I had no idea the undertaking writing a master’s thesis would be. My imagination fell horribly short in its attempts to create what it would look and feel like to complete this level of academic work. All facets of life were impacted by the project, however, what I truly underestimated was the toll research and writing would take on my training. Subconsciously, I was telling myself that somehow I was special and would be able to balance it all, unlike those other folks who had kindly warned me about the sacrifices required to finish your degree. Compounding my naiveté was the addition of a new job, moving into a new apartment, and getting married.
The slow decline in fitness began around the first week of August when I had some papers to re-write and planning for the wedding was hitting its apex. My MTB training was quickly replaced with quick runs around Portland’s West End because aerobically I can get more from a half hour of solid running than I can from an hour of cycling, although I much prefer the latter. Time at the gym was pretty much nonexistent, and whenever a change of pace was required, I incorporated some yoga into my flailing attempts at getting ready for the ski season.
Now some will be asking, what does yoga have to do with avalanches and backcountry safety? Simply put, if you spend all of your time worrying about being able to keep up with the group, or to just physically make it through the day, then you aren’t leaving much cognitive space and energy available to attend to details such as shifts in the wind and warming/cooling temps. Physical wellbeing is key to effective decision-making in the alpine.
Being innately frugal, a dirtbag at heart, and a recently married graduate student means many things, but mostly that I didn’t (still don’t) have money to spend at my local yoga studio. Thus, as with any unsolvable problem, I turned to the Internet and googled “free yoga classes online.” The first website that pops up is the only one I needed. DoYogaWithMe (http://www.doyogawithme.com/) is an easy to navigate site that provides a wide range of free classes for novice and veteran yogis alike. I quickly found a few rewarding classes and was able to get on the mat two days a week. Far from the lunges, squats, and bike rides my body needed….but nonetheless beneficial for me physically and mentally as I worked through the final versions of my thesis.
When reflecting on the first month of skiing I attribute a lack of injuries to a whole bunch of luck and my fledgling yoga practice. The latter gave me just enough strength and flexibility to flail gracefully during early tours and allowed me to successfully return to the gym in late December. As the winter progressed I was able to get back on the stationary bike, incorporate mid week runs, and begin strength training again. However, I never really let go of the yoga. Usually on Thursday or Friday (depending on when I could get to the mountains) I would set the computer up and work through a class. However, by the time spring arrived I was in the mood for something new and a practice that was a little more specific to my needs as a backcountry skier.
I contacted family friend Mandy Roberts, owner of Atlanta’s FORM Yoga Studio (http://formyoga.com/) and Lululemon Ambassador, in search of some advice on how to design a 45-minute class that would help me prepare for the longer ski tours that come with added daylight and warmer temps. I put Mandy’s suggestion to immediate use, blending in Lizard Lunge, Supine Twists, and Twisted Monkey Pose (yes all are real things) into my practice, and have thus far been very pleased with the results. What I have found to be the biggest “X factor” in Mandy’s advice is the length of time that I spend in each pose, focusing intently on what I am asking my body to do and why. Previously I viewed my yoga practice as simply another way to push myself and would take very difficult classes that had me leaving the mat feeling accomplished, but sore and tired. However, staying in poses for an extended period of time, actually focusing on my breathing, and moving slowly has provided me with the strength, energy and flexibility needed to put in big days in the mountains.
I am looking forward to a full summer and fall of proper training for next winter, and as I get closer to actually putting together those plans I know I will continue to incorporate yoga as a mandatory part of my preseason and in-season preparations to climb up and ski down snow laden mountains.
Big thanks to Mandy Roberts and the folks at DoYogaWithMe for all their advice and guidance. Click on the links provided in the article to learn more and begin or enhance your own practice.