Sthira, Sukham, Asanam: Stable, Comfortable, Asana (posture), is the goal. ~ The Yoga Sutras 2.46 - 2.48
Overtime the yoga practitioner learns to recognize what optimal alignment feels like in each of the asanas. There is just enough muscular engagement in just the right structures to create a sense of effortlessness in the pose. Likewise in a high speed carving turn there is a sense of easy power when one aligns the body correctly in-between the external forces. The body is propelled smoothly across the fall line when exiting that kind of turn. If we are even slightly misaligned the body will have to work harder than necessary and it will feel very laboured.
In Yoga we strengthen the muscles responsible for medial and lateral rotation of the femur bones in most standing postures. The alignment principle of inward and outward spiral was first taught by B.K.S. Iyengar and later appropriated by John Friend into Anusara Yoga’s Universal Principals of Alignment.
The cue, inner spiral, is a verbal descriptor of a muscular action where the yogi activates the medial rotators, primarily the lateral glutes and abductors, to turn the femur bones inwards. Outer spiral cues the balancing counter action where the yogi engages the glute max and hamstrings to slightly undo the posterior pelvic tilt of inner spiral, extending the lumbar spine to come into a healthy neutral position. This spiral work is taught first in mountain pose, the foundational standing posture, and is used in pretty much every standing position in yoga.
Spiral actions move from heels to head but for the purposes of this post I am talking about just the leg spirals. Used throughout yoga asana practice, these actions are absolutely critical to creating the right amount of muscular engagement to support the body in an optimal alignment no matter what configuration it takes. For skiers the mechanics of inner and outer spiral directly correlate with pivoting. Because pivoting is such a difficult movement pattern to instruct, being able to learn the sensation of recruiting these muscles in several different standing postures makes it so much easier to understand the action of pivoting on snow.
Suffice it to say that with proper understanding of alignment while practicing Hatha Yoga it is possible for skiers to improve awareness of the muscular actions involved in pivoting thereby improving steering with the lower body. As well, a huge side benefit is learning to liberate the low back to achieve a neutral spine. A neutral spine used in conjunction with conscious breath techniques to increase inner abdominal pressure strengthens the low back while under load from skiing forces. I wrote about this more extensively in my blog post about J.F. Beaulieu.
Spirals are just terms to describe conscious muscular actions that align the skeleton to deal with external forces. I find the more I work with them the more tangible they become. It is as if I see these spirals working, or not, in my students. There are many spirals from external forces acting on a skier. These are angular momentum, rotational forces and forces created by the bending and unbending of the ski. One way to get better at skiing is to master how to create spirals from within your body equal to those external forces to find that perfect balance point we all seek. The result of doing so is Sthira, Sukham, Asanam.
By: Christine Davidson
Christine Davidson is a Ski Instructor, Yoga Teacher and Peak Performance Coach on a mission to make humans awesome!