I fell in love one cold, Wisconsin winter day on my first snowboarding date with Justin Kyle Evans. Justin had me stand in front of him and suddenly he pushed me forward to determine which foot I caught my balance with, and therefore if I was goofy- or regular-footed. Then he adjusted his 161 Burton snowboard bindings to fit my old Wisconsin farm boots. I twisted my knee and I fell on my tailbone constantly, but riding his board was so exhilarating that I fell head over heels in love … with snowboarding.
I couldn’t wait every week to strap on a board and carve. It was the best: a feeling of freedom that I will always cherish and it left me wanting more. So I found myself traveling across the country to get a job at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, where I could ride every day.
Wisconsin’s ice did not prepare me for the deep, heavy snow that Mt. Baker is known for. Talk about a Zen meditation – you have to be totally in the moment at Baker to balance and transition from deep snow to hard pack to groomers or you will fall flat on your face! Every day I practiced my turns, which meant that I also practiced digging myself out of deep snow as I fell again and again.
After that first season, I took stock of the condition of my 22-year-young body and noticed I wasn’t as flexible as I used to be, especially in my knees and back. I couldn’t figure out why I was in such pain and why I felt so crooked. I started to really observe my snowboard buddies: the difference between their front leg versus their back leg, the way they twisted their neck, knees and pelvis to make turns.
Snowboarding is an awesome sport that builds balance, athleticism and attention to the present. The problem is, snowboarding does not transfer well to daily activities like walking, sitting and standing. Snowboarders tend to get stronger in asymmetrical ways. So how can we counterbalance our love for the sport? By paying attention to our sit bones (the bones we feel when we sit on a wood or metal chair) and by making minor shifts in the way we twist and turn on our sit bones, we can neutralize the asymmetry so the ibuprofen bottle doesn’t become our best friend.
The Awareness Exercise
Do this complete movement on one side, notice the changes and then try the exercise on the other side. If you are goofy, move the right knee forward first. If you are regular, adapt the instructions and move your left knee forward first. This is not an exercise in the typical sense. You are sensing, observing and making gentle adjustments rather than exercising to get stronger.
1. Get a wood or metal chair. Sit with your feet flat on the floor about the width of your pelvis. Feel your sit bones. Do you feel one sit bone on the chair more than the other? Turn your upper body right and left 10 times. Do you twist right or left better? When you twist right, which sit bone do you feel more? How about when you twist left?
2. Rest your hands on your knees. Allow your right knee to move forward and observe what happens to your shoulders, head and eyes as your right knee moves forward. Do you notice that as your right knee moves forward your trunk moves left? Now exaggerate this motion. Really turn your trunk left while your right knee moves forward and repeat 10 times. Then come to center and rest.
3. Now as you move your right knee forward, turn your trunk and head to the right. Is this movement more awkward? As your right knee comes back to neutral, bring your upper body back to neutral. Repeat 10 times, then rest.
4. Now twist right and left as you did in the beginning of the exercise and notice your sit bones. Observe how well you twist to the right and to the left compared to the beginning of the exercise.
Next time you snowboard, really notice the twists and turns of your sit bones as you skate, as you sit on the lift with the board hanging off one foot, and as you make heel-side and toe-side turns. By making small adjustments to the way we move we can become more flexible and balanced without hours of stretching.
Luca Williams is a Certified Rolfer in Glacier, WA. She helps snowboarders, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts to get aligned and out of pain. Website: lucasrolfing.com blog: movingwithgravity.wordpress.com.