Yoga routines for skiers
Story and photos by Leonie Sherman
Whether it’s your first season on snow or you’re a lifetime season pass holder, yoga can build the endurance and strength to power you through long days of skiing and the flexibility and stability to prevent common injuries.
The epic drought gripping California means ski season starts later and is shorter every year. A pre-season yoga routine will lift your spirits and prepare you to take full advantage of the snow when it comes. The following short routine will build core and leg strength, warm up your spine and open your shoulders.
Chair pose builds strength in the quadriceps and back, preparing your body for long days in bindings. Stand with feet hip distance apart and bend the knees, sitting back into an imaginary chair. Bring the body weight over the heels and keep your knees behind your toes. Lift the arms, with palms facing each other, while drawing the shoulders towards the hips. Hold for at least three slow breaths, longer as you build strength. Come onto the toes to develop balance.
From chair pose, press the palms together at heart center, lifting the elbows so the forearms are parallel to the ground. Inhale and lift through the heart and crown of the head, lengthening the spine. Exhale and hook the left elbow over the outer right knee. Press the elbow against the knee to deepen the twist. Hold for at least three breaths, repeat on other side and return to center.
From chair, clasp the hands behind the back, or clasp a ski pole behind the back. Bend the knees and lean forward until the belly rests on the thighs. Begin to straighten the legs as the arms come overhead and forward. Keep the belly touching the thighs; the knees may remain bent. This opens the shoulders and gently stretches tight hamstrings.
To come into dolphin pose, begin on the hands and knees. Bring the elbows directly under the shoulders, with forearms and palms pressed to the ground. Tuck the toes and press through the forearms to lift the hips towards the ceiling, finding length in the spine. This gentle inversion builds core and back strength, stretches the hamstrings and opens the shoulders.
From dolphin, come into a forearm plank by stepping both feet back a few inches and lowering the hips so the body hovers in a straight line parallel to the floor. This protects the back by firing up the core.
Hold dolphin and forearm plank for a few breaths each, or alternate between the two poses to stabilize the shoulders (this is called a dolphin push-up). Building core strength will enhance every sport you do and improve posture, so challenge yourself to longer holds or as many reps as possible, inhaling into dolphin and exhaling into forearm plank
During ski season the focus moves from building strength to stretching and releasing tired muscles.
A low crescent lunge will open the hip flexor and counteract the tendency to hunch while skiing. Start in a downward dog; lift the right foot and bring it between the hands, with the knee directly over the ankle. Drop the back knee onto the floor, well behind the hip, and bring the top of the foot to the ground. Either lift arms overhead with palms facing each other, or press into ski poles to deepen the back bend.
From low crescent lunge, press your hip back towards the left heel — or bring the hands to frame the front foot and walk them back as your body moves towards the heel. Straighten the right leg, press the heel into the ground and pull the toes towards your face. Reach forward with your chest to maintain a flat back. Hold for a few steady breaths. This pose, called half split, opens the right hamstring.
From a half split, come through a crescent lunge and bring both hands to the inside of the right foot. Hug the right knee to the center line, making sure the foot is directly under the knee. Come down onto the forearms if comfortable. This is called lizard pose, and it strengthens and stretches the adductors.
Repeat the crescent lunge, half split and lizard on the opposite side.
From lizard step the left foot to the outside of the hands, coming into a low squat with the feet wider than hip distance. Bring the hands to the inner knees and rise with a flat back. Inhale to lengthen the spine, exhale and drop the right shoulder to the center, twisting to the left. Move with the breath, twisting to each side three to five times. This will build flexibility in the spine, allowing you to execute turns safely.
To come into dancer pose, stand with the feet hip distance apart. Find a focal point you can gaze at easily and engage the abdomen; imagine there’s a marble in your belly button and you want to suck it to your spine. Hug the right knee to the chest, and then drop it so the thighs are parallel with the right knee bent. Reach back and grab the top of the right foot with the right hand; lift the other arm overhead. Kick back into the hand, lifting the thigh behind you, opening across the chest and the hip flexor while strengthening the standing leg. Hold for a few breaths and repeat on other side.
Carving out time for yoga every day will allow you to carve turns on the slopes as well as build a routine of self-care that develops the calm and focus we need in these challenging times. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before starting or changing any exercise program.