This has been a phenomenal ski season here on the West Coast, especially after the disappointment of last winter. Judging by the line ups and stories of parking issues on the news, there are definitely more of us spending time on the mountains. Many of Whistler's yoga studios offer apres ski yoga sessions to stretch out our sore muscles after a day of skiing. However, if you don't have time for a whole yoga class, here are my 5 favourite poses after a day on the slopes.
I have written this for those who already have some basic knowledge of yoga poses and therefore have not spent much time describing each pose. I feel that those who have not done yoga with an instructor before should spend some time in a class with a teacher learning to understand how take the shape of basic yoga poses safely for their own bodies.
First off, to understand why these poses work so well, you have to think about the position your body is in while skiing. Most of the time you are skiing, the major joints of your body (hips, knees, ankles even shoulders) are all flexed to maintain the ski stance. The following poses help lengthen the muscles that have to work hard to keep you in that position all day long:
1. Low lunge (Anjaneyasana)
This pose helps open the front of the hips to stretch the hip flexors as well as allowing you to gently extend your low back. Make sure you add padding under your back knee if your kneecap is sensitive to pressure and don't let your front knee push over your toes. You can get a great stretch from this with your hands on your hips or overhead. You can add a chest opener by clasping your hands behind you and rolling your shoulders back but be careful that this does not cause too much extension in the low back. Hold for 5-8 breaths and repeat on the other side.
2. Reverse Triangle (Trikonasana)
This is a beautiful and powerful pose that allows you to stretch your hamstrings and open your side body. With your front foot facing forwards, take a long step back and rotate your foot out to 45 degrees with the heels aligned just like in Warrior 2 pose. Your hips should open to the side. Allow your back hand to gently slide down your back thigh as you reach your front hand up and back. Hold for 5-8 breaths and repeat on the other side.
3. Cobra (Bhujangasana)
This pose offers a nice, gentle back extension and chest opening. Lie on your tummy and stretch your legs back about hip width apart. Firm your legs, engage your abdominals slightly and press your pubic bone into the mat as you use your hands right underneath your shoulders to pull your upper body forwards and up. Make sure you don't extend too much in your neck. Hold for 3-8 breaths depending on how comfortable you are in backbends.
If you like backbends and can tolerate a bit more intensity, bow pose (dhanurasana) will essentially place you in the exact opposite shape you take while skiing thereby stretching most of the muscles you used repetitively over the course of the day.
Start on your tummy with your legs stretches behind you and your arms along your torso. Bend both knees and bring your heels as close as you can to your buttocks. Reach back with your hands and clasp your ankles. As you inhale, start straightening the knees and this will lift your head and chest off the ground. Remember not to extend your neck too much and pay attention to how far your low back will allow you to take this pose. Hold 3-5 breaths.
And now the "aaahh" poses:
4. Reclined Twist
This is a twist that feels amazing on your low back, legs and shoulders. On your back, bend your knees and place your feet on the mat. Take your arms out into a T shape. Push into your feet and lift and place your hips slightly to the right. Engage your core muscles and lift your legs and gently lower them to the left. Legs can be bent or straight depending on the amount of stretch you need. You can also use a bolster or a folded blanket if your legs can't quite reach the ground. Once you've found the most comfortable position for your lower body and if you have the range in your neck, turn your head to the right. Hold for 8 breaths and repeat on the other side.
5. Supine chest opener with bound angle
This pose is often used in Yin and restorative classes as it is very soothing and allows the body to take a shape that is quite opposite from the flexed positions we are in most of the day. This pose extends the low back, opens the chest and externally rotates the hips. Note that the hips and sacrum are not on the bolster and this may cause too much extension in the low back for some people. If you need extra support, use a folded up blanket/towel under your sacrum. Hold for 8-10 breaths.
These poses are quite easy to do anywhere within 15 minutes depending on how long you hold them for. I hope that, like me, you will find them relieving and relaxing after a day on the slopes.