Skiing or riding down the side of a mountain thrills the senses and nourishes the soul but can take a heavy toll on the body. Engaging gravity and speed standing on your feet requires quick reflexes, balance, and power and often leave muscles tight and sore.
Yoga’s asanas, or poses, are often sought out by ski fanatics as a way to remedy the aches and stiffness that can result from a day out pounding the slopes. While the asanas can always be used to improve muscle flexibility and joint mobility to counteract the impacts of skiing, they can also be used to achieve a better balance of strength, agility, and body awareness before you head out for a day on the mountain and all season long.
Using the asanas to prepare for skiing might seem counter-intuitive to a lot of people. After all, skiing is a fast, hard-hitting outdoor sport and yoga is a quiet, meditative pursuit most often practiced indoors. But in the mindful practice of the asanas is the opportunity to build strength while increasing flexibility and improving joint control. This combination increases agility, the ability to move and react quickly with precision, a key component to advancing your technique and enjoying your winter season.
Balanced Muscle Benefits
When most people think about getting in shape for skiing it’s usually the big muscle groups, such as the quadriceps and glutes, that come to mind. But fitness of the smaller muscles that synergistically support the large prime movers is crucial to maintaining balance and negotiating speed and gravity while sliding. The thin, strappy hip rotator muscles, the calf and tibialis muscles of the lower leg, adductor muscles of the inner thigh (which tie into and help stabilize the pelvis), and the deep transverse abdominus and oblique muscles of the body’s core are all key components to skiing and sport fitness and are efficiently recruited and strengthened in a number of standing poses. Building strength in these smaller, stabilizing muscles helps to not only support the function of bigger muscles and build core strength, it also helps to develop an awareness of your center of gravity, an essential part of becoming an accomplished skier.
Centering in Tadasana
Tadasana (Mountain Pose) allows for organizing through the frame, stacking the bones, activating key muscle groups, and exploring the body’s relationship to gravity.
- Coming to standing with the feet close to hips-width apart, allow the shoulders to relax and the arms to hang at your sides. Allow the breath to lengthen as you bring your awareness to your feet.
- Spread your toes and let your feet relax into points of contact with the floor. Imagine the earth rising up underneath you and allow your feet to yield into that pressure, gently spreading, embracing its touch. Simultaneously you will be extending down through your feet, seeking out that contact. This is very much the kind of relationship needed between your feet, your skis, and the mountain when pressuring through your turns.
- Traveling up from your feet you will gently engage the thigh muscles, drop sitting bones toward the floor, lift the navel slightly in and up, draw the scapula down the back, lift the sternum, and send energy through the crown of the head toward the ceiling. As you do this the ears, shoulders, and hips should align over the ankles. Spend a moment allowing energy to travel up through the spine and down through the feet into the floor. This oppositional pulling helps activate the deep core, traction the vertebrae, and strengthen muscles that support the back.
- While in Tadasana you can explore balance and the location of your center of gravity by closing your eyes and gently rocking forward and back. As you get to the point of tipping you will naturally tighten through your core at the point closest to your center of gravity. This might be just behind or slightly above the navel for men, or just below the navel for women.
- Try rocking side to side, or out at a 45-degree angle. Where do you go to pull yourself back? Be sure to reorganize and restack yourself before moving outward from your centered position each time. Awareness of your center of gravity is key to mastering fall-line skiing on steeper slopes as you progress, and it is important to locate as the point from which you are constantly organizing and extending down through your feet and up through the crown of your head.
Balancing in Vrksasana
Vrksasana (Tree Pose) challenges the balance further as you move to standing on one leg.
- From Tadasana you will shift your weight to one foot and bring the other foot to the inside of thigh of the standing leg. The heel of the lifted foot is ideally tucked up against the groin and toes are pointed toward the floor.
- Bring your hands to Anjali Mudra (Prayer Position), and let your gaze settle on a point in front of you. Lengthen the breath and try to relax any muscles you don’t need.
- Check to make sure your pelvis is level and not hitched up on the side of the standing leg. The glutes, external hip rotators, and all of the muscles of the standing leg, especially the small muscles around the joints, will be working hard to stabilize you.
- Push the foot gently into the inner thigh and push the inner thigh into the sole of your foot. This action will help fire the adductor muscles of the inner thigh and work to stabilize you laterally, or side to side. Activate the muscles that support and lengthen the spine by extending up through the crown of the head. Push down into the floor from your center of gravity.
- Hold for 30 seconds then transfer to the other leg. Challenge yourself further by closing your eyes or extending arms overhead.
Expanding in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
If you are feeling warmed up and have the flexibility in your hamstrings try Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand To-Big-Toe Pose). This pose further strengthens the muscles of the leg and engages the muscles of the upper back.
- From Tree Pose reach down and encircle the big toe of the foot inside the leg with two fingers.
- Carefully unfold the leg, extending it out to the side.
- Breathe deeply, releasing any tension in the face and neck.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Release the pose and return to Tadasana.
- Then shift your weight onto the other leg, moving into Tree Pose first, and then reaching down for the big toe, or moving directly into the pose.