It's no coincidence that some of the biggest names in skiing and snowboarding have yoga as part of their daily routines. I'm talking Travis Rice, Jamie Anderson, Hannah Teter and Amie Engerbretson, just to name a few. I've been a fan of yoga for ages, and have practised it on and off throughout the years. But it wasn't until our recent season in Colorado that I really experienced how much yoga could help with recovery after snowboarding.
In Colorado, we were snowboarding about 5 times a week. Each day could range from two hours of riding to five. We were fit but we were also achy! We found a local yoga studio in Frisco called Elevated Yoga and started practising yoga regularly. Owner and instructor Lisa Julian is not only a rad snowboarder but a bit of a science guru as well! She is a Doctor of Organic Chemistry and super passionate about nutrition and wellness. And to top it off, hands down one of the loveliest people you'll ever meet. Her smile is infectious!
We were chuffed to have Lisa as our yoga instructor. Not only did our yoga practice incorporate movements with snowboarding in mind (gotta love mountain towns), we also experienced and learnt a lot about the benefits of yoga for snowboarding. We noticed that our bodies didn't ache as much, we increased our flexibility, our core stability, and balance which really helped with snowboarding. We'd leave each session feeling calm and relaxed - like when you take that last big exhale before you peacefully fall to sleep.
I hit Lisa up with a bunch of questions to help me explain the science behind yoga and how it can help with recovery after a day on the mountain. Here's what she had to say.
Q. TELL US ABOUT YOGA, THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT AND THE BENEFITS OF IT
A. Yoga is an ancient practice based on mindfulness that can create a toned body, a steady mind and can overall strengthen the mind-body connection.
Developing the skill of being mindful will benefit any person with the physical and mental challenges we encounter daily throughout our lives, whether it’s in activities like yoga or snowboarding, or in our relationships at home or at work.
The breath is used as the foundation in yoga. Through slow conscious breathing, the practitioner initiates the parasympathetic nervous system and this has a calming effect on the body (e.g. slows the heart, dilates blood vessels, and relaxes muscles in the gastrointestinal tract). This allows the yogi to have a steady and focused mindset that allows him/her to tune into the body with heightened awareness to accomplish challenging physical postures (asanas or with activities like snowboarding).
Just physically speaking, yoga helps to keep the body flexible, toned and strong. There are hundreds if not thousands of postures (asanas) that can create stretches and build strength all throughout the body. These stretches are safe and effective as they have been practised for thousands of years.
Q. HOW CAN YOGA HELP WITH RECOVERY FOR SKIERS AND SNOWBOARDERS?
A. I liked this quote from your CrossFit article: “Snowboarding requires movement patterns that rely on this midline/core stability and control along with agility, balance and coordination.” I certainly agree! And I would also add that snowboarding takes confidence. Yoga provides an opportunity to practice some of these qualities.
Hatha yoga is based on finding the proper alignment in each pose so that the muscles are stretched or toned in the safest and effective way. For example in plank pose, shoulders are aligned over the wrists or in warrior I (or any lunge pose), the hips are aligned forward so the hip flexors are stretched more deeply. So physically speaking, yoga will aid in recovery by allowing the body to stretch in a specific and mindful way, targeting especially those muscles used on the slopes.
It will also help the body simply to relax with the slow breathing and mindful movement.
There are specific poses in yoga that compliment skiing and snowboarding - to build strong feet and ankles, flexible knees and hip flexors, toned legs and core center. There are also numerous standing balance poses (standing on one foot in a certain posture) - these types of balance poses can build that midline/core stability and that connection to your center of gravity.
Developing a heightened mind-body connection and cultivating more self-awareness through yoga will help prevent injury on the mountain, as you are overall more mindful of your movements and of the environment around you.
Q. WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR US TO GET THE MOST OUT OF OUR YOGA PRACTICE?
A. Move at your own pace. It is not a competition in yoga to see who can stretch the deepest or do the longest headstand. Be especially mindful with backbends. Honor your body’s abilities.
Try and find a teacher who is knowledgeable of anatomy and has experience teaching yoga, especially if you are using yoga therapeutically to help recover from an injury or if you have any other medical conditions.
Many of us who snowboard are type A personalities and we often set challenging goals for ourselves. While it can be fun to have a rigorous yoga practice, give yourself time for a more gentle practice as well, and enjoy the stretches that will allow you to recover and rejuvenate for another day on the slopes!
Some brilliant insight and tips from Lisa! For more about Lisa and where to find her, check out her bio below. As someone who has practised yoga for quite some time, I cannot emphasise the importance of finding a good yoga teacher so that you can learn and understand the fundamentals. If you are a complete beginner, a YouTube video is just not going to cut it. The physical adjustment and feedback which you receive during a yoga class is extremely important to your improvement.
Once you understand the fundamentals, then you can practise yoga pretty much anywhere! Whilst travelling, I have practised on kitchen floors, hallways and bathrooms. Not having a proper mat definitely made it a little uncomfortable at times, but then I discovered travel yoga mats and it changed my world. Now my yoga mat goes everywhere with me.
Are you a yoga lover too? Or thinking of starting out and have some questions? Let me know in the comments below!
Dr. Lisa Julian, Ph.D. has combined her formal scientific training in organic chemistry with her experience of Hatha yoga to arrive at an understanding of health and the human body from the inside out. She moved to beautiful Summit County Colorado in 2014 and opened the wellness studio Elevated Yoga & Holistic Health, with an intention to educate the community on the importance of disease prevention through whole mind-body health, using yoga and mindfulness-based eating. She believes that cultivating a heightened awareness in the body provides the inner wisdom and insight that allows us to have control over our health and happiness – mind, body, and spirit. Find Lisa on Facebook & Instagram.
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Jen spends most of her time following Mick around the mountain, often unintentionally off jumps and cliff drops. Currently on a mission to prove that you’re never too old to try freestyle. Aside from snowboarding, a little obsessed about tattoos, CrossFit, saving animals, learning to play the guitar and clean eating. Web designer and digital marketing nerd.