Yoga for Skiers

It is easy to forget to be good to our bodies when the thoughts of making fresh tracks through the trees are in the forefront of our mind.  With ski season only a few weeks off, it might be time to do a little pre-conditioning and develop a quick routine to get you out the door, skis in hand, before the wheels in the sky start turning.

A good stretch does more than warm you up for a day on the slopes.  It actually improves your skiing, reduces injury, and increases focus.

Yoga provides a balanced means of stretching the muscles that are most used during rigorous skiing (quadriceps, hip flexors and core muscles) as well as those that counterbalance these muscle groups (hamstrings and groin muscles).  Yoga is a practice and, as such, getting the proper stretch involves mindfulness and proper breathing techniques.

The Importance of Prāāyāma

Yoga is about the breath. Each breath is deliberate and follows through inhalation, retention and exhalation.  Performing the stretches at the proper point in the breath and with the smooth and ease of the breath leads to integrity within the pose.  The intention here is to listen to your body, really feel it.  Is it pulling too far left, right, forward?  If so adjust your alignment.  Don’t push – this is called stretching. Feel how the muscle fibers and skeletal system are interconnected and follow the line.  Relax while listening to your breath.  Allow the breath to stretch for you.

When To Practice Yoga For Skiing

Yoga is suited for early mornings when your mind, body and your home are quiet.  Choose a space large enough for your whole body to be elongated in any direction.  Remember, yoga is more than an exercise.  It is not the same as lifting weights, running or biking with your friends.  The more focused your practice is, the more beneficial your stretch will be.  Let go of competition, ride your own personal edge following the pose where it takes you.  Allow your body to fully immerse itself in each pose and watch your breath.  If you feel you are breathing too fast, lightened up.  This is meant to give you an edge not an injury.

Yoga Stretches for Skiers – 30 Minutes Until You Hit the Slopes

The following series of Yoga stretches are designed to focus on the areas of your body that you use most while skiing; your thighs, your hips and your core.

Legs - It is important to lengthen all four sides of the upper leg, hamstrings and quads, inner and outer thigh, to minimize strain on surrounding joints.

1) Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

Steps :

  • Stand up straight in the Tadasana or the Mountain Pose.
  • Inhale and raise your arms to the sky in a complete and mindful circle. biceps should be close to your ears and your chin should be up and your should be straight.
  • As you exhale, let you arms traverse the full circle again as you hinge from the hips and reach the crown of your head toward the floor.  If you leg muscles are tight, bend the knees.  As you exhale gently straighten the knees until you feel the stretch.
  • Inhale as your roll your shoulders down and your head up – hands on the floor or your shins.  Feel the space in your back where in the inner muscles of the rib cage connect to your spine and where the lower body muscles begin.  Your “pivot point”.
  • Exhale and return to folded position.  This time taking the pose a bit deeper.
  • Inhale and return to Standing (Tadasana) following that same circle you created with your arms earlier.  If you find your upper body is a bit “scattered” you can still it by coming to standing with your hands together. To increase the intensity of the Forward Bend try clasping your hands behind you back as you hinge from the hips.

Repeat until you feel your hamstrings loosen.

2) Fierce Pose or Chair(Utkatasana)

Steps :

  • Stand up straight in the Tadasana.  Stretch the arms straight overhead and join the palms.
  • Exhale, bend the knees and lower the trunk until the thighs are parallel with the floor.
  • Keep the chest as far back as possible while breathing normally.
  • Maintain the pose for 30 seconds.
  • Exhale and return to folded position.  This time taking the pose a bit deeper.
  • Inhale and straighten the legs, lower the arms and return to Tadasana following that same circle you created with your arms earlier. 

Do 6 reps.

3) Extended side angle pose (Parshvakonasana)

Steps :

  • Stand up straight in the Tadasana.
  • Take a deep breath and spread the feet 4 to 4 1/2 feet.
  • Raise the arms in line with the shoulders palms facing down.
  • While exhaling slowly, turn the right foot sideways to 90 degrees to the right and the left foot slightly to the right.  Keep the left leg tight and fully elongated.
  • Bend the right leg until the thigh and calf form a right angle and the thigh is parallel to the floor.
  • Place the right palm on the floor beside the right foot.  The arm should be covering the thigh.
  • Stretch the left arm over the left ear.  Keep your head up.
  • Engage your core and stretch your hamstrings.   The chest, hips and legs should be in a line.  Stretch your entire back body and feel the opening in your chest.
  • Remain in the pose for one minute.
  • Exhale and straighten the right leg and drop the arms.  As you continue the exhalation return to a wide legged standing position. Inhale.
  • Exhale and return to Tadasana.

Repeat on other side.  Do six reps on each side.

Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1)

Steps :

  • Stand up straight in the Tadasana or the Mountain Pose.
  • Raise both arms over your head stretching up as you join the palms.
  • Inhale and walk or jump the feet 4 to 4 ½ feet apart.
  • Exhale and turn your body and your right foot 90 to the right.  Turn the left foot slightly to the right.
  • Bend the right leg until the thigh is parallel with the floor and the shin is perpendicular to the floor.  The knee your be in line with the heel ( not over the toe).
  • Stretch the left leg.
  • Stretch the head up and gaze at your palms.
  • Hold the pose for 20 seconds
  • Exhale and straighten the leg and drop the arms
  • Inhale
  • Exhale and jump back to standing

Repeat 6 times on each side.

Hip Flexors:

1) Seated forward fold (Paschimottanasana)

Steps :

  • Sit up straight with your legs together, stretched out in front of you. Point both feet straight up towards the ceiling.
  • Be sure you are sitting straight up on the sitbones with your spine straight. Many people benefit at this point by removing the flesh from underneath the sitbones so as to help remove curvature in the spine.
  • Exhale and bend forward from the hips keeping your spine as elongated as possible and reaching towards your feet with your hands as you come down.
  • If you can reach your feet, the ideal hand position is to wrap your index fingers around the big toes, with the thumbs resting on tops of the big toes.
  • If you cannot reach your feet yet, let your hands fall comfortably on top of the shins or thighs, or alongside the legs on the floor, or wherever they can comfortably rest.
  • For this posture, try to keep the back straight and bend from the fold of the hips.
  • Keep your toes pointed directly upward and together.
  • Once in position, you can gently pull with the arms on the feet or legs, stretching the forehead more towards the toes.  This gives a more complete stretch of the spine and the backs of the legs.
  • As you continue to hold the posture, relax as much as possible, especially in the shoulders and hips. With each exhale let your breath do the work – ideally the abdomen should fall closer toward the thighs, the chest toward the knees and the head towards the feet.
  • Hold the asana for 30 seconds at first and work up to 5 minutes or more.

To come out of the seated forward bend, inhale and stretch your hands past your feet, come up with a flat back stretching your arms and spine up as your body comes up. Exhale and relax the arms down.

2) Head to knee pose (Janu Shirshasana)

Steps :

  • Sit in a simple cross legged pose.
  • Extend the right leg out 45 degrees from the body.
  • Bring the left foot in close to the hips.
  • Slide the right arm over the right leg with the right palm facing up.
  • Inhale reach the left fingers up towards the ceiling, lifting out of the waist.
  • Exhale and arch over to the right, reaching the left fingers towards the right foot, bringing the left arm directly over the left ear.
  • Keep the left shoulder pressing back, allowing the chest to stay open and facing forward.
  • Keep the chin off the chest, looking forward or up at the ceiling. Hold on to the foot with one or both hands.
  • Breathe and hold for 2-6 breaths.
  • Inhale and reach the left fingers up towards the ceiling, exhale release the arm down.

Repeat on other side.

Do five reps on each side.

3) Reclining Leg Stretch Series:

Knee to chest

  • Lie on your back with your legs bent, both feet flat on the floor. Bring the right knee toward you, clasp the knee with both hands, and gently pull it in toward your chest. Hold this position for several moments.
  • Slide the left leg straight. Place the left heel on the floor and elongate your lower body.  Roll the left thigh inward until the kneecap faces the ceiling, spread your toes, and push outward through the ball of the foot.
  • Lift your head and try to touch your nose to your knee while keeping your shoulders on the floor and away from the ears.
  • Uncurl your spine one vertebrae at a time.  Rest your head on the floor and slide the left foot back to starting position.

Leg pull

  • Straighten your right leg above your head and clasp the foot with both hands.  Many people like to hold their big toe to provide a good grip.  If you cannot reach your foot, use a belt or clasp your ankle, calf, or thigh.
  • Press the right leg fully straight, tighten the quadriceps, and extend the heel toward the ceiling. Keep your back flat against the floor.  Then spread your toes and press the ball of the big toe away from you so the leg line spirals inward slightly and is directed outward in the direction the leg is pointing.  Gently pull the leg toward you, flattening the shoulder blades and rounding your chest. Breathe smoothly and deepen the pose with the breath.

Leg to the side

  • Remove your left hand from your right foot and place your entire arm perpendicular to the left side of your body.  Slowly allow your right leg to open to the right. Do not allow your body to tip to the right.  Focus on keeping both hips on the floor and take the leg only as far as it will go without tipping.
  • Stretch your chest away from the waist, flatten the shoulder blades into the floor, rounding your chest, and press both feet away from you. Press the right foot into your right hand so the line of energy extends outward through the leg in the direction it’s pointing, not backward through the knee.
  • Breathe smoothly, feeling each movement of the breath. Bend your legs if this stretch is too intense. Hold the pose from thirty seconds to two minutes.

Do 5 reps on each leg.

Core Muscles

Twist (Bharadvajasana I)

Steps :

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Shift onto your right buttock, bend your knees, and swing your legs to the left. Lay your feet on the floor outside your left hip, with the left ankle resting in the right arch.
  • Inhale and lift through the top of the sternum to lengthen the front torso.
  • Exhale while twisting your torso to the right, keeping the left buttock on or very close to the floor. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor to keep the lower back long. Soften the belly.
  • Tuck your left hand under your right knee and bring your right hand to the floor just beside your right buttock. Pull your left shoulder back slightly, pressing your shoulder blades firmly against your back even as you continue to twist the chest to the right.
  • Turn your head to the right.
  • With every inhalation lift a little more through the sternum, using the push of the fingers on the floor to help; with every exhalation twist a little more. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Exhale and release.

Do five reps on each side.

1) Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Steps:

  • Lie full length on the floor, facing downward.
  • Place the hands face down beside the chest with fingers pointing towards the head.
  • As you exhale, raise the trunk from the floor to from a triangle with the floor – hips high, arms and legs straight.   Ideally, the soles of the feet will remain on the floor parallel to one another with toes pointing straight ahead.
  • Maintain the pose for one minute while breathing deeply.
  • Exhale and lift your head, stretch the trunk forward and slowly lower your body to the floor.  Rest for moment.

Do five to ten reps.

2) Tree Pose

Steps :

  • Stand in Tadasana.
  • Shift your weight slightly onto the left foot, keeping the inner foot firm to the floor, and bend your right knee. Reach down with your right hand and clasp your right ankle.
  • Draw your right foot up and place the sole against the inner left thigh; if possible, press the right heel into the inner left groin, toes pointing toward the floor. The center of your pelvis should be directly over the left foot.
  • Rest your hands on the top rim of your pelvis. Make sure the pelvis is in a neutral position, with the top rim parallel to the floor.
  • Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor. Firmly press the right foot sole against the inner thigh and resist with the outer left leg. Gaze softly at a fixed point in front of you on the floor about 4 or 5 feet away.
  • Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Step back to Tadasana with an exhalation and repeat for the same length of time with the legs reversed.

Do three reps on each leg.

3) Boat (Paripurna Navasana II)

Steps :

  • Sit on the floor and stretch your legs out in front of you.  Keep them straight.
  • Place your palms on the floor by the hips fingers pointing towards toes.
  • Exhale slowly while reclining the trunk and lifting the legs from the floor with knees tight and toes pointing forward.  You should be balanced on your buttocks and your legs should be lifted to approximately 60 degrees.
  • Remove the hands from the floor and stretch the arms forward.  Keep the arms parallel with the floor and close to the thighs, palms facing each other.
  • Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute.
  • Exhale, lower the hands and the legs to the floor.  Relax by lying on the back

Do three reps.

Now that you have a manageable stretching routine, it is time to book you ski vacation. Have fun on the slopes and be safe!

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