All too often people I’ve heard people, mainly men (sorry guys), refer to yoga as, ‘just fancy stretching, right?’ And as yoga has seen a boom in popularity over the past five years, it’s easy to see why you might think that. The modern western population has never done more yoga, yet the Instagram-influenced perception of it often involves flexible women dressed in Lululemon leggings and string-backed sports bras striking a pose in front of a lake / sunset / mountain / pristine wood-floored room filled with house plants, accompanied by a 2,000 word caption on gratitude.
As anyone who’s ever been to a yoga class will tell you, it’s actually much more than that (and FYI yoga was actually invented by men). It’s easy to think that because people leave yoga classes looking like they’ve had a genuinely nice time instead of a limping, groaning mess, that it’s somehow not real exercise. But the yoga mat is a great space, for stretching yes, but also strengthening, balancing, falling on your face, sweating obscenely, trying to put your body in positions it doesn’t want to be in, tapping into muscles you didn’t know were there, laughing about it, and then my personal favourite, lying down and being told to do absolutely nothing. “I think a lot of people show up at their first class and are surprised at how challenging it is!” Morzine-based yoga teacher Emily Williams tells me.
As someone who’s taught yoga all over the world, Emily is familiar with the numerous benefits it can bring about, for anyone from professional athletes to busy commuters. “Yoga benefits the body physically by stretching and strengthening, which creates a strong and stable base for all mountain sports,” she explains. “But it also improves your respiratory system, increases circulation and soothes the nervous system, which in turn lowers blood pressure – and that’s just to name a few benefits.”
Thanks to the growing trend in wellness practices, you can go to a yoga class pretty much anywhere, Morzine being a great example. When I first moved here seven years ago, there was a handful yoga teachers. Now that handful has near tripled and demand is still as strong as ever. So what is it about mountain towns that make them such a popular base for yogis? And what are the benefits of practicing yoga alongside our favourite high-impact sports? “In any other sports we always consider warming up and cooling down, but this is overlooked entirely in mountain sports, resulting in many people feeling tight in their body,” believes Emily.
It can be a tough one to wake up earlier than you have to or to pass up on après in favour of a yoga session, but it can be worth it, especially if you’re new to skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, or any sport, really. Yoga doesn’t just make you stronger and more flexible; the mental benefits are nothing to be sniffed at either. At a time when it’s considered taboo to not be within answering distance of your phone at all times, yoga provides an important opportunity to get away from technology and take some time for yourself. People often start practicing to help with back pain or to improve flexibility, but end up staying for the mental benefits.
“Yoga is proven to reduce anxiety and depression, which are big mental health issues that aren’t often spoken about in mountain towns,” Emily believes. “Becoming more mindful is also a great way to improve focus and clarity.” This is great for sports like skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking where confidence is equally as important as physical ability.
Regular yoga practice is also a great way to avoid injuries, and recover from them. “Teaching yoga in mountain towns is a whole different ball game – I laugh about it now if someone comes in fully intact!” Emily says. “Winter tends to bring in knee and ankle issues, while in summer I see more broken collar bones from biking. The saying ‘learn to bend so you don’t break’ sums up why, when you’re getting into any of these sports, combining them with yoga is a good idea.”
Still not convinced that yoga isn’t just a fancy form of stretching? Why not give it a try? There are so many different styles of yoga, there’s a class out there for everyone. Hatha, Iyengar and yin are generally slower, more relaxing forms of yoga that focus on breath and holding poses for a long time, while ashtanga and vinyasa are more challenging and athletic. So whether you’re feeling the strain of multiple days on the mountain, you want to build a solid foundation for your favourite sport, or you just want to get away from the chaos of the family holiday for an hour or two, yoga is proven to benefit pretty much everyone in one way or another, so get out there and give it a go. Your mind and body will thank you.
Emily teaches a range of group yoga classes throughout the winter and summer, and she also offers private classes, which can be taught at your accommodation. Right now she’s teaching classes online. Find out more or get in touch at emilyruthyoga.com or follow Emily on Instagram and Facebook.