The return of ski season means sore muscles that are trying to remember all the right moves (you want me to do what?!). Many other activities emphasize the importance of what you do to warm-up, and while I’m not negating that for skiing (in fact, we do a heat-building yoga practice before we head out for the day on our yoga and skiing retreats), I’ve found that what you do après-ski is even more important in terms of managing soreness and maintaining flexibility. So, when skiing either alpine (downhill) or Nordic (cross-country), make sure to plan a few après-ski yoga moves for when you come inside — preferably before you indulge in your après-ski adult beverage! You’ll be pleasantly surprised at your lack of soreness, and you can almost hear your muscles say aaaaahhhhhhh as you pamper them with a little TLC as thanks for tackling the mountain or the trail.
Here are some simple après-ski yoga poses for both alpine and Nordic skiing, based on the different movements required for each. You may notice that your muscles feel tighter than usual, when compared with doing these poses in a flow practice at home or studio. That’s because we’re really targeting the muscles used while skiing, in order to relax and release them after they’ve worked so hard. That way, they’ll be ready for more, and less injury-prone as well. My goal, for myself and my yoga and ski retreaters, is to not be too sore to ski another day — since you never know when fresh powder will fall.
Not a ski bunny? Try these poses after running or walking, or when your legs and hips are feeling tight.
ALPINE APRÈS SKI ASANA
Alpine skiing hits the quads, knees and hips hard, which are primarily performing a side-to-side motion as you ski. All of these areas need to remain supple in order to keep you balanced on the downhill, and adjust to whatever terrain you encounter.
Virasana (Hero Pose). After a good day of downhill carving, my quads and knees are crying for virasana. It stretches out the front of the thighs and all around the knees, and just feels like the right thing to do in order to give them a much-deserved break.
If you have knee problems or surgeries in your past, you must approach hero without trying to be one; that is, with caution and patience. Never force yourself into it, and deepen the pose with the utmost care. There is a modification for almost everyone’s knees.
- Stand on your knees, and reach back and hook your thumbs on the inside of your calf muscles. Move them out to the side by gently rotating your hands; the idea here is to get them out of the way so you can sit back in between your feet.
- Don’t let the feet splay out; work to keep all five toenails on the floor, with the toes pointing straight back. Once you gently lower your seat down, lift the crown of your head up to keep lengthening the spine and keep you from collapsing weight into your seat and knees.
- If you cannot lower your seat all the way down, place a yoga block or a rolled-up blanket under you to bridge the gap. In fact, don’t hesitate to use multiple blocks/blankets. As your quads and knees become more open, you can gradually reduce the support.
- If you are really comfortable here, you can slowly and carefully lower onto your elbows behind you; next step is to take the crown of the head to the floor.
- The full pose is to lay back and take opposite elbows above your head on the floor.
- Hold any of the options for 3-5 minutes, to really maximize the lengthening of your muscles and create openness in the knee joints. Come out the same way you went in; for example, if you are in the full pose, come up on to your head first, then your elbows, before you sit up.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose). This is another pose my body craves after carving. Most people have a love-hate relationship with pigeon. It starts out falling into the I-hate-this-pose category. But as people allow their bodies to soften into it and stop resisting, the many benefits of pigeon move it rapidly into wow-this-is-amazing-why-don’t-I-do-this-more-often. If I had to pick one yoga pose, this might be it. I tell my students just starting out with pigeon to hold it for 5 minutes on each side while watching TV. Try it at the lodge – you might get some weird looks, but you might also get some people joining you. I’ve gotten both!
- From downward dog position, bring your right knee up behind your right hand. Drop your left knee to the floor.
- Place your right shin at a diagonal, with your knee slightly outside your hip (pointing towards the right corner of your mat) and your foot pointing towards your left hip. Important: if your right knee is too far in towards your midline, you will be collapsed onto your right bum. The goal is to even out the hips as much as possible, and if you cannot do that on your own, place a towel or folded blanket underneath your right bum.
- Keep the left leg active and aligned by pointing your toes.
- Gently press off the hands to lift the upper body, savoring the backbend this provides. Think of lifting your heart, and puffing up your chest like a pigeon (and you were wondering why it’s called pigeon…)
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths.
- Carefully come down onto your elbows. Align your forearms and hold here for a few breaths.
- Bring your hands together, palms down, as your elbows flare out. Be careful not to tense up through the shoulders. Let your head rest on your hands.
- Keep your navel drawing in and your upper body lengthening forward; if you just collapse forward here, your right leg will fall asleep quickly. Maintain awareness and light energy in the upper body.
- Stay here for 25 breaths, longer if you can. Repeat on the other side.
NORDIC APRÈS SKI ASANA
Nordic skiing employs the swinging momentum from the arms, coordinated with the back-and-forth movement of the legs extending out from the hips. You are primarily performing a front-to-back motion as you ski. (By the way, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out 17 Reasons to Cross Country Ski.)
Prasarita Padotanasana C (Wide-Legged Forward Bend). Prasarita Padotanasana (this is the “C” version) simultaneously strengthens and stretches the legs after Nordic cruising. The big added bonus here is the shoulder opener and upper body release; the shoulder muscles can get worked pretty hard as you use your arms and poles to create momentum as you ski.
- Take your feet wide apart; if you outstretch your arms, your heels should line up under your wrists. Turn your toes in slightly.
- Keep your quads engaged and press down through your heels. Take your hands behind you and interlace your fingers, working to press the palms together.
- Lean back as you inhale; on your exhale, fold forward, allowing the arms to come up and over. Try to maintain the connection between your palms; if you keep them pressed into one another, you will work deeper into the tight spots in your shoulders.
- Let the crown of your head release towards the floor. Hold for 5-10 deep breaths. Come up on an inhale, releasing your hands to your hips once you are standing. Bend your knees and step your feet together.
Yoga Lunges. The idea here is to find some forward release for that muscle in the front of your hip that controls so much of the Nordic front-to-back movement.
- From sitting on your heels, bring your right knee forward, and line it up directly over your ankle.
- Move your left knee way behind your left hip, so that you can feel the stretch in the front of the left hip (you can adjust this to be more or less).
- Use your hands to gently press off your right thigh, to lift the upper body and straighten the spine. Be sure not to hunch your shoulders here.
- Option to intensify: Take your arms overhead. Reach up through your fingertips while moving the shoulders down the back and away from your ears.
- Option to intensify: Take your right elbow just above your knee for support.
- Reach back with your left hand for your left foot; be careful not to be right on the kneecap here, move your knee back so that the softer area just above the kneecap is on the floor.
- Slowly move your hips forward for more intensity. Repeat sequence on the other side.
Add a little après-ski asana to your winter sports; yet another example of how yoga can help you do anything better! Namaste.
Photo Credit: Larry Stanley, Montana-People.com