Yoga for Skiers With Yeh Yoga

SHRED THREAD // 1st May 2020

1st May 2020

Emily Harding from Yeh Yoga is here to help you stay limber during the pandemic and between winters!

With yoga at an all-time high in its popularity, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t already aware of the amazing benefits that beginning yoga, no matter your age or experience level, can extoll.

Yoga helps to strengthen the body, as well as helping to increase lung capacity, improve focus, concentration, posture and flexibility. Also, it is an experience to connect mind, body and soul, helping us to find joy constantly within us, instead of relying on external factors. Which when we think about the state of the world today, and the many external factors preventing us from doing that which we all long to do, is definitely an activity which is so well suited to helping us navigate these testing times in the pandemic (plus, bonus, it’s one of the few things we can easily do at home with no specialist equipment!).

On a more subtle level, yoga is a simple practice of awareness and mindfulness, helping us to notice the simple beauty in our lives, and be grateful for all that we have, and look after it as best as we can. With now the perfect time to start or develop a yoga practice, you’re going to be stoked to hear it’s also an amazing complementary activity to skiing.

Why are yoga and skiing a match made in heaven?

Skiing requires many different factors to come together, and regular yoga practice helps to develop these. We need to be strong to tackle the tricky terrain, flexible in mind and body to be able to make last-minute adjustments as the chaos of the slopes unfolds around us (or if you’re anything like me, being flexible certainly helps when you accidentally ski straight into a tree in the dense Japanese forests… If you can bounce back off it again, you definitely end up coming off the slopes in less of a mess!). It also asks us to trust in ourselves, trust our intuition on how to feel our way down in white-outs, to find the courage to stay strong, focused and mindful, when tackling a steep slope like Le Face, the Swiss Wall, or something unexpected in the backcountry.

With that in mind, here are some of my top asana (posture) recommendations to include in your weekly routine to help keep yourself connected to your body, build strength, improve mobility, and also challenge yourself.

Like any exercise, a physical yoga practice can carry the risk of injury, so please be mindful of each small movement you make, as well consulting with your doctor if you have any injuries, before trying any of the poses.

Warm up with 3-5 rounds of Sun Salutations A.

Included in Sun Salutations a (Surya Namasakar A) Is Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Downdog is an incredible pose to lengthen the hamstrings, calves and ankles, which can get very tight from skiing (and running!), as well as building core and upper body strength to help even out the imbalance of most strength on the slopes being utilised from the lower body.

[downdog straight legs]

[downdog bent knees]

To practice downward facing dog, start in a plank position, shoulders over wrists, hands shoulder-width apart, fingers spread wide, and your first finger pointing forward. Feet are hip-distance apart and glutes and core are switched on. From here, send the hips ups and back, and try to send the chest towards your thighs, without letting your ribs flare out (think of tucking them together).

If you find your back is rounding, generously bend your knees (as shown here on the right) as it is better to prioritise a straight back to make space in the spine, as it is to try to have straight legs and instead round the back and shoulders - a hunched back is what we are looking to undo in yoga, not involve in our poses!

Chair Pose Variations (Utkatasana)

Let’s face it, if there’s a yoga pose you want to do to build the right strength for skiing, it’s chair pose, basically the skiing without the skis. In yoga however, we traditionally send the weight back onto the heels and it's a bit of a back bend. So, shown here is a way to rock the weight between the front of the foot (to emulate when you are turning downhill) and the back of the foot (to emulate how the weight then switches to the back for when you are completing the turns or shredding pow!). 

Start with feet hip-width apart, and begin by making sure you can see your toes over your knees. Lift them a little, ensure the weight is back in the heels, and then sit backwards, squeezing thighs, glutes and stomach. If it feels good in your body, tuck your tailbone under slightly, to make more space in the spine and switch on core muscles. 

To strengthen for all terrains, start to rock backwards and forward slowly, taking your arms back behind your for the lean forward (think Eddy the Eagle style!) and in front and above you as you send the weight back. 

Move backwards on an inhale, and forwards on a slow exhale.

Repeat this x10 rounds of slow, steady breath.

[chair pose]

[chair pose weight forward]

Chair Pose Heel Lifts

This is the sort of strength and mobility work I love to surprise my students with, and we are all there laughing and baring our teeth through it!

For this variation (which if you’re doing it right should absolutely set fire to your glutes and legs!) as we look to keep the upper body totally still, whilst lifting one heel at a time, at the same time as putting down the other. So both legs are moving at the same time, but in the opposite ways.

At the end of each switch, take a second, then switch again. Key focus here, upper body totally still, to isolate the movement to the legs.

Do x30 rounds of simultaneous switching (and keep smiling!).

[chair pose heel lift left]

[chair pose heel lift right]

Warrior 3 (Virabahadrasana 3)

Warrior 3 is an excellent pose to create strength in the legs, as well as improving balance (after all, for most of our time coming down the hill, we switch the weight from side to side, mostly on one ski at time)

It is also a pose which asks us to be confident in our balance and our bodies - something that will definitely come in handy when presented with more challenging or steeper terrain. Learn to trust yourself and hold your nerve in this warrior 3 mini-sequence and I promise it will have benefits for the slopes!

To really amp up the asymmetric strength building, start in Warrior 3 and add in pulses. Bend your back knee (as per third photo) and try and bend your standing knee as far down towards the ground as you can - imagine trying to slide your lifted knee down the back of the standing calf.

Repeat 5 times - inhale to lower, exhale to straighten back up to warrior 3 with straight legs.

[warrior 3 knees bent]

[warrior 3 arms in]

[warrior 3 arms extended]

Aerial Lunge

From Warrior 3 - drop leg down and extend top of foot into ground for aerial lunge. Here, we are stretching through the top of the foot and ankle, yet not dumping all of our weight into it, so our front leg and glutes are working incredibly hard to stabilise and protect our back foot. If you find balance difficult here, use the wall to hold onto to start with. Stay for 5 breaths here, leaning weight forwards over front leg. Feet are on ‘train-tracks’ not a tight rope!

[aerial lunge]

Ninja Pose (Skandasana)

From your aerial lunge, roll onto the ball of your foot and then start to twist your front foot in, 45 degrees to the top left corner of your mat. From here, you can open the hips to the side, and roll the left foot onto the heel of the foot. Squeeze your thighs and kneecaps up to stop yourself from hyper extending the knees, and open the inner groin and thighs as you breathe here, sending right knee over right toes, and sitting back into the glutes. Heels are in-line with one another. Keep chest up and open. For this variation, Twist head to the side and hold your gaze steady into the distance.

Breath for x5 breathes, then move the pose over to the other side, following your changing gaze, and begin to mindfully switch between the two pushing off laterally from both right side and left side.

[high ninja pose]

Tree Pose (Vrksasana)

Don’t let the apparent simplicity of tree pose fool you, there’s actually a lot going on here to raise the top leg up, it is a pose which can certainly tell you a lot about the state of your legs to work in other directions and situations outside of walking, running or skiing forwards.

To get into it, use all 5 toes on your right foot to root down into the ground and grip the floor firmly. Squeeze your knee and thighs up on the right leg and bring your hands to touch each other in the centre of your chest. From here start to lift up your left foot and point your toes towards you, as you lift the knee up as far as it goes, and check your pelvis is still still and neutral. If your pelvis is starting to tip from side to side, drop the knee back down a little bit. Now take your knee over to the left, without letting the pelvis swing about, and now we are having to use both sets of glutes in slightly different ways to hold ourselves in place. See first how high up the leg you can get your foot with just your active strength… It might surprise you how difficult it is! Now feel free to carefully use your hands to manoeuvre the foot onto the top of the thigh, and push firmly against the inside of your thigh.

To modify this pose, place the lifted foot lower down the leg, anywhere all the way to the floor, where you can rest the toes on the floor, and your left heel on your right inner shin. The only place not to rest it is on your other knee - we don’t need that lateral force on our poor skiers knees!

Tree Pose is another one leg balancing pose which is great for finding your centre of balance, as we look to find neutral alignment of the spine, as well as working into the flexibility of the hips as we us the glutes to externally rotate the top leg, and abduct it out to the side and up.

If you’d like to you can involve some opening for the shoulders and triceps also, touch your left hand to your right elbow, as you place the hand behind your shoulder blades. Hold for 5 breaths normally. Release the hands, bring them back into your heart centre and hold for another 5 breaths with your eyes closed!

[tree pose with arm variation]

[tree pose]

[tree pose heel lift]

Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)

Low lunge is one of the best poses you can include in your yoga sequencing. Include it towards the end of your sequence to really start to stretch out through the hips and thighs, and remember it for when you come back in from the slopes!

To get into it, drop down from a high lunge, and if you have any sensitivity of the knees, use a blanket or pillow underneath it. Shown here is a more stable, passive variation, where we keep the chest forwards and hands down on the floor or blocks, to allow us to safely breathe and relax into the front of the legs and the hips only, without stressing out the sacroiliac joints, or lumbar spine.

This pose can also be more of an active pose, by lifting the hands up into the sky, and centring your spine and chest over the hips.

Breathe deep into the hips and belly for x5 rounds of breath.

[low lunge hands down]

Then, we start to move it into a more active variation, adding a twist, to really release any tension. With either your hand, or using a belt or strap to ‘lasso’ your back foot, carefully start to bend the back knee and bring the foot towards your opposite hand. If you aren’t already using a pillow, try to roll off of your kneecap and onto the base of your thigh, to prevent any soreness from the kneecap stabbing into the ground. Only hold this pose if you feel comfortable and are not straining in the legs, arms or neck. The gaze can be either forward, or twisted around to look behind you.

Hold for 5-10 breaths and release gently in the same way you came in.

[low lunge twist]

Boat Pose (Navasana) Twists

This twisted boat pose variation is going to help your posture and your core-strength massively! Shown in the first pic is a modification if you find it difficult to balance on your sitting bones - try to sit up nice and tall with your chest lifted, so shoulders are not rounding forwards, and hold on lightly to the back of your thighs.

To really fire up the abs and back muscles, let go of the legs and extend the arms out in front, holding yourself still and steady for 5 breaths.

To wring out the abdominal organs and strengthen the deeper layers of your core, try this twisted boat variation. On an exhale, the left leg stays completely still as you straighten the right leg as close to the floor as it will go, whilst twisting across to the left and extending arms- but don’t let your shoulders round too much. Inhale back to the centre, and then exhale to the other side.

Do x10 rounds on each side to really stoke up your inner fire and strengthen that core! This pose becomes a mental challenge due to the fact it gets tough very quickly, so permit yourself to take breaks when you need, and slowly and steadily work your way up to x10 full sets of twists in one flowing continuous pose.

[boat pose]

[boat pose twist]

Reclined Pigeon Pose (Supta Kapotasana)

This is a gentle way to open the hips and stretch out the glutes, without putting any excessive stress or strain on the knees as with its counterpart, pigeon pose.

Cross your right foot over the left thigh, making sure the boniest part of the ankle is the part that is relaxing onto the left thigh. If there is any straining in the knee, move the left thigh further away from you, so that the right hip doesn’t have to move so much (knees often take the strain when the movement of the hip stops in a pose like this) and use a strap or a towel to make your hands meet with the legs further away.

Grasp your hands in-between the legs, for more depth on the front of the shin, for less on the back of the hamstring, and gently squeeze towards you, thinking about sending the right knee gently away. Your head can lift off the floor as you reach between the legs to find the grip (as shown in pic) but once you are in the pose, try to relax the head and shoulders to the ground.

Hold for 10 breaths on each side.  

[reclined pigeon pose]


About Emily

You can follow Emily on Instagram at @yehyoga where she shares short flows, tutorials and as much joy as she can.

She’s a small business to support as due to the lockdown all of her regular classes and booking have been cancelled so she’s taken her teaching online!

Her online classes are suitable for all levels and were recommended in Cosmopolitan Magazine, find them here at www.yehyoga.com/classes.

She’s also the Founder of The Yeh Yoga Co, a yoga & wellbeing agency based in London, who are now offering their signature chair-based yoga classes plus other forms of yoga virtually to business around the UK and abroad, helping keep staff moving, motivated and happy. Find out more at www.theyehyoga.co / @theyehyogaco.

Emily also runs Ski & Yoga Retreats, the next ones are in Morzine in January 2021. Follow for more info at @adventureyogaco.

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