All Bundled Up – Now what? Make your way to a Yoga Mat

Welcome back to the third installment of All Bundled Up.  If you missed our previous two sessions, you might want to head back to All bundled up, now what? – Snowshoeing is a good place to start!.  If you have been following along, we have been exploring activities that can help you prepare for your first day on the mountain.   Next up is Yoga!  I can hear the groans, especially from the guys in the audience, but I promise you there is a significant benefit to giving this a try and, trust me, you don’t have to adopt a strict granola diet!

Personally, I’ve been practicing yoga off and on for about 10 years now.  Looking back, I really wish I would have found my mat earlier that I did.  Like many others that start yoga, the reason I started was due to an unfortunate back injury I incurred hucking a pretty sizable cliff snowboarding that ended not as planned and I found myself laid up with whiplash and sprain in my lower back.  During my painful and expensive recovery,  the Physical Therapist assistant mentioned to me that most of the exercises I was doing were part of a traditional yoga sequence.  Given my deductible for the following year was about to start again and I was short on funds, she recommended complimenting my ongoing medical care, and it would also save a few bucks.  Based on that, I picked up a Groupon for a five pack of yoga classes, borrowed a mat from a friend, and headed to class.

Forward fold used when putting on boots

Before my injury, I was snowboarding all day and into the night and getting 40-50 days on the slope a year.  I was tough and, given I already had been doing some of the exercises, this would be easy!   It’s just fancy stretching, right?  Turns out, Yoga is one of those activities that humbles you in the first 5 mins, and it can continue to challenge you regardless of how long or consistently you do it.  My first class was far from graceful, and I end up spending half of the hour sitting in a resting position called child’s pose with sweat pooling on my mat.  Instead of getting up and attempting to take advantage of the favorable girl to guy ratio in the class, I just laid there in defeat.   However, I was determined to make it back to the slopes, and my insurance had run out, so I had no choice but to go back to the mat.

After about the last class in my 5 pack, I was making progress in completing the class and not feeling so awkward in front of everyone.  I started to understand what each of the terms like Uttanasana (forward fold), Ardha Uttanasana (halfway lift), Tadasana or mountain pose (standing with arms raised) meant.  As I fell into the meditation zone of yoga, I could see myself standing behind my Jeep bending over to put my boots on, pulling up on the laces, bending back over to tie off the laces, standing up and reaching for my board from the top of my jeep.  In addition to these basic poses, there were other positions like Baddha Virabhadrasana (Humble Warrior), and Trikonasana (Triangle pose) that were used when putting on boots in bindings for your front and when standing to secure back foot.   In this meditation state, I was seeing my recovering coming to life.  I was hooked!

Humble warrior for securing front foot into board

In addition to these “practical” poses, mixed into a standard yoga class is a series of “challenge” poses that help you build strength, balance, and flexibility.  While I never figured out when I would want to intentionally do a handstand or crow pose slopeside on my snowboard, it was easy to see how a stronger core and better flexibility that these generate would be a good thing.  The other magic of yoga practice is aligning movement with the inhale and exhale of your body.  Not only does it help you get into the next pose without injury, but it also has an added benefit of better oxygen absorption.  This is great for altitude acclimation…a topic we will dig into more at our next session!

If you have not done yoga before, you often have a few choices available to you.  First is to look at the class schedule at your gym or recreation center.  Often times, there are at least a few introduction classes available.   Look for a class that either says foundations or level 1.  These are a good and safe place to get the basics and decode the jargon they talk in.  If your local gym does not provide this as an option or you prefer a broader option of class choices and schedule, the second choice is to look at a yoga studio.  I found a smaller studio gave me the vibe and attention that I needed to get started.   Not to discredit the larger studios, just make sure your instructor knows you are new so they can give you some extra attention.  Lastly, if you want the expanded choices, but you feel like a full studio is a little too hippy dippy for your taste.  There are some studios, like Outlaw Yoga, that have formulated a mix of martial arts and yoga.  Unlike a traditional class, you will yell and holler all the way through class.

Triangle Pose used when securing back foot in binding

Many studios have a free class, a donation rate, a Groupon, or an introductory package.  One of the best introductory packages we have found in Denver is the 30 days for $30 package offered from Kindness Yoga.  The best part about this deal is you can repurchase it down the road perfect for the person who tried it, liked it, but, for whatever reason, you step away from your mat.  I’ve used this a few times and love the flexibility.  Usually, I combine this with a few of months pass during over the winter, take a break with the studio over summer, and come back again for the next ski season.

Another factor to consider when selecting a class is room temperature.  A lot of classes are done in typical room temperate room.  However, some types of yoga are practiced in a superheated room around 104 degrees and may also add humidity.  You’ll likely see the words hot yoga, Bikram, or perhaps power yoga.  If you are just starting out, you might consider not going to these yet.  While the extra heat does promote deeper stretching, you are risking a bit of injury if you are out of position and alignment.  I’d recommend saving these for after you feel comfortable with positions and flow.

Hop your feet to your hands to stand up, part of a standard Sun Salutation in Vinyasa flow

The last factor to consider is the type of class.  Personally, I find the most benefit from a class called Vinyasa.  These classes are designed explicitly to sequence actions one after the another in line with your breathing.  Just like progression on the slopes, a Vinyasa flow starts with a basic set of movements and add more and more as you progress through the class.  Setting your intention to get to ski or snowboard, you’ll soon find yourself dreaming about being on the mountain.

If there is anything we can do to help you locate a studio and an appropriate class, please leave these questions in the comments below.  Looking forward to our next session, we will be designing a specific Vinyasa flow with our yoga teacher, slash snowboarding, slash mountaineering expert LaChelle Amos.   She will be guiding us through this flow, and we will try to show how each position translates to slope slide motions.  This will reinforce some of the topics we discussed here so be sure to tune in next time.

Until then, Pray for Snow and Celebrate when Ullr Provides!

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