Yoga in the Snow

Yoga is a gentle exercise perfect for speeding up healing of back issues. Photo Laura Rose

Yoga is a gentle exercise perfect for speeding up healing of back issues. Photo Laura Rose

Just as the snowshoe season was getting underway, an old back problem flared up. A trip to the chiropractor reassured me I should continue to stay active. “Let your pain guide your activity” was my doctor’s welcome advice, with one exception: no twisting. This meant an adjustment to my yoga practice—and no shoveling–but otherwise I could get back out on the snowshoes. With spectacular weather earlier this season, I couldn’t wait to take advantage of prime conditions. However, the pain flared all too soon when out on the trail. I decided if ballet on skis is possible, why not yoga on snowshoes? (I know, some of you have been doing it for years. I don’t know why I never thought of it before) I tried a little on the spot yoga my next outing and it helped extend my “pain guided” time on the trail.

Forward fold: be sure to bend from the hips, keep your knees soft. Relax and breath into the pose. Grab your elbows and sway gently from side to side if you like.

Forward fold: be sure to bend from the hips, keep your knees soft. Relax and breath into the pose. Grab your elbows and sway gently from side to side if you like. Roll up one vertebrae at a time. Photo Laura Rose

My problems are in the lower back—L3 and L4—so some of the best yoga moves are the ones done bending from the hips. You will have to adjust according to your injury—consult your physiotherapist, chiropractor, or physician for specifics to your condition—but as long as you’re still mobile, there’s probably some moves suitable for you.  When I’m indoors, cat/cows, planks, and cobra poses are ideal. On the snowshoes I’m limited to mostly upright positions, but some low to the ground poses are possible. And if I’m feeling really adventurous, I can throw in a happy baby or a back roll from squatted position. It’s all up to what you’re comfortable with and your ability–you don’t want to make your issues worse. Depending on your ability and experience, you can execute a fairly well rounded routine on the snow in a short time frame, helping to make your hikes as pain-free and rejuvenating as possible.

Garland Squat: Keeping the feet in line and hip width apart, squat with tail bone tucked under. With hands in namaste position, gently push elbows to inside the knees. Be sure to keep your shoulders down and back straight.

Garland Squat: Keeping the feet in line and hip width apart, squat with tail bone tucked under. With hands in namaste position, gently push elbows to inside the knees. Be sure to keep your shoulders down and back straight. Photo Laura Rose

Forward folds from mountain pose are easy to accomplish, and balance is enhanced by the snowshoes. Downward dog, squatting (garland pose is my favorite), and even child’s pose can be performed with relative ease on snowshoes. Warrior I, II, III, lunges and other balance poses can be added as the back issue heals (some of these incorporate twisting). Do what feels good, and don’t over extend yourself. Yoga is an inherently gentle exercise, meant to sooth and realign our lives, not a “no pain, no gain” workout. Focus on maintaining proper alignment of the hips and feet, holding each pose while breathing deeply, relaxing into the position.

Wide forward fold: With feet turned slightly in and spread as wide as is comfortable, bend forward from the hips with a nice flat back. Depending on ability, you can place fingertips, palms or elbows on the ground.

Wide forward fold: With feet turned slightly in and legs spread as wide as is comfortable, bend forward from the hips with a nice flat back. Depending on ability, you can place fingertips, palms or elbows on the ground. Keep the flat back when you raise yourself up from the hips. Photo Laura rose

I love yoga’s adaptability and inclusiveness—anyone, any age, any ability. If you can’t straighten your legs without discomfort, keep your knees bent. Can’t touch your toes?

Downward facing dog: From forward fold position, walk the palms forward as far as is comfortable with sits bones pointing skyward. Relax shoulders. Walk the hands back to forward fold to come out of position.

Downward facing dog: From forward fold position, walk the palms forward as far as is comfortable with sits bones pointing skyward. Relax shoulders. Walk the hands back to forward fold to come out of position. Photo Laura Rose

Don’t force it. Are you limited to one or two moves? Be patient with yourself, and add new poses when you feel ready. Snow conditions are unpredictable, so don’t sabotage your time out on the snow by overdoing it. Just a few minutes can aid in the healing process and extend your time on the white stuff.

Warrior 1: Step back right leg back with foot turned in slightly. Deep breath raise arms over your head with a slightly curved back. Step legs together and repeat with left leg. Don't forget to breath!

Warrior 1: Step back right leg back with foot turned in slightly. Deep breath raise arms over your head with a slightly curved back. Step legs together and repeat with left leg. Don’t forget to breath! Photo Laura Rose

Now that my back issues have cleared up, I intend to keep doing some of my daily routine outside on the snow. Our season has been short and sporadic, but a big Nor’easter may be headed our way over the weekend. Other than a tropical beach in the oft times nasty month of March, I can’t think of a more beautiful setting to practice yoga than out on the snow.

 

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