Figure skaters wanting to succeed inevitably look for off-ice training classes—conditioning, ballet, plyometrics, vestibular training, nutrition, etc. Yoga is also a part of this--often thought of as a physical form of off-ice training.
Indeed, the physical practice of yoga can be very helpful for figure skating success. Asana (yoga postures) helps build strength, flexibility, awareness, and balance, and through their coordination with the breath, it improves our stress response and helps recalibrate the nervous system.
A yoga practice tailored specifically to figure skaters can inform a skater’s development, bring balance to the muscles, and develop stamina by teaching breathing techniques.
More Than Just “Exercise”
While the physical practice of yoga is important for figure skaters, it is much more than "exercise". In fact, the “exercise” component of yoga as off-ice training may be the least important aspect for figure skaters searching for success.
Most beginning figure skaters join the sport because it is fun, graceful, and free. We stay with it because the ice and wind get in our blood, and we can’t get them out. We also like the people we meet, the community we form, and the progress that we make.
Unfortunately, as in many other avenues of life, organizational structures, leaders, bad teachers, overly competitive peers, and our own thoughts and habits can turn a beautiful, positive experience and environment into a toxic one.
And then the enjoyment goes out the window, and all your efforts to improve are in vain.
Practicing on the ice for three or four hours daily doesn’t really matter if you don’t have the right perspective on your figure skating training or don’t know where skating fits in the big picture of your life.
The same holds true with yoga. Asana – the practice of physical postures—can help figure skaters develop awareness, strength, and flexibility, but without the right approach, skaters will miss out on the most impactful training—the training of the mind and the breath, which help us stay grounded.
This is why learning and practicing the philosophical principles of yoga—specifically Patanjali’s 8 Limbs—is essential to a well-balanced figure skating journey.
Ancient Yoga Philosophy Applied to Figure Skating
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a collection of 196 aphorisms dating to the early centuries CE that synthesize and summarize the wisdom of prior generations. They are generally considered to be one of the main authoritative texts on yoga. In the Yoga Sutras, the ancient sage Patanjali outlined an 8-fold path self-realization for yogis. Today, these 8 limbs are often described as steps to living a meaningful and purposeful life.
The 8-limbs are as follows:
When you break down the journey, you see a lot of parallels to figure skating:
Right mindset, right discipline, strong body, strong lungs, trained skills, practice focusing, and then achieve the goal.
It is often said that if you work on the first four limbs, then the last four will fold into place. This doesn’t mean to ignore thinking about the later ones, but the groundwork must be laid in the first four limbs to prepare the body and mind for the rest.
The Daily Practice of Figure Skating
Beginning figure skaters must place lots of focus and more time on the foundations—forward and backward stroking, forward and backward crossovers, basic edges, stops, turns, and so on. The more time spent learning the fundamentals, the easier and safer the harder tricks will be.
In the same way Olympic figure skating champions don’t stop practicing their skating skills or mindset work daily, the most experienced yogis also must practice the foundations of yoga daily.
But while it may not take very long for an advanced level figure skater to get the gist of a basic edge exercise, the practice must still be done, and each skater can choose their level of focus or fine-tuning of said exercise.
You can practice even the simplest of things with deep refinement and maturity. As long as you stick with it, day in and day out, that's what matters.
Don’t Give Up
Unfortunately, not everyone in sports focuses on life lessons, and as athletes we may not even realize the lessons until years down the road.
Plus, the athletic and societal institutions in which we live and practice don’t really want us to value life lessons more than sport—because that might mean less focus on competition and rivalries, which often translates into less money for the powers that be.
There is just so much focus on achievement and outcome.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though.
Skaters can choose to follow their own path in sport for their own reasons, regardless of what the crowd or “rival” athletes are doing.
Today you can choose to learn new tricks via TikTok and public skate while taking an occasional lesson from a professional; stay in Learn to Skate programs for years; focus on testing; participate in local shows and exhibitions; or decide to try your hand at competing.
And you can compete locally or participate in any number of US Figure Skating event series—Solo Dance, Synchro, Showcase, Excel, National Qualifying. You can skate through high school or collegiate programs, or you can take a break and come back to the sport as an adult.
You can even start skating as an adult and join the beautiful community that is Adult Skating.
And you can skate because you love it, want to become stronger, enjoy the challenge, love the creative expression it allows, find belonging in the community, use it as an outlet to get to know yourself better.
Deciding which skating path to follow can be tough, but remember that your figure skating journey is yours—not your parents’, not your coaches’, and not your friends’. And you are allowed to change your mind and switch course, if that’s what your heart dictates.
Just be sure that your heart is where your skates are and keep showing up.
This is the true essence of sport, yoga, and life... the practice IS the path.
And as verse 1.65 of the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā says, “One who is intent on practice will attain success.”
If you want to achieve true, lasting success in skating and life, show up today to the mat and to the ice. Get started with these free practices.
Author // the skating yogi
My name is Sarah Neal. I have been immersed in the world of figure skating for over four decades. Having experienced the highs and lows of being an athlete, the effects of toxic training environments, and the loss of identity upon retirement, I am passionate about coaching athletes who have been through some of the same challenges. I love working with athletes, former athletes, and anyone that wants to reframe their athletic experiences to re-write their story, rebuild their identity, and thrive in life in and out of sports.