By Sarah (Sem) Walls, 2008.
Yoga is a practice that if done regularly will bring tremendous light and clarity to your life. After many years of personal yoga practice and ski development I have come to realize the powerful benefits yoga has had on my skiing. Particularly in relation to the awareness of certain body parts to aid in a strong, efficient, well balanced stance. Continually we get told to ski with an engaged core. What does this mean, how can we achieve it and why does it help us to ski better?
If you think about walking down the road whilst trying to read or text a friend, you may unconsciously tighten your abdominals and lats to create a more stable body to walk with whilst distracted. In yoga terms this action is called ‘moola bandha’. It is done by contracting and drawing up the lower abdominals (situated between the pubic bone and the belly button) and the pelvic floor (the action of stopping mid stream). Moola bandha
stablises the pelvis and keeps it in a strong neutral position. A stable, neutral pelvis will create a neutral, strong spine enabling the skier to have a well stacked stance. When the skeleton is stacked in the natural alignment, it enables the skier to better coordinate the major muscles (thighs, hamstrings, gluts and lats) and joints (ankle, knee, hips) used when skiing. When a skier does not have ‘moola bandha’ engaged the pelvis is likely to rotate under causing the thighs and gluts to tighten up which restricts movement in the femur / hip joint.
If you visualize the pelvis as a bowl of water, when neutrally positioned the water will not spill out of the bowl. However the common ‘go to’ position when a skier flexes is the tucking under of the pelvis (the water to tip out the back of the bowl) and coincidently create locked up quadriceps and gluts, restricting the use of the femur / hip joint and free spine (situated above the pelvis). Not the strongest or most comfortable position to be in when skiing. When we ski, we want access to the femur / hip joints’ full range of motion to enable us to steer our legs and hence our skis in the desired direction with precision and strength.
Whilst skiing, the goal is to have a flex movement that keeps the bowl of water from spilling with unconscious thought. While stationary flex your ankles and knees to create a lower stance. Have you tucked your pelvis under (water spilling out the back), has it stayed neutral (no spillage) or does it rotate backwards (water spilling out the front)? Once you have identified which is your ‘go to’ position, think about flexing with ‘moola
bandha’ engaged which will create the pelvic and spinal neutrality you need. Now recreate this movement whilst on your skis. Try whilst skiing at a slow pace. Can you hold the pelvis stable at all times? Depending on your success, increase the speed and notice when you feel a reverse to old habits. Often it will be towards the end of the turn when the pressure had built up and there are greater forces acting on the body.
Awareness is the key when trying to develop ‘moola bandha’. A way for people to become aware of the sensations removed from the actual skiing motion, is to practice on the chairlift. Analyse your normal sitting position relaxed on the chair. Most will find that the pelvis is tucked under and the shoulders rounded forward. Try to rotate the pelvis backwards so you feel your two sit bones digging into the chair lift seat. This will also create a more upright spine, giving the appearance of a taller upper torso. When ever you are on the chair see if your awareness to correct your pelvic position increases.
Lower-back pain is a common complaint from people on their annual ski holiday. Generally this is caused from weak core muscles allowing the spine to be flexed in the wrong way putting stress on the surrounding muscles. Having a strong core will reduce this occurrence as will the activation of ‘moola bandha’. The old saying “bend your knees” when lifting a heavy object is to help keep the spine straight and thus not putting the stress into the lower back. When in ski boots, we don’t want to bend our knees too much as this will put us in the back seat, therefore a way to keep the spine strong is to neutralise the pelvis position through ‘moola bandha’ contractions.
Initial attempts may feel weird or uncomfortable. This is a sign you are developing a new movement pattern, learning something new, stick with it. The more you practice the more this will be become an autonomous part of your skiing.