Winter is a magical time. You can spend your free time downhill skiing, snowboarding, telemarking, cross-country skiing, skate skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing. I dream of a winter with endless drifts of deep powder, and a winter that lasts and lasts — where all your days include lots of fun snow play.
While fun, most of these winter sports are also hard on the body. Some require a semi-hunched-over stance. There is no yoga alignment here, no elongated dancer’s body. You are hunched over, leaning down the hill, or leaning on your poles as you push your body forward, keeping the knees bent and your upper body looking up. After a full day of this, you can feel like a curve ball.
I’ve found ways to keep my back happy, even as I spend all day pounding on it in a C curve. Here are a few things I do that keep my body as joyful as a powder day.
To keep my energy crossing over in its most beneficial direction so that I’m more coordinated, I squeeze one shoulder, and drag my hand across to the opposite hip. Then I squeeze the other shoulder and drag across to its opposite hip. I do this a few times. Often I do this on the chairlift. It is such a simple thing, but it really has a powerful result.
Then, as soon as I’m done skiing, when I’m still in full gear, I do three to five minutes of stretching. Follow the steps in the photos below.
If you’re on alpine gear, click out of your skis. If you’re on a snowboard, telemark skis, or nordic gear, bend over to release your bindings, step out of your skis, and you are already in the first position, a full forward standing bend, or Uttanasana. (I’ve also done this entire routine on ice skates; it just requires a bit more balance.)
At the same time that you’re leaning forward, link your hands together behind your back and drop them overhead, stretching out your shoulder girdle. Stay in that position and breathe several full deep breaths. As you start to move into the next position, remember to activate your core so that the movements are helping to cool down the body and not bring on a muscle tweak as you switch from skiing to stretching.
Swing your arms down and back up overhead, lift your body up at the same time you step your left foot back, and drop your left knee to the snow. You’re now in a deep lunge with your hands reaching up.
Drop your left hand back to the extended leg, propping the hand into the back of the knee crease, and push on the leg slightly to help lift your spine up out of the hips. There are potent points on the back of the knee that positively affect the nervous system, helping the body to integrate. Stay here a few breaths. Then bring the back leg forward to meet the front and sweep your arms back up and over your head as you come back into your full forward bend. Take three deep breaths here. Step back with the right foot now into lunge, and arms come up overhead. Again, release the right arm to the knee crease of the right leg and use that as leverage to lengthen the spine. Three breaths here and then step together, sweeping back into your forward bend with the arms overhead. Now just hang here and relax, letting your body soften completely. You can do this whole sequence again on both sides if you feel you need more release.
Then bend your knees into chair pose and slowly come up, weaving your hands back and forth in front of your body. Some people feel awkward doing this weaving. The best World Cup ski racers spend time before each run with a mittened hand extended in front of them, carving the race course out in the air and helping to seed it in their muscle memories. In a similar way, by weaving the air in front of you as you rise up, you are helping the body to become more coordinated and integrated by mimicking the natural crossover pattern embedded in all your cells.
Weave your hands until you’re standing up with your arms overhead.
Arc your hands down to your hips and lift your heart center up in a slight backbend. Your hands will push down on your hips, not forward, as you lift the spine up and into a slight arch. Try to let the backbend happen from the inside and breathe deeply for five full breaths as you open the upper back. Come back to stand and swing your body back and forth a few times to complete the loosening from the core down to your toes.
You are now ready for apres-ski!