Yoga for Outdoor Geeks Part Two.
Why yoga and ski touring is such an excellent combination.
I wasn’t too fond of skiing when I was little.
In fact, my parents had to drag me out the door and force me into the car every Sunday while I whined about the torture of cross-country family outings.
Although the complaining would usually stop within an hour or so (sooner if my grandma was joining as she always brought chocolate as a means of negotiation), it was a regular ingredient that my patient parents stubbornly accepted for an impressive period of time.
(Note: for Norwegians, cross-country skiing with the family on Sundays is a sacred event, a lesson engraved in our heads from the very first day skis are put on our feet. Skipping out is just not an option).
And wow, am I happy they did. Because I’m certain that the love I have for skiing today can be accredited my parents’ strong will to pass the cross-country Sunday tradition on to the next generation.
Today, I absolutely love skiing.
I love cross-country for its rythm, flow and the way it makes my body move. The movement feels so natural, so right, so balanced.
But what I have come to love even more is randonnée ski touring (for those unfamiliar with this French-inspired term, it’s ski touring in steep terrain using randonnée equipment rather than telemark or nordic).
I love the access I have to mountains and hills that would otherwise be inaccessible; I love being surrounded by awesome landscapes with no other people around. I love the sweat and pain of ascending a steep hill, not because I enjoy torturing myself, but because I love the feeling of earning something I’ve worked really hard for—like a breathtaking view from a mountain top.
Randonnée is adventurous and real. And so addicting.
That being said, it’s also really scary.
I am scared out of my wits when I have to descend a steep mountain ridge or hillside and thoughts like if-I-fall-now-I-am-going-to-die do strike my mind rather frequently. And it is not only scary going downhill, it’s scary going uphill too.
The other day, as I was struggling up a steep slope, a couple of far-from-perfect kick turns (a technique used to change direction as the angle of the slope sharpens, see this page for illustrations), got me thinking.
There’s actually a lot going on in those hips when doing the uphill, kick turn manoeuver. You might have the technical skills in place but if your psoases aren’t working or you have hips as rigid as a tree trunk, the chance of falling might be slightly more likely than succeeding. And those oh-my-god-I-am-going-to-die thoughts will definately not help your already limited balance.
Sounds familiar? Get on your yoga mat (and if you don’t already have one, go buy one).
A yoga practice specifically designed for skiing is the perfect complement as it may loosen up those tight hips, strengthen weakened knees do to over-used quads and increase your concentration.
Below are four poses that I believe are specifially beneficial for randonnée/ski touring lovers. Do them while focusing on your breathing and be conscious about which muscles you’re activating. This will train your concentration and who knows, maybe you’ll discover a muscle or two that you didn’t know you had…
Prasarita Padottansana is remedy for tight hamstrings, a very common problem amongst skiers. When working your way uphill or going super fast downhill, you are mainly using your quads and if you ski often enough, this musclegroup gets over-developed.
This again tightens the hamstrings, which again weakens the back. But, the pose also holds another benefit: if done correctly, it stretches and strengthens the inner thigh muscles, crucial for protecting the knee and ensuring its range of motion.
When consciously pressing down the inner sides of the feet, you activate your inner thigh muscles and strengthen not only the thighs but also the ligaments around the ankles and knees.
Despite my love for hip-openers, this is not a favorite…when your thighs are sore after a long day of skiing, a low lunge can be pretty painful and may not be the first thing you long for. Nevertheless, it works wonders on tight quads and hip-flexors, lengthening and stretching these areas that are typically shortened when skiing alot and which can put unnecessary strain on your joints.
Make sure to keep your hip-bones parallel as you can hurt your lower back if you don’t.
This pose is on top of my list of favorite hip-openers. It may look simple but its benefits are far from it.
As in the previous poses, it stretches your quads and hamstrings as well as the groin. But more importantly, it has a magic effect on your outer hips. Yeah, I know. Identifying the whereabouts of the outerhip muscles is slightly more difficult that the hamstrings or the quads. But believe me. As you settle in double pigeon pose, this lil’ identification issue is solved.
Take your time in this pose though as the release will not only be felt in the muscle tissues but also emotionally. It’s a major stress releaser, and if stay in it for a minimum of two minutes, it an have a huge impact on tension and anxiety.
Craving for that powerful core and those super strong hip flexors that will make lifting your ski-booted leg feel like lifting a feather? Here’s the pose for you. In order to balance on your sitting-bones, you have to mobilize your abdomen and in order to lift your legs to face-height, you really have to work your hip your inner organes and strengthens your spine and lower back.
The benefits of a strong core and hip-flexors cannot be over-emphasized. It greatly improves your balance and stability when doing turns downhill or when climbing a very steep slope. But maybe more importantly, it takes weight off your knees and thereby preventing injury on the knee joint.
P.S. You climb? Have a peek at the first part in this two-part series on yoga for outdoor geeks. Maybe you’ll get even more mountain/yoga geeky…!
Katinka is an adventure-seeking, wine-loving yogini with a passion for the unknown. Her curiosity has led her into many peculiar situations, from having tea with Sudanese ministers and roadtripping through India’s heartland searching for guerrilla soldiers to crossing the Alps on skis. She loves contrasts, which is why you find a mix of high heels, climbing shoes, cowboyhats and yogamats in her closet, and strongly believes it enriches her life. When she is not in the classroom teaching French, you will find her climbing a mountain, working on her handstand or under a blanket reading while sipping a tempered Côte de Rhône. Get in touch with her by e-mail or Facebook.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise