacted her. Nancy Braithewaite said that she could probably help so I went along to Bristol to give it a go.
This was the first time I’d been to see a sports therapist and I wasn’t sure what to expect about a stranger taking a close look at my body. I was instructed to “take your trousers and shirt off”. I’d prepared for this by wearing my best pants. I’ve got more to say on this in a later article. Nancy spent about quarter of an hour looking at my body in various postures. She quickly identified several bits of wonkiness and said that she could definitely help.
I was introduced to the massage table with a hole in it to look and breathe through. Apart from going to the hairdressers this was the first time in years that I’d been forced to do nothing for an hour. I found it strangely stimulating to lie on my front with my eyes closed and receive whatever was happening to me. It was a joy to let go – everything else I did involved decisions, data, people, time scales, plans and deadlines.
The verdict was that I wasn’t in bad shape but everything was very tight. “You really should do yoga, that would make you less tight” Nancy said. I didn’t really think about it too much and booked my next session.
I visited Nancy every few weeks and quickly worked out that sports therapists regard your body as like a big bubble in a sheet of bubble wrap that has to be popped. They are bored with the idea of rubbing your skin a bit; they want to get deep and do real work. They want to hear things crack and they want you to squirm. I asked Nancy if it was physically demanding and she said “I use my body weight to make it easier”. I’m not averse to a bit of virtuous pain. Nancy said to me one day “I think you quite like pain”. She was right and the humour of the sado-masochism was not lost on me.
Nancy continued to tease me about the yoga classes so one day I went home and typed “stroud yoga” into google. I found that there were classes nearby on an evening that suited me so I made contact and decided to give it a go.
That was the start of significant changes to everything in my life. I’ll leave it here fore now. There’s loads more to say!
Since I started yoga I’ve lost a fair amount of weight. I don’t know how much for sure because I didn’t own a set of weighing scales until six months ago. I started taking regular readings after I had visibly lost a fair amount of weight – I was a tight fit in 34″ trousers for years and now I comfortably fit into the 32″ size. I took readings at random times of the day and for several days and found a variation of +/-1Kg.
The average seems to have dropped by about 1.5Kg since March: 76.5Kg down to 75Kg. A “massive” 2% drop! In terms of BMI (body mass index) for a 1.73 height (6′ 8″) that was just skirting the edge of the normal range and is now just within it. See the BMI calculator on the bbc website.
The BMI is a very approximate measure of body shape. It is based on weight divided by height squared so has units of Kg/m2. This might seem a bit of an odd method. If you assume that the width of a person is proportional to their height and everyone has a similar mean effective density then their mass would be:
Mass = density x height squared x depth
You can rearrange that to give: depth = Mass / height squared
So BMI is a sort of measure of how deep someone is (physically). I don’t think it’s any more meaningful than the description above really. It’s a measurement that’s much abused by those who are well intentioned but lack understanding of its limitations. For example, it’s well known that muscle is more dense than fat, so weight loss and muscle growth can increase the BMI. See the Wikipedia article on BMI including a long section on the limitations and shortcomings.
You can probably do a better job by just looking in the mirror – do you look fat or not?
My weigh in values have possibly gone up a bit recently so I decided to measure my waist size and keep that in a spreadsheet too. My initial measurement was 860mm in a neutral position. i.e: not breathing in or out. Confusingly that’s 34″. I assume that trouser sizes don’t map directly to waist size.
This was my second yoga retreat in Wales of the year, a repeat trip to the Elan valley with Mountain Yoga Breaks. The weekend followed a very similar format to the May trip.
The main differences were:
I drove to the Elan valley lodge rather than the organiser’s home address!
I took the Stump Jumper and had more fun down the rocky descents
I was more flexible so could do most of the yoga poses more easily
The routes had some different options
I made a more interesting video
Things that didn’t change were:
Well guided rides in a great area for riding
Loads of yoga
I still tried all of the river crossings
Our guide, Philip from Mountain bike Wales, did a masterful job of keeping a group with range of fitness and experience levels entertained over both days. This meant that some road short cuts were available whilst he sensed that I was keen and sent me on some bonus missions and short extra loop at one point. The routes cover pretty much all of the best parts of the Elan valley with possibly the exception of the shute and that’s an acquired taste and only worth doing in the dry (I’ve got some photos of that from the ACycling trip).
Our yoga instructor Polly ran classes that were suitable for all experience levels – there’s no need to be a super bendy yoga nut to enjoy these sessions.
These weekends are recommended if you:
think you might like either
definitely like both
fancy a relaxing weekend in the middle of nowhere
You might guess that I quite like mountain biking. I’m also a very big advocate of yoga. Everything in my life has gradually changed over the last 18 months since I started: my diet, weight, strength, muscle definition, stamina, fitness, flexibility and happiness. It’s all changed for the better.
Read more about the weekend on the Singletrack website (subscription might be required though my forum login seems to work).
I love mountain biking. I love yoga. So I was excited when Facebook spewed up an advert for “a mountain biking yoga weekend”. I liked the idea so much that I booked a place before reading the details. Probably. It was organised by Mountain Yoga Breaks – see their website, Facebook and Twitter pages.
I’ve been riding for over a decade and I discovered yoga about a year previously. I really wish I’d found it earlier! Sports therapist Nancy Braithewaite put me on to it as a cure to lack of flexibility due to all time riding with no stretching.
Ask most people what yoga is and they will probably describe a room of beautiful people stretched into painful looking poses with their feet round their neck whilst they practice a self-satisfied, smug expression. They will talk for hours about chakra energy channel release and the benefits of doing the om chant whilst in a head-stand. Roughly speaking about half of that is true, though I haven’t found the location of the room of beautiful people yet. There is no pain involved – an important axiom is always doing what is right for yourself. Wikipedia article on yoga.
As a starting point then yoga can be regarded as a physical conditioning routine that involves holding the body in various physical stances and poses. This gently stretches muscles and brings about flexibility, strength, balance and resiliance. Yoga can help redress the well known physical problems caused by cycling such muscle contraction in the hips and legs, lower back pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders. Daily activities such as driving or sitting at a desk also contribute to the problems. This alone is reason enough to practice yoga.
Many soon discover that feeling better physically also makes them feel better mentally. Modern life is very much based on disconnecting via over stimulation, distraction activities, over eating, drinking and the search for artificial highs. Reconnecting can be very exciting and satisfying. The self focus of yoga is mediative and encourages calm, clarity and self control. These are very powerful states of mind that can improve all aspects of life and are acknowledged as helping sports performance.
The really great thing about yoga is that it can be whatever you want it to be: physical training, mind expansion, relaxation time, mental training, all of the above, none of the above. I’m a massive advocate of yoga because it’s personally brought about so many positive changes in my life.
There’s loads of yoga classes out there in various styles. Try some and see if it suits you. Also worth a punt is Pilates. It’s a bit like yoga but more of a physical training routine and less spiritual.
The concept for the holiday was simple: spend a weekend in mid Wales with two days riding on some of the best natural trails in the country. Fill the rest of the time with yoga, eating cake, drinking tea and sleeping.
Experienced yoga instructor Polly Clark is also a mountain biker so has developed classes that can really make a difference to riders. Yoga is non competitive, but at the first session I watched in awe as one lady was able to reach right down onto her elbows for a pose where I could hardly touch the ground with my finger tips…as I cheated a bit by bending my back and straining a little bit. Yoga is all about yourself though – so the 0.1mm of stretch I was managing was still making progress for me. Whatever your level you should walk out of a yoga class feeling a lot better than when you walked in. Which was true on the weekend.
I arrived on Friday evening to find a friendly group of riders with a mixture of riding and yoga experience levels. The Elan Valley Lodge was a brilliant location. Billed as a four star youth hostel it offered clean and comfortable en-suite rooms, good food, social areas with wi-fi and, of course, a large room for the yoga classes.
The rides were guided by Phil from Mountain Bike Wales (also on Facebook & Twitter). As a experienced local rider and someone who trains instructors then Phil was able to give a great experience to a mixed group of riders. The terrain gave something for everyone – for example “the link” descent near Rhayader has a series of rocky sections with multiple lines across and round them so they can be avoided, rolled or jumped depending on mood and experience level. Polly had booked some amazing weather too, with sun available on both days. We spent a fair amount of time riding through water so this was a good thing.
The Saturday route took in “puke hill” and followed the Trans Cambrian route (see our snowy version from march) for a while before linking back via a descent to the chapel, a big climb and then “the link” descent.
Sadly Pippa parted company with her bike on the last descent. She was very annoyed that it was “on an easy section”. She returned on Saturday night to show off her bruises including a fetching egg-shaped lump on her forehead.
The Sunday route was a bit shorter and worked anti clockwise round the Cefn, across the river Elan, followed a big climb up “the link” and the looped round to a long descent back into the main Elan valley. The lunch stop on top of the mountain gave me an ideal opportunity to explain the sports therapy triangle situation I’m in.
A few top tips from the weekend: follow the route the guide takes when in the water. Follow the guide if they use the bridge rather than riding through the water. If you are doing the half-splits and your foot is being pushed hard into the ground then it is unlikely that you will be able to lift it.
I really enjoyed the weekend. That’s not surprising since I love mountain biking, yoga, cake, tea, good riding and talking bollocks. All bases were covered. I’m definitely going back for more.