Five yoga poses for skiing

Each month, yoga coach Gwen Lawrence chooses a sport and shows us the top five poses designed to keep athletes in the game. This month, the focus is on skiing.

Photos courtesy of Gwen Lawrence

The key to using yoga to reduce the risk of injury in any sport is to be proactive, not reactive. In skiing, that means being careful to have strong legs to endure long, challenging slopes. Any skier must have exceptional back and abdominal strength to hold perfect form for optimum control. Open and flexible hips are essential to protect the knees in the event you hit an unstable surface or for more graceful falls.

Above all else with skiing, as with most all sports, a symmetrical body is essential to a smooth, more effortless run down any mountain. Here are some poses to help achieve that. (As always, consult a doctor before you begin any new exercise program.)

1. Chair pose: This pose is a clear winner to develop the leg strength and form needed to maneuver even the toughest run. Chair pose has a double payoff because it also reinforces the strength in the spine when you hold perfect flat backs. Try chair pose holds for 10 breaths, fold over to standing forward bend and repeat the sequence three to five times.

2. Bow pose: Necessary after a long day on the mountain holding perfect form with a precision angle at the hip joint, the skier must take time to open the hip flexors.

Too many times they are ignored areas on the body and if not addressed can cause a lot of pressure on the low back and misalign the spine.

Three bow poses can help. Make each one at least a 30 second hold with deep, thoughtful breathing. Between each bow pose, take a three to four breaths of child pose. Ahhh!

3. Forearm plank hold: Unlike plank holds, forearm plank really digs deep into the abdominal strength while holding perfect form.

It also challenges all the spinal muscles to be able to maintain the skier's target body positioning.

To be in prime slope shape, I recommend you do three one-minute holds, being careful to hold the body very straight and not droop the mid-section.

4. Chair twist: Adding the twist to the basic chair pose will open the obliques to facilitate subtle changes in the core that will direct your skis.

Open obliques will add to the skier's ability to endure the aerobic part of skiing all day by opening all the muscles between the ribs and stretching the side body for more control and better lung capacity. Hold chair twists 30 seconds on each side for two to three sets.

The added bonus of more quad work will enhance the legs strength further.

5. Rock and rolls: This is a movement more than a pose, to help you zone in on your needs before you hit the hills. It will show you loud and clear if you are off balance. Lying on your back, bring your knees into your chest. Hold the legs behind your thighs and close your eyes. Do not peek or you ruin your analysis! Inhale and exhale deeply and rock and roll six or seven times. On the seventh rep, stop in the seated position and open your eyes and see where you are. You may be quite surprised to see yourself facing the opposite direction -- or on your neighbor's yoga mat!

- If you pull or turn right you may need to consider your right hip or low back is tight and needs work (or vice versa).

- If you inch toward the front of your mat you may need more deep hip flexor stretching. Tight hip flexors enhance the lumbar curve.

- If you morphed over to the right of your mat but still face forward, consider upper back and shoulder work (and vice versa).

Whatever your imbalances end up being, I am sure you will be astounded by the outcome of this little trick. Stretch, strengthen and don't skip a day!

Gwen Lawrence owns Power Yoga for Sports and works with athletes in professional basketball, football, baseball, hockey soccer as well Olympians and college athletes. Follow her on Twitter @GwenLawrence.

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