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Achieving a balance Rewards of yoga can boost a skater’s performance


ould a yoga and meditation practice boost your performance on the ice? If yoga helped the National Football

League’s Seattle Seahawks reach back-to-back Super Bowls, could the ancient practice help make you a better skater? Hulking profession- al football players might seem like unlikely yoga practitioners, yet Seahawks coach Pete Carroll swears by the system to keep his team strong, limber, focused and, most of all, hap- py. Whatever your level in skating, in order to train day in and day out and put out your best performances under the lights and pressure of competition, you need to be in tiptop physical and mental shape. And the beauty of yoga is that it can help you achieve both. The objective of hatha yoga, the type of

yoga most commonly practiced in the West, is to create harmony within the body and to allow prana, or life force, to flow through the subtle energy channels of the body with ease. The asana, postures, all require balance, a give-and-take between effort and ease and strength and flexibility. Cross-training is essential to athletes across disciplines, but it is this notion of balance that makes yoga so benefi- cial to figure skaters. Skating marries extreme athleti-

cism (read: triple jumps) with artistry and grace (think: Biellmann spins and footwork sequences). In any given yoga class, you’ll get a full body work- out, strengthening your muscles and improving your balance, but you’ll also leave feeling refreshed thanks to the emphasis on stretching and align- ment. Best of all, yoga doesn’t add to the wear and tear on your body since it’s low impact. Case in point: Basketball legend Ka- reem Abdul Jabbar credits yoga for keeping him injury-free throughout the 20 years he played in the NBA. For athletes, the mental rewards from a

yoga practice might be even more compelling than these undeniable physical benefits. For many yoga practitioners, the physical practice is only a doorway to greater mental clarity and spiritual change. In fact, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the foundational text of yoga philosophy compiled around 400 AD, defines yoga as a mental practice — it is the control of the fluctuations of the mind — and only fleet- ingly mentions asana. Meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises), and your behavior off the yoga mat are just as necessary as your headstand in stilling the mind and achieving contentment.

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Figure skating demands mental toughness. Many skaters work with sports psychol-

ogists to help manage their nerves and be- come stronger competitors. There are many parallels between meditation and sports psy- chology techniques. Both use breath control, visualization and key words or mantras to rein in a wandering mind and to silence doubt and anxiety. The power of meditation is impossi- ble to ignore: Studies have shown that it can lower heart rate and blood pressure, and even alter brain chemistry to reduce stress. The great paradox of yoga is that in or-

der to truly reap the benefits, you must not be attached to the outcome of the practice. That means that you must practice with great enthusiasm and commitment but be content in the present moment and not expect certain results. While at times the distinctly noncom- petitive yoga ethos can seem at odds with the outlook and goals of a fiercely competitive athlete, it is actually quite informative. Rath-

er than fixating on the outcome of a com- petition, where so many factors — the other competitors, the judging — are out of your control, focus on your own preparation and performance. Try to accept all results, nega- tive and positive, with equanimity. Yoga, like skating, is not easy, but perse-

verance counts. In the words of the great yoga master Sri K. Patthabi Jois, “Do your practice and all is coming.” Katrina Hacker was a member of Team USA

from 2005 to 2009, competing in both the Junior and Senior Grand Prix Series. She placed sixth at the 2008 Four Continents Championships and fifth the following year at the World Junior Championships. She is a six-time regional cham- pion and the 2005 U.S. novice bronze medalist. In 2013, Hacker graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University with a bachelor of arts degree in history. She is a RYT 200-hour vinyasa yoga teacher, certified at Laughing Yoga Center in New York City. Connect with Katrina on social media at @katrinahacker

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