Trials rider Ryan Leech is one of the most technically skilled mountain bikers in the world. He rides chains, railroad tracks, precipitous ledges, and jumps and hops impossibly with his bike, defying gravity and displaying calm, collectedness and unbelievable balance in dizzying situations. Leech says that yoga taught him balance.
“Yoga significantly contributed to my balancing ability on the bike,” says Leech. “I learned how to breathe properly through my yoga practice. I trained my gaze to give me uninterrupted focus. And then I was able to ride skinnier, wobblier things, round railings, chains, all due to my ability to stay present, and to quickly return to equilibrium when I did get off center.”
For Leech, achieving balance through yoga isn’t just about biking. Leech says that yoga gives him the ability to return to a place of calm and centeredness, on and off the bike, so he can try his line again. “When life is crazy—all that background noise will effect your physical ability to balance,” says Leech. “It will effect your performance. By focusing, breathing and moving through a yoga practice, I find open space and clarity. It uncovers physical but also emotional stresses that I need to deal with, which allows me to be more open and free in my sport and on my bike.”
Leech, who is also a yoga instructor and coach, recommends these exercises for improving your balance, whatever your sport:
Take stock of where you are:
- Standing with straight legs, bend forward lifting your right leg off the ground and dropping your chest to parallel with the ground. Reach behind you with your right hand and grasp your right foot in your right hand. This is called Dancer’s pose. Breathe through your nose. Hold the pose until you lose your balance.
- Repeat on the left side, this time paying close attention to the thoughts running through your head and how those thoughts affect your balance.
- Repeat on the right side, this time breathing deeply in and out of your nose and focusing all of your mental energies on the sound of your breath flowing in and out of your nose. If you find yourself thinking about anything but your breath, refocus.
- Repeat on the left side, bringing awareness to the sound of your breathing while also fixing your gaze on an object.
- Standing in Samastadihi, big toes and heels touching, hands in prayer position by your chest, standing straight and tall, pick up all five toes on both feet, and then place each back on the ground one at a time starting with your pinky toe. As you place your toes on the ground, imagine you are gluing your toes to the ground where they touch. Spread your toes wide as you plant them. With your feet on the ground, imagine your feet as a square, and anchor yourself to the earth through each corner of your foot. Imagine your feet like the roots of a tree and your legs like the trunk.
- Ground yourself using your gaze. Look at a fixed point and imagine a solid connection between your eyes and the point.
- Once you have grounded and anchored yourself through your feet and your gaze, challenge your balance. Draw a knee up to your chest while you are standing. Take your gaze to the floor and observe how your balance changes. Attach your gaze to a moving object and observe.
Lift your heels high, reach hands high.
Leech says that grounding is the key to balance. Practice grounding through touch points like eyes and feet as you practice your sport. Challenge your physical balance, and also challenge yourself to observe—not criticize—yourself if you lose your balance. Note your ability to return to balance quickly when you do fall over.
For more coaching tips from Ryan Leech, go to RealActionAthletes.com