• Frozen Yoga? It’s Snowga

    March 17, 2015 MVP Blog comments

    NYTimes. It seemed as if yoga should have exhausted its opportunities for expansion by now, considering it has already made such unlikely alliances as marijuana, dogs, karaoke and stand-up paddleboards. But the yoga creep carries on with what may be the practice’s strangest bedfellow yet: snow.

    This latest incarnation of yoga is called, inevitably, snowga, and it’s done outside in freezing temperatures, that archenemy of stretching, often as a mash-up with snow sports like skiing and snowshoeing.

    In Bozeman, Mont., this winter, a company called Flow Outside began a twice-weekly class in which participants snowshoe to their destination as a warm-up, do about a half-hour of yoga, and then snowshoe home. Stowe Mountain Lodge in Vermont offers snowga (calling it Stowega) with both skiing and snowshoeing. And at Finger Lakes Yoga Escapes in Canandaigua, N.Y., an owner, Jennifer Hess, said snowga (her version is with snowshoes) has been such a success that she plans to introduce a class at night, with headlamps.

    There’s also a popular hashtag, #snowga, with yogis posting pictures of themselves holding poses in the snow, occasionally with ad hoc props, like snow shovels. The hashtag took off a couple of years ago, after two of yoga’s Instagram stars — Laura Kasperzak (one million followers) and her high school friend Masumi Goldman (125,000 followers) — began using it.

    Laurie Riedman, who regularly skis, snowshoes and practices yoga (but never all together), said she was surprised by how good a combination snowga was when she tried it recently in Canandaigua.

    “Yoga and cold just sounds like an oxymoron,” said Ms. Riedman, a public relations consultant. “But I got hot. There were some parts where I had to open up my coat and take my gloves off. We were really working out.”

    Carin Gorrell, editor in chief of Yoga Journal, said this latest version of yoga was almost predictable, especially because outdoor hybrid classes like yoga and hiking or yoga and stand-up paddleboarding are always the first to sell out at the magazine’s events.

    “People who are passionate about practicing yoga want to do it everywhere — they’ll tell you yoga goes with everything,” she said. (Yoga Journal Live classes tend to be in warmer months, but if an opportunity arose to offer snowga, “we probably would,” she said.)

    Fans say the pairing is more natural than it sounds. Beth Stewart, a spokeswoman for Windham Mountain Resort in the Catskills, said the company was inspired to offer snowga for the first time this winter after guides on snowshoe outings watched women spontaneously strike yoga poses, “a grown-up version of making snow angels,” she said. A class description suggests the snowshoe portion of the class is “meditation in motion.”

    Anne Anderson first paired yogic breathing with skiing to calm students’ nerves while she was a ski instructor at Mohawk Mountain in Connecticut. Buoyed by the results, she spent a summer kitted out in shorts, boots, skis and poles to figure out what poses worked when weighed down with equipment, then went to the Kripalu center in Massachusetts to earn her 200-hour yoga teacher training certificate.

    Ms. Anderson pointed out that yoga’s chair pose is essentially skiing’s racing tuck. “Eagle wings,” her variation of a pose with arms out, forming a T-shape, helps students figure out where to distribute their weight on skis and helps with turning. They try it on a groomed trail without poles. (Ms. Anderson recently moved to Vail, where she is hoping to resume teaching snowga.)

    Lynda Kennedy, who offers snowga in Chelan, a resort town in north-central Washington, said some of yoga’s warrior poses (the ones that are variations on lunges) and forward bends are ideal preparation for one of the hardest parts of snowshoeing: putting on the shoes.

    “Many people’s hips are too tight,” she said. “So we start with just our boots on, and the yoga gets us flexible so we can reach down and put our snowshoes on.”

    The winter sports “props” make yoga more accessible. Snowshoes can help the less limber achieve a backbend known as camel pose, while ski poles do the same for Warrior 2, a lunge in which one arm is extended to the front and the other to the back.

    Susan Sirianni-Grimm, a chiropractor in Pittsford, N.Y., near Rochester, usually does hot vinyasa yoga, but no matter how warm she gets, she can get only so far with her standing forward fold. Recently, though, she put on three layers of clothing, joined a snowga class in 5-degree temperatures and 18 inches of snow, and went deep into the pose with the help of her snowshoes, which curve up, making them easier to reach than bare feet.

    “It was stretching for my body as well as for my mind,” she said, laughing, of her frozen yoga experience. (She said it was a mental struggle to stay focused as the wind picked up, the sun glinted off nearby Canandaigua Lake — and as a couple of classmates went splat in the new-fallen snow.)

    For seasoned yogis, the snow makes nearly everything more of a workout, including getting back up if you fall.

    “Your balance is challenged because you may not be on a completely flat part of the snow or because of the wind,” said Jen Brick DuCharme, owner of Bozeman’s Flow Outside. “You may feel like you’re having to work a different part of your body to maintain that asana,” or pose.

    Julie Kleine, who frequently practices vinyasa yoga in a studio, said she struggled to do the same poses on snowshoes in Ms. DuCharme’s class but felt less self-conscious about the idea of falling.

    “Class outside is more playful and people interact a bit more than when you’re on your own mat,” she said. “Falling is kind of less dramatic and probably more fun.”

    Yoga in the snow does have its limits. Poses like plank and chaturanga, the yoga push-up, are nearly impossible if there’s a thick coating of fresh powder, because the hands sink too fast. (“It’s fun to try, but then you get stuck,” Ms. Kennedy said.) Most teachers avoid suggesting anything that involves a face-plant in the snow or inversions, like handstands or headstands.

    But the more challenging the pose, the more likely it is to end up, done by yogis in carefully chosen camera-ready clothes, posted with the snowga hashtag on Instagram.

    Ms. Kasperzak, who documents her yoga practice daily, said, “It’s how yogis play in the snow.”

    Photo Credit: Lynn Donaldson