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Yoga for Skiers

Instead of a hot toddy, try yoga after a day of skiing moguls and adrenaline-producing black diamond runs.

By Baron Baptiste and Kathleen Finn Mendola

A skier angulates from the hips, constantly engaging the hip flexors to raise and lower the legs. But overuse of the hip flexors can lead to back strain as the front of body becomes overdeveloped, leaving the back weaker and tighter. Keeping the hip area flexible and supple is necessary not only to avoid imbalance, but to encourage good turning habits. For example, skiers with tight, congested pelvic/hip areas will tend to wrench the upper body back and forth to initiate a turn, instead of utilizing the lower body. This results in abrupt, awkward turns and a stiff, sore upper back.

Which leads us to core strength and awareness—vital to both skiing and yoga. "In skiing, awareness of your center allows you to rise to initiate movement," Boris says. "You rise to start your turn, and sink down to finish your turn, and all the while the core or torso should remain facing downhill." Awareness of your core can prevent you from turning inefficiently. What's more, core awareness translates to quicker reactions to unexpected situations—runaway skis, out of control skiers, shifting snow, and weather conditions—and can rescue you from accidents.

Balance, a blend of strength, flexibility, and kinesthetic sense, is especially important for being able to achieve the next level in skiing, whether that's mastering moguls or perfecting powder skiing. It's also imperative for avoiding injuries. If you're schussing along and hit unexpected terrain—a rock or sheet of ice—and one ski is forced out from under your body, you can avoid tearing your inner thigh muscle or groin area if you have the flexibility and strength to support the abduction of the leg.

Prepare for Powder

Despite the capacity for injury, skiing is not a sport to be feared but rather one to prepare for. One of the simplest steps to get ready for the mountain is to check your alignment. If you're properly set up atop your skis, you've already cleared one important hurdle.

Many skiers erroneously think that leaning back will prevent falling, or conversely, that leaning extremely far forward will protect them from a spill. Neither assumption is correct. How you stand on your skis—your alignment—is key to staying balanced. Follow these fundamental alignment principles for skiing and you can avoid the dreaded face plants that inevitably occur under a chairlift full of spectators.

Feet should be shoulder-width apart, as if in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), to create a stable base for the body.

Knees should be in line with the toes, as in Utkatasana (Chair Pose).

Hips should be tipped slightly forward. This is a somewhat unnatural position for most people; however, ski boots help encourage this shape in the lower body. This posture helps you gain control. Boris likens it to walking down a roof: "If your hips are back, then your feet will come out from under you," she says.

Shoulders should be dropped, or relaxed, as in Tadasana.

Torso should be still. Referred to as a "quiet upper body" in skiing, having a "still" torso is akin to riding a bicycle with the lower body doing most of the work while the upper body provides stability.

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Reader Comments

Yoga AAA, Sweden

Yoga + skiing is a match in heaven. :-) Thanks for a very inspiring post!
Though the strengthening pre-season asanas are not quite the same as the after-ski ones when the lower body is exhausted (then I do more leg stretches, inversions, and arm balances, to save the legs).

Pamela Fraser

Try yoga before hitting the slopes. Go to the January 10th post on my weekly blog--- targets the Achilles tendons to enhance forward lean. plf

Sue MacLennan

Yoga after skiing has been a practice of mine for several years. This year I bought extra mats and have been introducing apres ski yoga to my ski friends, most of whom were not familiar with yoga and are now converts. We usually do the 30 min. Baron Baptiste dvd. My knees have appreciated my yoga practice. Keep spreading the word !

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