Embrace your Sierra spirit | SierraSun.com

Embrace your Sierra spirit

Story and photos by Ashley A. Cooper

During winter at Lake Tahoe, the mountains are always calling, and we are responding. And when it comes to winter sports, some of us have been training for months, squatting low and hard or pedaling uphills daily. Others, not so much.

No matter how much preparation a person puts in, however, recovery can still be brutal — especially for weekend warriors who only have two or three days to hit it hard.

While après ski cocktails feel like a reward, the after effects can slow recovery even more making the next day fuzzy and painful.

Yoga and winter sports have more in common than you may think. Yoga is all about dropping into the present moment, keeping your mind and heart calm through breath control, and fully living.

Add yoga to a winter regime to speed up recovery time, and enhance performance on the mountain. Try some of these poses — 11 in total — before and after the slopes.

Of course, as always, back off anything that feels compromising.

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Exercise: Pranayama

Benefits: By controlling the breath, you control the mind. Deep, full breaths slow the nervous system and allow the mind to think clearly.

1. Sit or lie comfortably.

2. Breathe all the way into your lower belly as you feel yourself expand three-dimensionally, first into the stomach and back, then the rib cage, and finally the chest and shoulders.

3. Breathe out from the chest and shoulders, emptying the rib cage, and finally the belly — become fully empty by contracting the lower naval inward and upward.

4. Repeat rhythmically, counting to 5 on each inhale and exhale.

Exercise: Downward facing dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana

Benefits: Improves flexibility of shoulders, hamstrings, calves, backs of the knees and ankles. Strengthens the upper body, core and large leg muscles while opening into the front of the chest and shoulders.

1. From all fours, walk your hands one hand-length forward from your finger tips. Connect your hands from finger beds to finger tips, especially pressing through your forefingers and thumbs.

2. Keeping your arm bones integrated into your shoulder sockets, engage your arms by wrapping your outer arms (triceps) back and biceps forward.

3. Tuck your toes under and lift your knees slightly away from the mat. Press your stomach toward your thighs as you straighten your arms.

4. Lift your hips, keep knees slightly bent. Walk your dog by bending one knee and straightening the opposite leg, keeping your hips high.

5. Become still keeping your back straight and knees bent until you build flexibility.

Exercise: Lunge, Anjaneyasana

Benefits: Stretches the hip flexors, psoas, and quadriceps of the back leg; stretches the front hip. Increases mobility.

1. From down dog or all fours, step right foot forward to the inside of your right hand. Line your front knee directly above or slightly behind your front ankle.

2. Keep your hands on the ground or on blocks, or bring your hands to your hips.

3. Untuck your back toes and keep your hips level. Breathe into the front of your back leg.

4. To increase the stretch, press the top of your back foot into the ground.

Bonus: Inhale your arms up, bend at your left elbow and hold it with your right palm to stretch into your left triceps and increase the stretch across the front of your body.

Exercise: Lunge Twist, Parivrtta Anjaneyasana

Benefits: Same as above, and stretches side body and back.

1. Take the left hand to the outside of your right (front) leg, your right hand to your lower back.

2. Inhale to lengthen your spine up, exhale to twist from the hips and slowly spiral upward.

Exercise: Half Splits, Ardha Hanumanasana

Benefits: Stretches the hamstring set, calves, IT-band.

1. From lunge, start to straighten your front leg. Adjust your hips so they are in line with your back hip.

2. Place your hands on blocks, rolled towels, or something on either side of your legs.

3. Keep your toes stretching forward to stretch the front of your ankle and shin.

4. Then, draw your toes back and push your heel into the ground and slightly forward. Keep a bend in your front knee.

5. Breathe and bow forward from the hip creases, if at all, keeping a straight back.

Exercise: IT-band stretch from half splits

Benefits: Stretches the deep connective tissues of the back of the leg and the IT-band.

1. From half splits, sit up slightly.

2. Exhale, swing your left hand over to the right side where your right hand rests.

3. Breathe as you continue to draw your toes back on your front foot. Be gentle.

Repeat the whole sequence on the other side.

Exercise: Sphinx, Salamba Bhujangasana

Benefits: Stretches the front of your upper chest, shoulders, neck.

1. Lie flat on your stomach, toes untucked as you press into the tops of your feet and engage your leg muscles.

2. Prop yourself up by placing your elbows directly under your shoulders.

3. Parallel your forearms and spread your fingers, palms face down. Press down through your forearms and pull your chest energetically forward. Shoulder blades slide down your back.

Exercise: Sphinx Variation

Benefits: Stretches your quadriceps, knees and pectorals.

1. From sphinx, bend your right knee and reach back for the inside edge of your foot with your palm.

2. Draw your heel towards your buttocks, and start to square your shoulders towards the front.

3. Option to lay your chest on the ground and focus on stretch the quad and knee.

Exercise: Supported, supine bound angle, Salamba Supta Baddha Konasana

Benefits: Stretches the inner groin, hip, inner thigh. Opens chest and upper arms.

1. Sit down. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees splay out to either side.

2. Place folded towels under either knee and lay back with your spine running lengthwise along a rolled up blanket.

3. Let your arms rest out to the sides.

Exercise: Figure-four Stretch

Benefits: Stretches the hip, groin, outer leg, buttocks.

1. Lay back with your legs up a wall, buttocks slightly away from wall.

2. Bend your right knee and place your outer ankle just outside the end of your left quad, toes drawn back to protect your knee.

3. Gently press your right hand against your right inner thigh.

4. As you have further to go, bend your left knee and bring the sole of the left foot to the wall's surface.

Exercise: Legs up the wall, Viparita Karani

Benefits: Drains the legs, coats the joints in synovial fluid. Also good for insomnia, anxiety, headache, varicose veins, respiratory ailments, and more.

1. With your left hip against the wall, prop both legs straight up the wall and lay back perpendicular to the wall.

2. Keep your buttocks close the wall, legs straight, and entire torso connected to the ground.

3. Teach your arms out or rest them on your belly.

4. Breathe here for 30 seconds to 5 minutes or more.

Ashley A. Cooper is a Truckee-based freelance writer and yoga instructor. She runs her own yoga project, teaches privately for groups and individuals, and facilitates local and international yoga retreats. She can be reached at http://www.sustainableearthyoga.com or emailed at aacooper18@gmail.com.