YOGA FOR HEALTHY SKIING

(First published as a guest post on OM Exchange, a place for sharing yoga ideas, offerings and inspirations around London and beyond.)

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A couple of months back, I wrote about how skiing and yoga may seem pretty far removed at first glance. But dig deeper and you start seeing the similarities -- the single pointed focus, or dharana, required; the stilling of the states of the mind mind, i.e. yoga as defined in the Yoga Sutras; the divine connection you feel on top of a mountain, etc etc; and the complements -- salute the sun to warm up before heading on to the slopes and stretch and restore afterwards to keep injuries at bay and speed up recovery time.

Skiing is yoga. The mountain is where we apply what we practice on the mat. And to keep practicing safely, there are a few points to keep in mind.

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Just freshly off a weekend in the mountains, I am again reminded about how little credit is given to the core when it comes to skiing. The general perception amongst the recreational skiing crowd is that it's all about the legs. It's not. Of course, you do need supple hips, strong thighs, strong calves, stable knee joints, grounded feet. You need strong upper body. Your shoulders, arms and wrists do a surprising amount of work on the slopes. But the key really is the core.

Core (noun), the part of something that is central to its existence or character

Not just the six pack. Not just the abs. Our core is the whole supporting rectangle of our torso. The abs, the obliques, the lower back, the middle back, the upper back, the spine, the 'heart'. Our intention. Our concentration.

When skiing down the hill, leaning forward is what keeps you in control. Of your body and of your speed. Leaning forward happens from the core.

Turning happens from the core too. Your upper body facing down a hill whilst your lower body twists and turns from the waist down. The core keeps it all together.

Only with your core engaged can you keep your heart open and your chin up as you fly down the mountain. Inner body bright. Feeling the sun and wind on your face.

Here's a short yoga practice to get you piste ready. The chair pose, utkatasana, is my favourite prep pose for the ski season. But a good plank is possibly even more useful. It'll help you build a strong core, shoulders, arms and wrist. And the whole practice can be done in minutes.

THE PLANK: INSTRUCTIONS

♥ Start in downward facing dog, inhale and shift your weight forward to plank. (If you prefer the forearm plank, start in a prone position on your belly, tuck your toes under, press into your forearms, hands and feet and lift your hips off the ground.)

♥ Adjust the distance between your hands and feet so that your ankles, hips and shoulders are in one straight line, and your hands just very slightly ahead of your shoulders.

♥ Keep the back of your neck long. Roll your shoulders back opening your heart forward. Widen across your shoulder blades and your collarbones.

♥ To protect your lower back, turn your inner thighs back and apart (use props to begin with to learn how this actually feels: place a block or a cushion between your thighs and squeeze), and lengthen your tailbone towards you heels.

Hold the plank for at least 30 seconds. Practice every day in the run up to your ski trip and slowly build up the time.

You can add anything from 10 - 50% each day until you reach your target. The target could be a minute or five. You're the boss! Just be consistent, listen to your body and practice every day.

Follow the plank up with this short sequence to stretch and release.

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♥ Exhale to downward facing dog and stay there for a few long deep breaths.

♥ Inhale your knees down to all fours and take a few rounds of cat-cow to stretch the spine. Move around in any way that feels good, stretching your sides and releasing your lower back.

♥ Exhale to extended child's pose and stay for a few breaths inhaling into the back body and releasing your upper body down on an exhale.

♥ Then walk your hands in, lift your body up and sit in the hero pose, virasana, or another comfortable seated position.

♥ Interlace your fingers behind your back. Inhale and lift your heart up whilst keeping the back of your neck long. Exhale and stretch your hands down towards the floor.

♥ Eagle arms: Stretch your arms forward palms facing each other, cross arms at elbows and wrap your hands around until your palms meet. Press your palms together, widen across the back of your shoulders, lift your elbows up a little and move your hands away from your face. Switch sides.

♥ Come to lie down on your back. Take a gentle twist with one knee bent and the other leg stretched out. Make sure to keep both shoulders on the floor as you twist. Lengthen through your spine and extend the sitbone of your bent leg towards the heel of the straight leg. Switch sides.

♥ Finally, relax in savasana for at least 3 minutes, or as long as you can, to allow your body to take all this in.

If you love the idea of yoga and skiing as much as I do, there's still a chance to join us in Serre Chevalier, France, end of March for an unforgettable week of skiing, yoga, meditation and plenty of fun! Find out all about it here.