Posing with a well-deserved Olympic gold medal around her neck or with nothing at all (for the 2014 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue, on stands Friday) is just another day in the life of snowboarder Jamie Anderson. But this cool and collected female boarder, who won the inaugural women’s slopestyle event at the Sochi Winter Olympics, also regularly strikes a pose or two on the yoga mat. It’s those moments of zen that Anderson credits with helping her remain focused under pressure.
And she’s not alone: More and more elite athletes and sports teams are incorporating meditation, mindfulness and yoga into their training. But it wasn’t love at first “om” for the Oakley athlete. We caught up with Anderson to talk vinyasas, savasanas, handstands and how she incorporates yoga into her busy life as a professional snowboarder.
Your best snowboarding event, slopestyle, is all about going fast. What’s a speed demon like you doing on a yoga mat?
It’s kind of the ying and the yang of my lifestyle. Taking a moment to slow down and embrace what’s going on around me — it’s important! Being in my early 20s, I feel like there’s just so much I’m processing. It’s good to have a practice where you can come together with likeminded people.
When did you first start practicing yoga?
When I was 18, my best friend and I went and just thought it was hilarious. We looked over at each other in downward dog or some awkward pose for us and both started laughing so hard. I liked it but it didn’t really click at that point in time. A year later I started to go to free yoga classes on the beach every day. And it wasn’t until I went for about 10 days straight when it was like, ‘Wow, this is powerful.’ I’m feeling a difference from doing one hour each day.
Was there a shift in your mind, body, or both?
Kind of all of the above. I started to see a huge shift in my snowboarding. I felt stronger and more flexible, and more passionate about really going forth and working harder. And yoga also influenced how I was interacting with people. My career and my business used to overwhelm me, but with yoga, I was able to step back and have gratitude and appreciation.
“Some people go to church on Sundays; I go to yoga!”
How do you find time for yoga during your busy training schedule?
Usually I like to do yoga in the mornings. In Sochi, yoga was a huge part of my routine because it would keep me calm despite the stress and pressure. At night, I would meditate to calm myself down before bed. Then I’d start my day with some strengthening and balancing poses.
I have to commit to yoga throughout the season, too. With recovery and healing, it’s so huge. Yoga is my medicine. Some people go to church on Sundays; I go to yoga! [Laughs]
Does travel influence your practice?
Like everything in life, I get out of my flow. Traveling is hard. But even if I just take five minutes a day to dedicate to myself — whether it’s breathing or doing some sun salutations — it just starts my whole day with stability.
I love all kinds of yoga but recently I’ve been into Kundalini and the more energetic practices, pranayama and breath work, which help me dive more deeply into myself. There’s a studio in Tahoe I love that does the aerial arts yoga with silks, where you really use the weight of your body. It’s a game changer!
Do you have a favorite pose?
Lately, I’ve been really into dancer pose and trying to get my body parallel to the ground. I’ll hold it and breathe for a solid 10 to 15 breaths. Plus, I love handstands! I used to never be able to hold a handstand. In the last year, year-and-a-half of working on it, I’ve had in the back of my mind that I wanted to hold a solid handstand in the middle of the room. So I tried to work on it a little bit each day and now I can do it! It’s so empowering to see that when you set goals and really work towards them, you can accomplish anything.
Jamie Anderson’s Go-To Yoga Poses
Dancer Pose (Natarajasana)
Stretch hip flexors while developing concentration and balance with Dancer Pose, or Natarajasana (not-ah-raj-ahh-sana). This is an advanced posture that should not be attempted by those with shoulder injuries or back problems.
- Start with your hands at your sides and your feet hip-width apart.
- Shift your weight onto your left foot while bending your right leg and lifting your right heel toward your bottom, like a quadriceps stretch.
- Keep your torso upright and grab the outside of your right foot with your right hand.
- Lift your foot up and back, extending your leg away from your torso. Stretch your right arm out in front of you to balance yourself as the body shifts forward slightly.
- For the correct pose, both your left thigh and your right arm should be parallel to the ground. Breathe here for 30 seconds.
- Release your foot and place it back on the floor. Repeat the pose on the other side.
Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
Getting vertical with yoga inversions requires a strong upper body and a tight core. If you’re bold enough to attempt the handstand, or Adho Mukha Vrksasana (ah-doh moo-kah vriks-shas-sana), you can train by practicing against a wall. Got that down? Try an unsupported handstand by following the steps below.
- Start in down dog, with your palms spread on the floor beneath you. Your knees should be straight, with your focus on extending through the heels of each leg.
- Inch your feet as close to your hands as possible while maintaining a straight back.
- Shift your weight on to one leg. Swing the opposite leg into your chest while bending and tensing your standing leg. Launch your lower body into the air by sweep the non-standing leg in an arch and pushing off the standing leg. Once both legs are in the air, immediately engage your core so you maintain control.
- Hop up and down like this several times to get the feel of the movements.
- When you’re ready for the full handstand, propel yourself with enough energy so your legs are straight in the air and your hips are over your shoulders.
- If you want extra style points (like Jamie!), point your toes. Bring one knee forward while keeping the opposite leg straight. Hold for as long as you can, and remember to keep the core and shoulders engaged for a smooth and controlled landing!