As an avid downhill skier for nearly three decades, Mariane Corallo ratchets up her "weekend-warrior behavior" every winter.
So she's keenly aware — maybe more than most — of subsequent aches, pains, aggravation of old injuries, even accidents that can end a season or future skiing aspirations. To start winter on the right foot, the owner of Rasa Center for Yoga and Wellness devised a six-week program of stretching, strengthening and conditioning specifically for skiers and snowboarders.
"It's definitely going to feed the skier in them," says Corallo, 43. "We're also working on injury prevention."
Just as the workshop welcomes all levels of skiers and snowboarders, it accommodates the accomplished or novice yogi, says Corallo. A short, "semiflow" practice that resembles many yoga classes starts the one-and-a-half-hour session once per week, she adds.
The primary focus, however, will be conditioning and stretching muscles central to skiing and snowboarding. Many postures will be held for four to seven minutes, some as long as 15, says Corallo. Prolonging each position brings a "yin" quality to the regimen that counteracts skiing, a very energetic — or "yang" — pursuit, she says. Even typical yoga classes tend toward yang energy, she adds.
Some traditional poses, such as "warrior," will be modified for the skiing and snowboarding experience. "Kneeling warrior," with one knee on the floor, foot braced against the wall, is an intense stretch for quadriceps, which every snow enthusiast taxes during a day on the slopes.
"You're just constantly sitting into your quads," says Corallo. "You're just never able to stretch them out."
With the legs overworked, it's easy to overlook muscles that most Americans associate with a day on the job not on the mountain, says Corallo.
"The neck and shoulders tend to take more of a hit than one thinks," she says. "We're trying to stay over our skis, over our boots," she adds, explaining that proper skiing form is a slight stoop, emphasized by the body's natural response to cold weather.
"So we're hunched up to begin with."
To counteract that tendency, Corallo raises her upper body from lying prone on the floor. This "cobra" pose opens the chest and lengthens the neck, "curling the spine in a different way," she says.
Although they appear simple, many yoga postures, or "asana," are very strenuous, says Corallo, lamenting the perception that yoga is too sedate to complement extreme sports.
A lifelong backpacker and mountain climber who competed in triathlons, Corallo turned to yoga after surgery to repair a knee injured while skiing then aggravated by running a half-marathon.
"It was learning how to get over that ego," says Corallo. "I healed myself through yoga."
More recently, she damaged her rotator cuff by jabbing a ski pole into a block of ice under fresh powder at Mount Ashland. Her shoulder probably could have been a candidate for surgery, says Corallo, but she used yoga to exercise her upper body without burdening her shoulders and other joints. The ability to adjust for physical limitations is like an alpine tree bending, but not breaking, under a load of snow, she adds.
"Tree" pose, including balanced on blocks and executed with the eyes closed, will build participants' bodily awareness to prevent injuries, says Corallo. Half-moon and triangle are other asana that heighten the spatial sensation, she adds.
"You can't do a ski class without tree."
Or "chair," a squat that almost perfectly mimics a skier's stance and counts among yoga's most intense, if straightforward, asanas.
"I actually love it now," says Corallo.
While Corallo brings a skier's sensibility to the Medford workshop, "Yoga for Skiers and Snowboarders" also taps the expertise of Natalie Stawsky, Rasa's certified yoga therapist, who can assist participants with sensitive knees or bad backs. Corallo says she also is incorporating physical therapy learned following surgery.
"I can't say that yoga's a cure-all," she says, but she does vouch for its relevance to other sports. In previous years, Rasa hosted a one-time "yoga for athletes" session, as well as "yoga for golf."
Corallo says she plans on more multi-week, sports-specific workshops in the coming year at Rasa that will appeal to a wider field of athletes.
"They can actually really supplement their other sporting activities," she says. "It kind of helps people ... get introduced to yoga in a different way."