Skiing and Yoga - to find the connection seek the Yoga teacher who skis. That came together easily at Killington Yoga. Karen Dalury, founder of Killington Yoga, has taught skiing, coached ski racers, practiced yoga for 30 years, and has 10 years experience teaching various yoga disciplines.
How Yoga Benefits Skiing
Before committing to a Yoga class I wanted to know how learning and practicing yoga poses could benefit my skiing. I could tell I wasn't the first to ask Karen this question. The answers and explanations she gave went way beyond the obvious stretching of ski muscles. In fact, I came to realize I didn't really know why I was stretching my muscles and even if I was doing it properly. The proper technique is one of the first things every yoga student needs to learn. Karen firmly believes yoga practice can prevent ski injuries and this alone is enough to pique my interest to pursue yoga a little deeper. To understand why yoga can be a good wellness practice for skiing, Karen asks you to think of what skills you need develop for even basic skiing - balance, flexibility, and concentration all come to mind.
Sharpening Your Skiing Skills
Now think of what the un-schooled yoga enthusiast knows about yoga - probably as much as I do. What I know is that yoga is standing, bending, and sitting in various positions that all seem to require a lot of balance, flexibility, and concentration. To take it one step further, by teaching proper yoga technique, Karen teaches skiers to sharpen their basic skiing skills. This offsets the imbalances of bad skiing technique, which is when injury is most apt to happen.
While balance and concentration are mental skills, flexibility is physical and involves muscular dexterity that can be developed as surely as weight lifting increases muscle mass. Again, why will this help skiing? Karen, as a ski coach, notes that the improvements to ski bindings have drastically reduced leg fractures to the extent that the most common debilitating injuries skiers face are related to the knee. Then, as a yoga teacher, she states that yoga practice can develop the muscles that surround and will protect the knee joint and reduce the stress applied to the knee. How?
The Physics of Skiing
This brings us back to the physics of skiing. As taught today, on shaped skis, skiing requires lower body movement with an unmoving, or quiet upper body. We are asking a lot of our upper and lower leg muscles to hold the body in balance under the stress of downhill skiing over uneven surfaces. It is obvious the knee joints take the strain when the leg muscles are weak. Here is where a regimen of yoga exercise will, when practiced correctly, strengthen the inner and outer thigh and calf muscles, and the abductor and adductor muscles supporting and surrounding the knees.
Karen makes all her students aware of what is not so obvious in the practice of yoga. This is the involvement of the core muscles and hip muscles in helping to take stress off the knees. By engaging core muscles into the balancing required for skiing you actually redirect much of the weight bearing that would otherwise fall on the knee joints.
Another benefit Karen's methodology introduces that is beneficial to skiing is an opening of the hips. As she explains we are creatures of a 20th century culture of sitters. When you think about it we sit at work, to eat, to relax etc., etc. while the human body was really designed for the moving activities of primitive man and that's why some of our largest muscles are around the hip area.
When we learn to reengage the hips into our activities we have a broader base of equilibrium and muscle foundation ready to better support the upper body. In skiing, especially as we develop better skiing skills, angulation of the hips becomes more involved in getting our skis on edge. Without yoga exercise most skiers can readily feel this strain on the first day of the season, because in routine exercise angulation is hard to imitate. However, Karen explains that the hips are a center of focus in the practice of yoga, especially in a yoga program designed to focus on the needs of skiers.
The Physical and Mental Benefits of Yoga
Karen's explanation of physical and mental benefits of yoga should be enough to entice any serious skier to pursue yoga to the next level - a beginning yoga class. Karen stresses that there are different disciplines and methodologies of yoga, but the poses or postures are basically the same in the traditional variations of yoga. The aspiring yoga student shouldn't hesitate to try different traditions and should ask in advance what the goals and methods of each program include. Programs differ in intensity and difficulty and all involve progression so find a class you like and you will definitely find you can improve, not just your skiing, but your entire your physical and mental well being.
Karen is certified and registered with the Yoga Alliance and her early background includes extensive training in the Iyengar and Ashtanga Vinyasa systems of yoga. She has recently completed a year of teacher training in the popular discipline of Anusara yoga and continues her studies with Anusara founder, John Friend.
Karen's Basic classes at Killington Yoga introduce beginners to the postures and alignment principles of yoga and her Mixed/Open sessions offer more challenging poses and inversions for students with some prior yoga experience. Aside from the benefits for skiing, her classes are therapeutic, physically and mentally stimulating and fun.