If you're among the uninitiated, you've probably written off yoga as just another fitness trend that will soon go the way of the leg warmer and the jiggly machines that supposedly turn beer bellies into six packs. Hardcore skiers like you would sooner be seen snowplowing than purchasing foam cylinders or meditation cushions. But tell that to Jonny Moseley, Erik Schlopy, Chris Hernandez, and Sarah Schleper. All have rolled out their yoga mats in public, and-gasp-they actually like sitting legs folded and hands together like fit Buddhas.
In fact, two-time Olympic slalom skier Schleper met freestylers Moseley and Hernandez for the first time not on the slopes but in a Vail yoga studio. Schleper tried yoga in 1996 at a friend's urging, and today she's a yoga junkie. "I do a 30-minute yoga routine every day before skiing," she says. "It's very good for injury prevention. It keeps you balanced."
Schleper says yoga is about more than just stretching with some mumbo jumbo about "embracing the breath" thrown in. "People ask me, why not just stretch? I like yoga better because it's based on a proper technique and posture," she says. Where plain-old stretching is herky-jerky, "yoga is flowing and gets you warmed up," Schleper says. And its benefits go beyond flexibility. "Yoga helps me maintain my strength without getting sore while I'm on the road," she says. Granted, her mind isn't on the yoga mat when she's hurling down the course, but Schleper says yoga has also helped her develop a mental edge. "It teaches you to focus your mental energies. I like to meditate and think about the day."
Yoga is more ski-specific than you might think, says former pro mogul skier Prisca Boris, an instructor at the Yoga for Athletes studio in Vail. While yoga doesn't involve a lot of running around or heavy lifting, it gives your body a surprisingly tough workout: Holding poses for extended periods strengthens your core and endows your muscles with extra endurance. Boris credits yoga with boosting stamina and improving balance while increasing her body awareness. "My skiing has become smoother and much more enjoyable. I don't suffer from soreness like I used to after a long powder day or from skiing bumps all day," Boris says. "I can stay out on the hill longer."
Boris designed the following four-move sequence, which takes about 15 minutes, specifically for skiers. Do the four exercises in order and each pose will flow into the next one. For maximum karma points, repeat the cycle twice.
Stand with your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart. Inhale and lengthen your spine toward the ceiling, then slide your hands down the front of your legs and place them on your thighs just above your kneecaps. (Keep your back flat.) If your hamstrings are tight or you experience any back pain, bend your knees slightly. Relax your neck and shoulders. As you hold the pose, concentrate on contracting your quads, shifting your weight to your toes, and raising your tailbone up. Hold for 10 deep breaths. Next, slide your hands down to your ankles, bending your knees if necessary, and hold for 10 more breaths. To finish the pose, bend your knees and return to a standing position.
Benefits for Skiers
Skiers are notorious for their tight hamstrings. When your hammies tighten up, they pull on your back-which translates into low-back pain. This pose stretches the hamstring muscles, improving their flexibility.
Standing with your feet parallel, step forward with your left leg and bend your left knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Your left knee should be directly over your left heel. Turn your right foot to a 45-degree angle and rest your hands on your front leg. Try to keep your weight distributed evenly on both feet, contract your abdominal muscles, and aim your right hip toward your left knee. If you feel steady, reh upward, extending your arms overhead next to your ears. Hold for 10 to 20 breaths, then lower your hands and bring your feet back together. Repeat the exercise on the other side.
Benefits for Skiers This pose stretches the hip flexor and quad muscles on the back leg while strengthening the feet, ankles, glutes, and quads. It even strengthens the muscles surrounding the knees, which is essential for injury prevention. Having stronger, more flexible hips and quads will give you extra power through the turns and greater stamina on the hill.
Standing upright with quads and abs tightened, feet parallel and shoulder-width apart, shift your weight to your left foot, bend your right knee, and clasp underneath your right arch with your right hand. Stand up straight and keep your right hand clasped around your foot. Extend your left arm out at shoulder level for balance. (If you're having balance trouble, stay here for 10 breaths.) If you're steady, kick your right heel to the side and straighten it as much as possible. Aim for holding it just above hip level, but you can raise it higher as your flexibility allows. Support the pose by contracting your left buttock and abs, making your standing leg firm and your back straight. Hold for 10 breaths, then lower the raised leg and repeat the pose on the other side.
Benefits for Skiers
This pose gives your core-abs and lower back-a strength workout and sharpens your balance skills. "Balance postures are huge-they can save you when you get in a tight situation, preventing a fall," says Boris. "If you're caught stretched out in a precarious position, this one could be a true knee saver."
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, raise your arms until they're straight out in front of you at shoulder height. You'll quickly feel your triceps start to work, says Boris. Without lifting your shoulders toward your neck, point your tailbone to the back of the room, arch your lower back and lift your chest as you slowly bend your knees as if you were about to sit on a chair. While you hold the pose, focus on keeping your weight in your heels and lifting your toes up. Hold for 10 to 20 breaths, then rise back to a standing position. Repeat.
Benefits for Skiers Two words: strong quads. "Without quad strength, a good powder day will certainly be cut short," says Boris. If you think you have to hit the weight room to build bionic quads, you haven't tried this pose. Since it works your muscles the way skiing does, it's also a great warmup.
Birthdate: February 19, 1979
Hometown: Vail, CO
Weight: 140 lbs.
Disciplines: Slalom, giant slalom
Career Highlights: Eight-year veteran of the U.S. Ski Team; two-time Olympian; U.S. National Slalom champion; 14 World Cup top-10 finishes.
First Turns: Age two, when her dad, Buzz, gave her a pair of skis.
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