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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

Few sports marry the elements of speed and grace better than skiing. Combine the adrenaline rush of hurtling down a slope with the agility of a beautifully carved turn and the sport's broad appeal is evident. Far removed from the brisk, high-energy land of skiing lies its perfect foil—yoga. Where skiing is fast and risky, yoga is slow and thoughtful. The two sports' philosophies diverge, yet the physical demands of skiing call out for the counter movements of yoga.

Perhaps the biggest benefit yoga can bring to your skiing is injury prevention. Skiing asks a lot from the body—cold muscles are called upon to perform a variety of functions, while dexterity, balance, and high levels of concentration are also a must. For those skiers who hit the slopes sporadically, these athletic requisites are often too tough, and they can end up injured and disillusioned with the sport. By observing your body's imbalances, brought on by the particular movements of skiing, and employing a yoga program to bring your body into a state of equilibrium, you can avert injury and participate in the sport for years to come.

Downhill Racer

In any sport, and skiing is no exception, if you overcompensate in one area, you weaken another, thus preventing yourself from being able to perform at your peak. Since skiing is a lower-body intensive sport, imbalance most obviously occurs in an overdeveloped lower body and a comparatively weaker upper body, according to Prisca Boris, Yoga for Athletes instructor in Vail, Colorado, and former pro-mogul competitor. In her work with skiers, Boris uses yoga poses and variations on the push-up to build upper body strength.

It's those lower body imbalances, however, that directly affect a skier's performance, and sometimes lead to injury. For example, strong quadriceps and opposing tighter, weaker hamstrings can place too many demands on the knee joint. Knee joints (and the lower half of the body in general) take a lot of abuse as they actively absorb terrain on a downhill run. In a skiing stance, though the bent-knee position with the hips forward helps cushion the shock of impact, the actual power comes from the gluteus, quadriceps, and back muscles. If these muscles are weak, the knees end up taking the pressure that the legs and glutes aren't bearing. Eventually, the joint fatigues. Shortened inner thigh muscles can also strain the knee joint by limiting the leg's range of motion. To avoid knee injury a skier should strive to keep the musculature around the knees and calf muscles supple and stretched so there's less pull on the joint, and yoga can help here. Boris instructs her yogi skiers to work to lengthen all four sides of their upper legs—inner and outer thigh, hamstring, and quadriceps—to ensure minimal strain on surrounding joints.

Together, the hips and knees create the driving force behind skiing, or more precisely, the steering mechanism. "Use of these joints, with some help from the ankle, is always directed toward the goal of trying to put pressure on the inside edge of the downhill ski in order to effect a turn," Boris says. It's technically referred to as angulation—the creation of angles with your body using feet, ankles, knees, hips, spine, or a combination of these in order to push and move the ski.

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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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