Yoga may not be the first thing you think of when you’re trying to relate to extreme sports. Images of snowboarders doing aerial stunts and skateboarders dropping in at the skate park are probably first to come to mind. As shocking as it may be, these two seemingly opposite activities can work together synergistically, creating balance in the body and mind.
I had a co-worker once say to me, “You’re kind of a weird girl, aren’t you, showing up here with manicured nails and a longboard?” I guess at first glance I could be considered a bit of a paradox. Being a female thrill-seeker is rare in itself, but being a devoted yogi too? Some of my friends think it’s kind of funny that I have this spiritual, yogi side, when I’m the gal who has no reservations about being the first one to jump off a cliff… into water or on a snowboard. I’m no stranger to thrill seeking, and yet I don’t understand why more people can’t see the benefits of having the balance of both the exciting and calming aspects of life. We have two autonomic nervous system divisions: the sympathetic or our stress response, and the parasympathetic or our relaxation response. Ideally, we want the two to be balanced and work harmoniously; so what better way to achieve harmony than with extreme sports and a yoga practice?
For yogis who have yet to experience the extreme side of sport, start small and work to challenge yourself. Each person’s perception of what is a thrill often differs. We have varying thresholds for what is considered extreme so try going a tad out of your boundaries, even if that’s just jumping off a diving board. Coming slightly out of your comfort zone will help you be successful and avoid injury. Santosha is the idea of being happy with where you are at in this present moment. Staying present is important in extreme sport to understand your body and its capabilities. This knowledge allows you to set boundaries so that you can progress to achieve goals which will help you avoid injury. Cultivating self-awareness with your yoga practice will prepare you for the thrill seeking challenges you may face. Proprioception, the body’s awareness of where it is in space, is improved with balancing asana, or poses, while meditation and pranayama, the breath techniques, will help you with the body’s stress response.
During stressful situations, one of the best things you can do is take slow, deep breaths. Relax to allow the belly and chest to rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation. If you find yourself taking a thrill-seeking challenge notice the breath, consciously practice deeper breathing. This will help calm the nervous system and prevent hyperventilation.
It might be scary to attempt a new sport, but try to challenge yourself to engage in the unknown. Slightly stepping out of your boundaries is a rewarding experience that I highly recommend to any yogi. And to those thrill-seekers who have yet to try yoga, the challenge is there for you, too!
~ Emily Kane is the owner of Yogacara Studios in Whistler, B.C., and is a Registered Yoga Teacher with a Bachelor of Kinesiology from the University of British Columbia Check out her studio in the heart of Whistler (www.yogacara.com) or on Facebook and Twitter. Yogacara offers a 22-day intensive teacher training retreat in Whistler this September!