Jumping off a kicker in the snow park; meditating in a perfectly still Salute To The Sun. At first glance snow sports and yoga seem like very different activities. But a bit of Downward Dog could actually help your downhill snowboard/ski turns no end, say the founders of Unlocked Retreats – a luxury, women’s snow sports & yoga retreat in Tignes.
Yoga is often associated with the mountains as both are all about exercise, spirituality and nature. Val d’Isere even hosts an annual Yoga Festival each April, with outdoor lessons and meditation. And, more and more, yoga is being used by sports professionals to help keen riders overcome psychological barriers to improving performance on the hill.
All In The Mind
In snow sports, physical technique is only half the battle – the rest is in the mind. Once you’ve got the basics down, most ski/snowboard lessons become as much about where to focus your brain as where to plant your feet. As this is becoming more widely understood, combined yoga – snow sports retreats are the latest concept gaining popularity in the mountains.
Unlocked Retreats offer holistic holiday packages mixing yoga, snowboarding/skiing, quality healthy food and juices – plus cocktail making and hot tub prosecco evenings just in case it was all getting a bit wholesome. It’s run from a luxury chalet in Tignes Le Brevieres by a top class team including Corinne Mayhew – the highest qualified female BASI snowboard instructor; Kate Munro Boot – yoga instructor and 2014 British Masters Snowboardcross Champion; and cocktail expert Sarah Rhodes. Everything from the menu to activities programme is aimed at progressing your snowboarding / skiing, and having a fabulous time in the process.
The links between yoga and snowboarding are something Corinne has long believed in, and studied in her university dissertation. She says knowing your limits, listening to your body, focussing to ignore outside distractions and believing in your ability are key to overcoming your psychological barriers to progressing on the hill – and all the central values of yoga.
Of course, everyone’s psychological barrier is going to be different. The fear factor is much greater in people who start learning to ski/snowboard when they’re older, for example. If you’re shy, trying a new trick in front of friends could make you feel so tense your body stiffens and you do exactly what you were afraid of – fall flat on your ass.
It’s hard to know when the feeling of fear is your survival instinct kicking in because you’re not capable of that triple cork, or whether it’s something you need to conquer to push yourself to reach your potential. If you have the skills, if you’ve done all the elements of a perfect run before, if you’ve shown you’re physically capable, the only thing stopping you from achieving is your mind.
As part of her research Corinne interviewed pro GB snowboarder Katie Ormerod, who in 2014 landed the world’s first ever double cork 1080 to be performed by a woman, and stunned the world in the process. When asked about the ‘fear factor’ in attempting her first double cork 1080, Katie told her: “I wasn’t really scared of doing it because I believed in myself after doing them into the foam and my coach believed I could do it so I never really felt scared that it could go wrong.”
So how can we all overcome our subconscious obstacles, tune out what might be going on around us, and nail that line?
Overcoming The Fear
GB Park and Pipe Academy Head Coach and BASI snowboard trainer Ben Kinnear tells Corinne it’s really a process of elimination to find a technique that works for each person.
“I see psychological break-throughs as complex and very personal events. When I think about times where there has been a ‘break through’ it has normally been through a large trial and error between coach and athlete, but the athlete is persistent enough to learn to trust the process and trust the person trying to help them. Ultimately the individual themselves need to desire the outcome/achievement enough.”
But if you’re not an athlete; if you’re a keen snowboarder/skier wanting to use ‘mindfulness’ to improve your slope performance, here are some techniques for you to try (taken from Corinne’s dissertation):
“Visualisation (the imagined picture of one’s perfect run, for example) is a common technique and an important mental conditioning skill used by athletes involved in most sports. The use of MRI scans has shown that visualisation stimulates the parts of the brain that control both gross and fine motor coordination, with obvious benefits.”
Ben Kinnear told Corinne Neuro-Linguistic-Programming (NLP) and positive self-talk help his team.
“We look a lot at bioenergetics, specifically the idea that combining self-talk / NLP with positive physical behaviours and anchors can really boost someone’s session or competition. I’m definitely interested in that ‘spiral’ that you so often see, where one positive experience or thought or action will spur on more.”
Ben’s thoughts on ‘positive self-talk’ have also proven to be effective for pro snowboarders Jenny Jones and Katie Blundell. On coming back from injury, Jenny said: “I will constantly remind myself how many times I have successfully completed that trick in comparison to the amount I have fallen. If it’s a brand new trick which I haven’t perfected yet I will remind myself how many times I attempted it without injury.”
Corinne (pictured above) writes: “Just as repetition of a physical movement helps an athlete to train their muscle memory, training the mind to process positive thought pathways and boost self-confidence will facilitate the athlete’s ability to think positively in all competition or exam environments.”
Pro riders Katie Blundell and Lewis Sonvico told Corinne breath control is one of the main ways they calm their nerves and focus on the hill – a technique yoga classes focus on.
Unlocked Retreats’ yoga teacher Kate Munro-Boot teaches the ladies on their courses that: “Attuning the breath with movements of the body focuses the mind, creating greater awareness of what is occurring within the body, and reminds us to stay present within that moment…it can help to block out external factors that may hinder performance.”
Lewis told Corinne: “Being able to control your fear by slowing your heart rate to allow your mind to be clear and focussed… this will help you to coordinate the movements. I also do short breathing exercises all the time when I’m snowboarding. I think that is another really important way of focussing the mind and helping it to relax.”
If an Unlocked Retreats break sounds like the perfect way for you to take your riding to the next level, you’re in luck! The next course running in Tignes takes place in April – contact them to book.