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Snowga - yoga in the snow with a difference

This week Back Roads Bill invites us to a yoga class with a difference, he is a practitioner

Yoga has many new variations these days with links to just about anything: dogs, beer, laughter, cannabis, heat (hot yoga), anti-gravity contraptions, paddleboards and snow. And it’s not frozen yoga.

See this article I penned for Village Media on paddleboard yoga.

It is fortunate to track down the inventor of something.

The popular hashtags are #snoga or #snowga and the neologism, is snowga with or without snowshoes?

I looked for Anne Anderson and found her in Vail, Colorado, it is her brainchild. Anne launched her snow sports-yoga hybrid in 2012 while working as a ski instructor and Kripalu yoga teacher.

“The vision is to make these teachings available to resorts everywhere through training and licensing,” says Anderson. “This is a revolutionary concept in snow sports education, and it makes a very positive impact on skiers and riders — they experience less fear and more fun.”

She first paired yogic breathing with skiing to calm students’ nerves while she was a ski instructor. 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. Anderson believes one of the best benefits of snowga is a sense of connection to nature: “There’s a greater sense of awareness, mindfulness and oneness.”

Since she trademarked (pending) the term snowga Anderson’s social media presence has gained momentum, generating more than 80,000 images on Instagram.

“I know how important yoga is to having a healthy, balanced life. The evidence is clear, yoga simply enriches life and heals on many levels; physiological, emotional and spiritual. Yoga is a true compliment to snowsports and blends beautifully on the mountain, where one connects with nature in winter. The meditative and mindfulness qualities of yoga lessen fears on the slope. The yogic warm-up and asana prepare skiers mentally and physically; limbering the body, instilling confidence and courage. As a longtime ski instructor, I saw a remarkable improvement in my student's skiing when I integrated the teachings of yoga into a ski lesson. Ultimately, Snowga is a way to shed the spotlight on this powerful, healing practice.”

Northern flavour

Somewhere along the line snowshoes were included.

Check YouTube for “yoga on snowshoes” and find there is no shortage of videos. Yoga on snowshoes like the pairing of red wine and dark chocolate, or is it beer and nachos? Not sure but I do know by experience snowshoeing and yoga blend together in the perfect creative match that also benefits the body as well as the soul, naturally.

In North Bay, Krystal Henophy is the Co-Owner/ Head Yoga Instructor of Grounded Studios.

“The wonderful world of outdoor yoga; I grew up on a small hobby farm and so I spent a lot of time outside. I recall as a child having 'downward dog' races in the snow- of course at that time, I didn’t know anything about yoga so we just called them 'dog races' and they were a blast!" Henophy says, "Sometimes they were a blast of snow in the face along with slipping and sliding all over the place. Fast forward many years later, my appreciation for nature and the outdoors has continued to grow and my desire to explore has followed as well.”

She loves to organize various unique yoga-inspired practices that allow students to embrace the art in a new way.

This complementary and very accessible yoga class brings in hundreds of people every week. We gather students for winter yoga or 'snowga' just to shake things up a bit.

After all, when you live in Northern Ontario, finding ways to embrace the great outdoors is necessary to living a more content life!

I have certainly found that when we become a bit more creative about the yoga setting or creative in the style of class we offer such as Yoga at the Farm where we learn about farm animals and enjoy a great class with various animals around or the very popular outdoor Beer Yoga events, we bring in a crowd of people that may never have entered our facility.

Some report that they came out just to enjoy the snow and something new or perhaps they arrived for the cute kittens on the farm.

Certainly, there is the argument that yoga practices like that are not as 'authentic' to the yoga path laid out by Patanjali in the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Nonetheless, if it gets people moving, breathing and calming the mind, it’s a great place to be.

Many people report not feeling comfortable about coming to a studio class based on what they perceive an environment that focuses on yoga would be like.

Her advice:

The practices of yoga have expanded tremendously and my hope is that more and more people will give themselves a chance to explore the great mindful benefits of moving and breathing.

When we couple yoga and the great outdoors, we create a charge in the body that is not only grounding but that elevates mood, balances emotions and allows us to sense. With just a couple of months left of winter, get outside, have fun and shake off the winter blues!

For outdoor therapy guide and certified yoga teacher, Ali Steer, part of Grounded Studio staff, says, “The snow makes nearly everything more of a workout, including getting back up if you fall.

“Our balance is challenged because you may not be on a completely flat part of the snow or because of the wind,” she says. “You may feel like you’re having to work a different part of your body to maintain that asana or pose. Classes outside seem to be more playful and people interact a bit more than when you’re on your own mat. Falling is kind of less dramatic and probably more fun.”

Ivy Strom of Yoga by Nature is a certified yoga teacher in the Sault Ste. Marie area, explains that she offers “a guided mindfulness snowshoeing experience with Yoga poses practiced throughout."

"I intentionally live in Northern Ontario because I have always loved playing in the snow, and I enjoy real winters. I’ve been skiing, snowshoeing and making snow angels since I was young. The Algoma Highlands is in a snow belt and we wear snowshoes out of necessity, but it also helps with those balancing poses!"

Strom says, "We spend so much time indoors in winter, and I look for opportunities to bring Yoga outside although I still enjoy practicing yoga inside with music where it’s easier to control the mood and conditions; Mother Nature can be unpredictable and you can’t control the experience in the same way as indoors," Strom says. "This made snowga daunting at first, but I have learned to embrace the unpredictability of it."

Strom usually offers snowga at night by lantern light and headlamp.

“The patterns of light reflecting off the snow casting shadows, the stars, clouds and the moonlight, the crisp air, the feeling of the bark on the trees and the sound of our snowshoes and the wind are all part of the mindfulness experience of being in the forest and engage all your senses.”

Being outside heightens the awareness of your senses, and we stay present by pointing out things to look at, such as looking up at the moon and stars as we gaze upwards in some of our poses. On Tuesday night, we were rewarded by the backdrop of the Robinson Cliffs. There was just enough moonlight to see the majesty of the cliffs. “

For Ivy a snowga class consists of both poses and guided meditation through the forest, often using the trees as props.

“The idea is to practice poses without getting your hands on the ground where you easily become cold,” laughs Strom, who thinks of the snowga experience as the ultimate in what’s called “forest bathing.”

One of her students, Pam, who has been practicing Yoga with Strom for about five years, says she enjoys the openness of Snowga, “While not being confined in four walls, “the fresh air and the views (even in the dark) and real sounds of nature.”

Tammy, another experienced Yoga practitioner, says that she finds it easier to get into “the zone” outside. She finds it is easier to throw away your thoughts of the day and redirect your focus on nature and your surroundings.

“Nature is less confining in the mind. She finds with Yoga inside that it takes a lot longer to really reach that zone and just focus within.”

Now that I am more learned some parting thoughts just before going out to attend a snowga class; winter and yoga just sound like an oxymoron and when you add the snowshoes it is definitely a contradiction. Just when you think it can’t be done on snowshoes the more likely it is to end up, done by yogis posted with the snowga hashtag on Instagram. And there is plenty of room for snowga on the back roads.