Walk forward toward the boundary and past it gingerly, expanding, discovering where it lies. Like warmth spreading in the water, it is not so defined, but a fluid continuance. Swimming in this, the wisdom and the discernment grows. Not so much just an intellectual understanding, but a felt experience.
Aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it, with as little judgment as possible, for judgment just blocks us from seeing it as it is. Directly experiencing the action and the results. Not just with your mind but your whole being. Allowing the experiential wisdom to grow from here. Both of the interconnectedness, and the discernment of the subtle distinctions.
Asana, physical yoga, a laboratory to teach us this in our bodies. Meditation shows us this in our minds. And we can become more subtly aware in our whole lives. Without having to try so hard, just by staying present. Incrementally.
From observation I have noticed that the ones that seem to move with the most grace are those who cultivate skill and trust.
If you are only going to do a few warm-ups before heading onto the mountain, this is what I suggest, in this order of importance. They will help your balance, flexibility, strength and endurance. Practice slow, steady breathing to keep yourself calm and cultivate an awareness of what you are doing while you are doing it, and if possible, of what’s going on around you without being distracted by it. Just keep bringing your mind back to the breath. This will serve you on the mountain.
Thanks again to Lauren O’Reilly, Training Manager for Loon Mountain SnowSports.
Figure Four/hip socket, IT band, back, balance – This can be done sitting, even in the gondola! Cross one leg over the other, if possible the knee of the standing leg is just above the ankle of the crossed leg, turning out the crossed leg from the hip socket. Sit deep into it to increase the intensity, engaging the belly and your standing thigh, flexing your crossed leg’s foot. For balance, focus your gaze on an unmoving point to stabilize, and bring weight equally over the standing foot. It can help to roll weight toward the knuckle where the big toe meets your foot.
Forward bend/hamstring, calf, back – Feet hip or shoulder-width apart. Start with knees bent to hinge at the hip socket, elbows on knees, back straight, chin slightly tucked so the neck is an extension of the spine. If it is ok here, take hands behind the calves and tilt forward more, belly engaged, thighs lifting the kneecaps, shoulder blades retracting into the back and spreading away from the ears. Continue lifting the hips as long as you can keep the belly touching the thighs with the back straight. Bringing weight forward to bring the hips over the heels. Lauren has her knees more bent in part to compensate for the forward tilt of the ski boots. It’s fine to keep the knees bent – this will release some of the intensity on the hamstrings so you can hinge in the hip socket and keep the back straight. At some point the lower back may curve slightly, as the belly is pressing into the thighs, to bring the head towards the shins, bringing the stretch deeper into the back. In my first posture the weight is a little back and I’m lengthening my head away from the hips. In the second I’m letting weight rock forward as i draw the head into the shins. Keep the back very straight if you have – or to prevent – any disk or lower back sensitivity.
Cross IT band/IT bands, lateral (outside) legs, lower back, back – For now I only have the pictures in skis, although this can be done in either pair of boots or without. Cross one leg over the other, pressing both big toes to the ground to deepen the stretch. Engage thighs up into the hips. Belly hugs in. Knees can be a little bent especially if this posture hyper-extends the back knee. Squeeze the legs together and bring the front hip back into alignment with the back hip. Back as straight as possible. Do both legs.
Lunge – Thighs, psoas, shoulders, hips, back – This is the precursor to so many great stretches for snowsports. Hone your ability here. Front knee over ankle, although you can see with the forward tilt of ski boots the knee needs to be in front of the ankle. Back leg at an angle rather than having the hips right above the back knee. This protects the knee and deepens the stretch. If it is better for your knee or you prefer for whatever reason you can keep the knee up in the warrior 1 variation like the third picture. Keep the back heel lifted. Telly skiers – you can do this right in your skis.
Pressing the hands on the knees, let the hips relax toward the front heel as the belly hugs in to tuck the tailbone and the shoulders roll back as the sternum lifts up to lengthen the psoas. Enjoy. Squeezing the legs together, slightly inwardly rotate the thighs to turn the torso forward and keep the stretch in the back thigh and protect the back groin. If your back knee is up, straighten the back leg. Front femur draws back into the hip socket. If you feel stable try lifting the arms, the shoulder blades pressing forward toward the sternum to bring in a slight upper back backbend. Resist squeezing your shoulder blades together to keep the upper back wide and open. Its easy to get sloppy there – notice how much cleaner Lauren’s alignment is than mine.
Lunge twist/same as lunge plus front IT band, back inner thigh and twist in the back body – From the lunge take the opposite hand down inside of the front foot. Squeezing the legs together and drawing the front leg back into the hip socket. Front big toe grounds. Belly hugs in to align and anchor the hips. Twisting out of the hips, bottom shoulder rotates under the top, your spine the axis, spiraling the twist through your whole spine rather than letting it stuck in any one spot. Both sides.
Camel/thighs, hips, psoas, shoulders, back – If this is too much, just skip it, the lunge does a lot of the same things. One arm at a time may be more accessible. It is my favorite on-snowboard stretch. Belly hugs in, tailbone tucks down. You can start with your hands on your hips and the elbows squeezing slightly together to open the chest without collapsing into the lower back. This is key – you want the sternum lifting so the back side of the body is lifting too. The one armed version helps this as the top arm is accentuating the lifting up. Hips press forward to arc the body like a bow. Fingers can face forward or back. Try not to collapse the neck either – you have an arc lengthening from the tailbone to the base of the skull in the back-body. I find it helps to breathe into the lower rib area. When you come up, bring both shoulders at the same time, the head comes up last.
Downward dog/everywhere, esp. stretches back of legs, hips and shoulders, strengthens belly and arms – This will release/neutralize your back after the camel and/or lunges and stretch your whole lower back. If it just doesn’t call to you, you could try it with your hands on a wall, fence, chair or table, or your ski poles. If you skip this all together, definitely end with another forward bend.
Pressing weight down into the hands to bring weight back off your shoulders and back into the hips and legs. Approximately equal weight between hands and feet. Feet hip width apart, torso about 90* angle with legs. Engage belly and thighs in and up towards the hip crease to lengthen the spine. Its fine if the knees are bent, that can help you straighten the back. Maybe gently peddle the legs to loosen the calves. Your heels never need to touch the ground. Ribcage hugs in to keep from collapsing into the shoulders and belly. Shoulders draw up into the back while widening away from the ears. So as not to collapse in the wrists, let weight press forward into the base of the fingers, where they meet the hands, especially the knuckle where the pointer finger meets the hand. If you are trying the standing dog, hips are right over the feet.
Finish with another forward bend…and take a few moments to stand where you are or sit if you like, and feel the effects of the postures integrate. Take a few deep breaths, feel the belly expand with the inhale. Of course you could do that on the lift too…