Not long after I started coaching figure skating in Moscow, Idaho, I signed up for a yoga class at the Moscow Yoga Center This was the first time I ever took an entire series of yoga classes as opposed to just a one off class here or there, and it totally changed the way that I thought about ice skating and has influenced my teaching ever since.
The thing I realized in that class was that a lot of ice skating is essentially just a string of postures that you have to hold precisely in order to accomplish the most with your body. If you don't hold yourself properly, you often end up exerting more energy and always get less benefit. What's more, if you are doing things exactly right, people looking at you will have no idea how much work you are actually doing because your moves will look absolutely effortless.
Like yoga, ice skating properly will use muscles that you rarely use in any ordinary context. Crossing your legs just right and holding a rotational position in a spin or a jump takes a lot of muscular control, but it definitely gets easier with practice.
Yoga also taught me a few things about getting bodies lined up properly for various moves in ice skating. Hearing the yoga instructor in that first class tell us several times each day to fix our posture by lifting our shoulders up and then rolling them back and down into proper placement gave me a great tool for getting skaters to straighten their backs while stroking or preparing for toe jumps. It also taught me to check in with my own body regularly to sense whether I've lapsed into a lazy posture. That same instructor had descriptions of getting into the right position in a pose that helped me to think of the lines in our body that create the best balance for each move. It's because of that class that you will often here me explain to a student how they need to get the "nose-knee-toe" line fixed in one foot swizzles, pivots or the start of two foot spins.
Most of all, yoga taught me that breath is important in every posture, and that knowing when to breath and how can give you more power in everything you do. When you get tense and nervous, you tend to take shallow breaths or forget to breathe entirely. Part of that comes from tensing your throat and chest. Breathing in deeply as you prepare for a jump, and breathing out just as you launch into the air can both release unwanted tension and give you a burst of power right when you need it most.
Of course, whether you are in a yoga pose, ice skating, or running down the street trying to catch a bus, you don't want to stop breathing. In fact, you don't want to tense up any muscle that doesn't need to be tensed for what you are trying to accomplish. And that, is the real trick to relaxing even in the midst of difficult moves or difficult situations. Don't waste energy on worry or unhelpful tension. Breathe through your fear and keep your muscles trained on exactly what they need to do -- nothing more and nothing less. It's a delicate task, but it brings spectacular results!