By Katie Colgate, PhD
Even before the snow season comes, I mentally prepare for staying present and happy living in a freezing snow-covered (until April) land, surrounded by Olympic winter sports badasses. I do this by taking time for myself on my mat to practice and also meditate, even if that is for three to five minutes following my flow yoga practice. My favorite winter sport is Nordic skiing, especially skate skiing, which is Nordic skiing with a skate motion. It is the most calming rhythmic sport, similar to Vinyasa yoga. I have also fallen in love with challenging myself on the moguls since I moved to Idaho, on slopes both powdery and icy. Following are yoga shapes, poses and asanas to keep your body limber and strong during the winter season.
SHAPES AND SHAPE SEQUENCES TO PREPARE THE BODY FOR NORDIC SKIING (SKATE AND CLASSIC):
Hovered table top: Come to the classic table top shape with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips, hip distance apart. Spread your fingers wide, turn elbow creases forward and push strongly into your hands as you tuck the toes on both feet, engage the lower belly, and lift the knees 1 to 3 inches off the mat, keeping a flat, neutral spine. This shape strengthens your lower abdominals to control the movement of legs, and also protects the back.
Warrior 2 to half-moon, back to warrior: Stand in warrior 2, with your front knee bent, foot straight forward, back leg straight, and back foot arch lined up with front foot heal. Open hips, inhale, straighten front leg, hinge forward and up, lifting leg, opening and stacking hip, leveling raised leg with side body and bottom hand fingertips to mat and top arm lined up with bottom arm lengthening the underside of your body. Repeat a couple of times, moving back and forth between the two poses on each side of the body to strengthen and stretch the outside of your legs. Abdominals also gain strength by the lowering and lifting of the legs. Arms get stronger from stretching long, while removing tension from the shoulders and neck—which is very important during Nordic skiing.
STRENGTHENING SHAPES AND SEQUENCES TO PREPARE FOR ALPINE SKIING:
Modified high plank (knees down) or full plank, then lower to low push (chaturanga) with or without knees down, and push back up. Move through this three times, rest and repeat five cycles. This strengthens arms, connected to abdominal strength for pole planting through moguls. Holding the strong belly in protects the back during turning.
Low crescent lunge (knee down) to high crescent lunge by tucking toes of back foot, pulling in lower belly to lift knee up, moving back and forth between these two shapes by tucking the back toes and lifting the knee. Move through this about three to five times. Hold each one for at least two breaths. This strengthens all parts of the legs. Low lunge stretches the hip flexor and psoas area, while lowering and lifting to high and low lunge strengthens abdominals.
Chair pose: Holding three to five breaths, straighten legs. In chair pose, bend knees and keep arms over your head, shoulder distance apart, and make sure to keep knees over ankles and weight moving back to mostly the heels. Find a neutral lower back by engaging the belly in. Repeat three to five times to strengthen thigh muscles and protect knees.
YOGA STRETCHES FOR NORDIC AND ALPINE SKIING
Butterfly pose: Done with feet close in for inner thigh stretch, and feet away from inner groin to make a diamond shape with legs for hip stretch. Fold forward in each shape. Hold for five to 10 breaths. This will stretch your inner thighs or your hips, depending on the position of your feet. You need to release any tightness in your hips and inner thighs so you may continue skiing/snowboarding/ice-skating without your back becoming out of alignment due to these areas being too tight.
Do a Figure 4 stretch on your back on each side, for more hip stretching. Hold for five to 10 breaths. This stretch releases your hips in a more gentle way from any winter activity and should be done on a regular basis.
Janu Sirsasana: One-legged forward fold, forehead-to-knee stretch; other leg bent and bottom of foot pulled in by inner upper thigh with an open angle greater than 90 degrees. Folding over the straight leg gives you a side stretch. Hold for five to 10 breaths, and repeat on the other side. This stretch releases your hamstrings while also getting a nice side body strength as you bow and fold over the straight leg. This is a great stretch to do before you stretch your hips.
Salabhãsana (Superman cobra) or locust pose: This stretches and strengthens your back, especially that area around your mid back and down your back—those erector muscles that get really tight during downhill and Nordic skiing. Hold for five to 10 breaths, and repeat on the other side. This pose not only stretches your back and abdominals safely, it also strengthens those muscles along your whole backside, which offer support through those ski turns and skating strides.
Ardha Hanumanasana (half splits) or runners stretch: Done with pointed foot/toes to stretch the shin, and a flexed foot to stretch the calf. Fold and round your upper body over the straight leg, releasing head and neck. Hold for five to 10 breaths, repeat on the other side. This stretch is great for really tight hamstrings and lower and middle backs after a tough day in the powder. If you are really tight, make sure to possibly just fold halfway over the straight leg, keeping that back flat and fingertips on mat closer to your waist above the knee.
POSES FOR SNOWBOARDING (CAN BE USED FOR ALL SNOW SPORTS):
Twisting chair pose: Get into chair pose as described earlier, bring hands to prayer and twist to the right, barely resting the left arm to the outside of the right thigh behind the knees. Make sure to twist from your middle back and keep the hips level and hip points pointed forward. This shape strengthens legs for turns and safety. The twist strengthens obliques to help with turning on your board, and it protects your back. Hold each side twist three to five breaths, repeat three to five times. After twisting each side, exhale and fold forward over your legs. Rest and inhale reverse swan dive all the way back up to stand, circling arms over your head in prayer. Settle hands at heart in prayer. Repeat this cycle three to five times.
Warrior 3: Start in High Crescent Lunge, micro-bend the back knee, shift halfway forward with torso lifting the back leg level with the back body, flexing the raised leg, foot and toes down to the mat. To keep the raised leg hip level with the standing leg hip, micro-bend the standing leg to peak down raised leg hip. Lift raised leg and heel higher using prayer at your heart to lift your chest. Repeat one legged balanced Warrior 3 from high lunge on each leg for three to five breaths; repeat cycles three to five times. This shape helps with balance and agility on your board, while strengthening ankles and legs. colgateyoga.com