Well, I’d beg to differ. Okay, one has you hurtling downhill at speed, in minus temperatures, adrenalin pumping, the other hanging out on a mat in relative warmth (village halls in winter and draughty gymnasiums notwithstanding). But there’s so much in common too, if you want to do either well. And feel the benefit.
The need to balance, for one. Each subtle shift in body weight the difference between staying upright or taking a tumble. And breathe. Surprising how often you forget to breathe, on the piste and the yoga mat.
And the need to focus inward, watching, listening, feeling, sensing where your body is in space.
But most importantly, the need to prepare well, engage the mind, perform with precision, then rest and restore.
I might yet be some way off writing authoritative blog posts from a yoga teacher’s viewpoint and my skiing remains a glorious work in progress (and still improving forty years on), but it’s occurred to me, hanging about on chair lifts as you do between runs, just how many similarities there are between my two pet pastimes. And how much my yoga practice and training is feeding into my skiing in ways I hadn’t imagined it would.
So here’s just four of the many things I’ve noticed.
1. Limber up before you go-go!
Time was I’d surreptitiously and very self-consciously limber up in my room, preparing myself for the ski-day ahead. As if fifteen minutes of hamstring stretching and a couple of deep squats could possibly prepare anyone for six hours on the piste, six days in a row, once or twice a year – but better than nothing! Yet always, there was a guilty niggle that this was some sort of displacement activity, that were I fitter, I’d jump straight on those skis and out the gates without so much as a cursory sidebend.
But what yoga has taught me is that limbering up is possibly the most important part of my practice. Waking up the muscles and joints – particularly the spine – through slow breath-led movements, noticing areas of tension, mentally tuning in to the activity ahead.
No longer surreptitious, or remotely self-conscious, my ski day starter now is a yoga session in its own right, maybe forty minutes long. And worth every moment invested.
2. Give it a rest pal!
Oh the miles and miles of skiing I’ve done over those forty years, legs, knees, shoulders and gritted jaw screaming at me to stop – skis skidding away from me, brain disconnected from my feet, fear knotting every sinew. Usually towards the end of a long, long day, classically day three of the trip.
But on I would career, not wanting to lose face. Not wanting to stop for fear of being left behind. Ignoring the loud hailers screeching in my head. The death-defying, high-speed cartwheels I’ve executed – entirely involuntarily – as a result.
The times I’ve been away and just fancied doing half a day. Or even no day at all on the piste. Just to rest the weary legs, reset the enthusiasm. But peer group pressure and my own misguided ego bullied me on.
What I’ve learned with yoga is the importance of rest to reintegrate and balance the body and the value of listening to those inner voices long before they reach for the loud hailers. That sometimes we need to just gather the energy back in.
Now, back in the room with skiing done for the day, I’ll be found counterposing all that hip and knee flexion, opening out the shoulders and – bliss – resting my weary legs up the wall in Viparita Karani.
I’ve learned to take the odd half day off too. Even the odd day. And, d’you know what? I ski better as a result.
3. It’s okay to ‘wimp out’!
Resisting peer pressure – and the call of that ever-beckoning ego – can be hard. On the piste and the mat. I’ve skiied with all sorts of groups and with individual pals and mostly had a ball. But every so often – against my better judgement – I’ve been urged down slopes I really didn’t want to go down.
Sometimes there’s no option, of course, but when there is, rather than just say ‘no, I’ll see you round the corner’, taken the easy route, I’ve pushed those ski tips over the edge, tense with fear, heart racing and all the more likely to take a tumble.
Result? The sort of chipping away of confidence which leads from fear to injury. And the endpoint to fear and injury is ‘why bother at all?’
In yoga, it’s the ego does the urging. Every time. Yoga teachers make it their business to be aware of their student’s health issues and existing injuries – and stress the importance of honouring how your body feels on any particular day – offering easier routes to the same end, or simply the opportunity to skip an asana (or more) and rest in Savasana or Child’s Pose.
It takes time to resist that inner voice pushing you on, shouting down your better judgement – to take the easier route down, meet them all later, ’round the corner’ – as everyone around you appears to find it ‘easier’ than you, to be more flexible. To understand that to duck out isn’t to wimp out, that ducking out is a sign of strength not weakness.
How many, I wonder, deny themselves the joy of yoga because at some point they pushed on through, into fear and injury, ending up at ‘why bother at all?’
4. And finally (although there’s so much more), it’s all in the mind!
Whatever level you ski at, doubt your ability to survive the experience and the chances are you’ll stiffen up, forget to breathe, use muscles you don’t need to use and quite likely hurt yourself, even if you’ve somehow, despite your best efforts, remained upright. Not unlike yoga.
But take the time to practice, challenge your fears and hone your skills, and things will change, I promise you. Magic will happen.
So practice, practice, practice and practice some more, memorise the cues that resonate (from all your favourite teachers), keep breathing and have trust. And who knows? You might find yourself, like me, standing on your head for the first time in your life. And smiling.
But preferably not in deep snow.