This week I’m lucky enough to be enjoying a skiing holiday in the beautiful Italian Dolomites. It’s a place my husband Chris and I have returned to five times since spending our honeymoon here in 2008, and it feels like our “happy place”: peaceful and remote and immersed in the magnificence of nature, and the delicious Italian food doesn’t hurt either! Many times this week it has struck me how much my yoga practice informs my skiing, and how much the two disciplines have in common.
On a physical level, applying yoga posture foundations (maintaining a strong core, keeping the breath smooth, full and even, and keeping the joints relaxed) to skiing is incredibly useful. Holding the breath and allowing the body to become tense and rigid is a natural reaction to challenging situations, but when I notice myself doing this as I approach a difficult piste, I remind myself to breathe. I soften my grip on my poles and gently engage my core whilst letting my limbs be relaxed and springy, and like magic my skiing technique immediately improves. The desire for some control that I was clinging onto with my rigid grip actually only comes when I let go a little. Then I can flex, bend, ride out the bumps and slow myself down when I need to. There’s a life lesson there….
One of the beautiful things about skiing is that, like practising yoga asana, it becomes a moving meditation; an exercise in mindfulness. There is little choice but to be completely absorbed in the moment, in what your body is doing and the information your senses are giving you. Both require concentration, a single-pointed awareness. Much like in a balancing posture, the moment your mind wanders you can be sure that a fall is not far behind! Thankfully the falls are rarely too painful or serious; they teach us resilience and that we can laugh, pick ourselves up and try again, and you’re certainly not the only one on your ass! That graceful skier gliding effortlessly past you/fellow yoga student floating up into an arm balance? I promise you, it took them many hundreds of hours of practice and face-plants to get there! As Ashtanga yoga guru Pattabhi Jois famously said, “Practice and all is coming”.
Being here in springtime, the ski season is close to its end and the melting snow is starting to reveal patches of muddy earth and long-buried grass, which seems a potent reminder of the impermanent nature of everything, and a stark reminder to enjoy the moment. Taking a rest in the startlingly bright sunshine as it reflects off the glittering snow beneath us and highlights the bleak majesty of the mountains that surround us, here for millions of years before we set eyes on them and here for many more after we have gone, I feel a sense of peace. I am simultaneously melded with this magnificent planet and yet humbled by my utter insignificance. Blissful contentment.
“What do you want to do now?” Chris asks. He already knows the answer.
“Or are you doing it?”