By now you’ve probably read or heard many times that yoga can help skaters with issues they have to tackle:
improper goal setting
unconstructive training environments
Plus, there are other “fitness” based areas that yoga can help skaters improve–balance, strength, flexibility, proprioceptive awareness, etc.
Yoga is not enough to fix all our problems, but it can help us see them in a new light and learn to stand steady and undisturbed while facing them.
It can help us turn a journey based on comparison into a journey of self-actualization.
How Yoga Fits into Off-Ice Training for Skaters
In the past few decades, Western society has turned yoga into just another fitness trend, overcome with commercialization and commodification.
The roots of yoga go back thousands of years, though, and have a much deeper purpose and meaning than trying to skim off body fat or achieve a “look” promoted by the beauty standards of the moment.
Yoga began as a spiritual practice and a way to become closer to one’s true inner purpose. To fulfill this path requires consistent, dedicated practice.
There are lots of sacred teachings regarding yoga going back thousands of years. The most commonly referenced text today is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which begins with this definition of yoga.
yogas citta vritti nirodhah
Patanjali also outlines an 8-fold path to achieving this fulfillment, often called a path to self-realization.
The 8-limbs are as follows:
When applied to the skating journey, the 8 limbs can turn a path obsessed
with comparison and achievement into an individual path of self-realization.
See the image below for an skating journey application of the 8 limbs. You can also visit this earlier post for a slightly more in-depth explanation.
Practicing the 8 limbs teaches us to redirect our focus from the outcome to the process. The "goal" listed here is the experience--those moments where it all comes together and the skater finds the zone.
Really, though, the goal is just to experience the process in the most fulfilling way possible. The practice is the path.
Figure Skating Off-Ice Training with Yoga Asana
If yoga is more about the mental journey to a blissful experience–for a skater, this could be performing while in the zone, for example–then where does Asana fit into the picture?
As you see in the graphic above, asana is the third limb of yoga, but for most people, the easiest way to jump on this path is to bring awareness to what it means to be a person living in a body.
Sounds a bit new-age, but it’s true.
We spend so much time lost in our heads, often without contemplating anything meaningful, that we have no true awareness of our bodies or connection to our intuition.
We are attached to external stimuli, lost in TikTok videos, bites of chocolate, cups of coffee, snuggles with puppies…. (Hopefully, we are able to stick with these positive stimuli and not resort to drugs, alcohol, calorie restriction, abusive relationships, and other maladaptive coping mechanisms.
The point is, though, that we don’t know how to create our own joy, and until we can be content in our own skin, no external stimuli will create lasting happiness for us.
So, the answer for most of us is to turn inward, and the physical practice of Asana is often the easiest place to start.
Especially for skaters, it’s a very powerful experience to move the body in new ways that invite them to feel sensations, rather than strive for a GOE.
And if you choose poses especially beneficial to skating movements, you have an even easier entry point to the 8-limbed journey.
Adding Yoga Poses to Your Off-Ice Training Plan
To get started, do a quick warm-up of 3-5 sun salutations or a couple of minutes of jumping jacks, then start with this list of asanas I’ve compiled- top yoga poses for figure skaters.
Virasana (Hero’s Pose) and Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero’s)
This is called a gateway posture by many yoga teachers, as it works internal rotation of the thighs. In jumps, the landing leg is internally rotated while the free leg is very slightly externally rotated. Much of the traditional “stretching” for skating is all about external rotation. Virasana combats that. Plus, the reclined version is great to work the chronically overworked quads and hip flexors of skaters.
1) Begin in a kneeling position with the knees together and the feet just to the outside of the hips.
2) Place a block horizontally between the feet, take the thumbs to the calves and roll the calf muscles outward, and sit on the block, so the front of each sit bone is grounded into the block. Make sure the tops of the feet are firmly pressing into the floor with the toes spread apart.
3) You can add another block to raise yourself a little higher, sit on a blanket instead, or ditch the block, if you can sit with sit bones firmly on the floor. Do what is right for your body today!
4) Press the lower legs and feet into the floor and feel the spine extend towards the ceiling. 5) Stay here, breathing fully and steadily, for 1-3 minutes, noticing what your body feels.
If you feel pain, either sit higher, or don’t hold the posture as long.
For the reclined version:
Tadasana (Mountain/Palm Tree Pose) and Utthita Tadasana (Extended Palm Tree Pose)
Tadasana is the foundational standing posture used to inform all standing postures. It offers us a chance to really break down how we stand and pay attention to our alignment, as well as practice breath awareness.
We come back to standing in Tadasana after other standing postures and short sequences to take time to pause and check in with our breath and notice the effects of each asana on the body. Much of the practice involves cultivating awareness and observation with curiosity, rather than judgment.
For Extended Palm Tree:
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose)
Warrior I is similar to a lunge on the ice – much more so than the actual “lunge” in yoga, due to the external rotation of the back leg. It is a powerful pose for developing stroking. It works both internal and external rotation, builds strength in the quadriceps, opens the chest to encourage fuller breathing, stretches the psoas and hip flexors, work to lengthen the latissimus dorsi, and improves ankle mobility.
But, wait. You thought the first precept of yoga was non-violence? Why are we practicing a pose called warrior? Warrior I is not an actual translation– Vir (as we saw in our first pose above) means “hero” and bhadra means “friend”, and together as virabhadra is sometimes translated to English as “auspicious hero”.
The mythology behind the name is quite interesting and beyond the nature of this post, but sufficeth to say that the story is often seen as a metaphor for killing the ego and getting rid of fear and doubt, so we can reach our full potential and purpose.
Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)
Vasisthasana is a must do for skaters. Very few poses can be applied as many times to skating as this one. Literally, every time you are gliding on an edge, you apply vasisthasana. It works on stabilizing and strengthening the hips, which is a key component of skating.
Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose)
Purvottasana is a great pose to strengthen the posterior chain, an often neglected yet crucial series of muscles for skating success. A strong posterior chain is key for propulsion (i.e. stroking and liftoff), air position, and landing jumps, and it’s key for preventing injuries related to the overuse of the front of the body (i.e. quads and hip flexors). A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and this pose works the entire back body, with a special focus on the muscles around the spine and the glutes.
Savasana (Corpse/Relaxation Pose)
Be sure to build in 5-10 minutes (20 minutes is even better!) at the end of the asana practice for relaxation. This is where the magic happens–where the nervous system can recalibrate itself and we are given a chance to observe the mind and body from a place of stillness.
This is where skaters begin the empowering shift from “doing” to “being”.
The 8 limbs of yoga are a powerful framework to help transform the skating journey into one of self-actualization, rather than comparison and competition.
For most skaters, the easiest way to get started in the 8 limbs is with the third limb - asana, or the physical postures of yoga.
These poses are a great way to do that. Read next week’s post to learn a few more.
Conquer jittery legs and butterflies with my FREE GUIDE: Anti-Anxiety Tools for Skaters.
Author // the skating yogi
My name is Sarah Neal. I have been immersed in the world of figure skating for over four decades. I have seen firsthand the abuse that happens at the higher levels of our sport and experienced how that trickles down into unhealthy training practices and habits at the grassroots. I have seen this play out in the operations of the very institutions that control our sport. Whether for a profession or hobby, pursuing skating should be a joyful, rewarding process, an opportunity for athletic and personal growth, and a place to build lasting friendships.