Story by Luca Williams
Do it slowly, slowly, so slowly that it will be boring. When you begin to become bored, you will find that it really is not so boring. ~ Moshe Feldenkrais
Feet are tattletales. Every imbalance at higher levels shows unmistakably in feet and ankles. ~ Dr. Ida Rolf
“Center,” I heard my friend say then exhale with a slow, long whoosh at the top of Chair 6 in the middle of a Baker blizzard. The sizzling energy of the storm and the anticipation of the snowboarders and skiers surrounding us whipped in the air. He strapped his back leg in his board and then headed downhill as if his feet were rooted deep into the center of the earth. At the same time it seemed as if he was floating, hovering above the snow. How did he do that? I rarely felt that way. Centered.
Instead, I usually felt like a junk show, like all my parts and pieces moved in opposite directions and although I snowboarded in the general downhill direction, I rarely felt like I floated. All of the storm and the people’s energy just seemed to make me feel scattered.
As this memory came to me, I asked my husband what he does to center himself on the crowded storm days when it feels like the air buzzes all around the ski area. He looked at me strangely, “What do you mean? What do I do?”
I understood immediately. He would always feel centered in a crowd of people waiting for the lifts to open up, for we grew up completely differently. He grew up in the suburbs of Ohio in a large Catholic family with seven brothers and sisters and over 24 cousins who gathered for summer vacations, birthday parties, Easter, Christmas and Thanksgivings.
Meanwhile, I grew up on the edge of the Panamanian jungle with a small family with few visitors, where the loudest thing I heard regularly was my brother screaming when I tortured him, or a bird or a monkey screeching from the trees. My husband knows how to center when electricity and excitement are in the air. And I still have so much to learn.
One of the few ways I know how to center besides breathing is to focus on my feet, which is easier said than done. On Sundays, I love to watch the race team kids ski downhill on one ski sensing their one foot, the quality of the snow, and their ski. How is the weight distributed on the sole of their foot? How does the pressure shift during a turn? Where is their weight during a traverse? Do they ski more on the inside or the outside of that particular foot? That focus on their feet helps them center without even realizing it.
I find myself mimicking them. But it’s scary to ski on one foot, this late in the game. Instead, foot exercises in my boots or at home really help me to ground myself, to center, to feel my feet, to be in the moment, to get out of my head. If I’m in the house I like to do these foot exercises barefoot, but they can be done in boots just as well. Just make sure that your toes aren’t squished or overly cold.
First, stand up with your feet about hip distance apart. Close your eyes and notice how you stand. Second, lean forward and feel your weight on your toes. Then lean backward and feel your heels. Third, lean from side to side feeling how your weight shifts from the inner part of your foot to the outer foot. Finally, turn right and left and notice how the weight shifts from foot to foot, inside to outside. In particular, notice if one foot feels more stable and balanced than the other. This gives you valuable information, not only about your feet, but your upper body as well.
If you are skiing or snowboarding you can do the following exercises on the beginner or intermediate slope. Traverse across a slope to the right and to the left as you normally would, but really pay attention to your feet. How does that feel? On the next traverse, bend your knees slightly and slowly lean forward and curl your toes. How does this change your skiing? Now ski across the slope and lean backward onto your heels.
Notice that as you pay more attention to your feet you feel more aware of your surroundings? Once we improve our awareness, not only do we ski better, but we are more centered, more grounded, more alive.
I’m not sure that foot exercises will ever help me feel comfortable in a crowd, but I do know that they help my skiing and that is all that truly matters. x
Luca Williams is a certified rolfer in Glacier. She helps snowboarders, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts get aligned and out of pain. Website: lucasrolfing.com Blog: movingwithgravity.wordpress.com