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Vision exercises for snowboarders and skiers

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A rider looks for changes in the terrain at the bottom of the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom course. Oliver Lazenby photo.

The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
– Marcel Proust

By Luca Williams

From the moment we wake up, our eyes are at work, allowing us to text, drive, work on a computer, stare at our kids, friends, and partners with love or frustration. Then, for fun, we go play in the snow, racing downhill, avoiding people, trees, rocks, wind lips and mounds of snow in flat light. Many of us strengthen our legs for skiing and snowboarding, but how many of us work on improving our visual skills, or know that that’s even possible?
Skiing and snowboarding require so many visual skills. We use depth awareness to determine how close objects are while moving fast. We have to detect varying shades of white in order to see bumps and dips. We use peripheral vision to spot skiers coming at us from all sides.

Recently at my annual vision exam, I found out that my left eye is not functioning as well as my right as my eyes slowly age. I don’t need glasses yet, but I will if something doesn’t change. During the easier portion of the vision test I asked the assistant to retest me. While she was changing the chart, I gently dug my fingers in the back of my head, where the skull meets the neck, for a minute and my left eye then scored perfectly. I made a bet with the vision doctor that I could improve my eyes before my next annual exam. Luckily, he has a sense of humor so we wagered our first-born children.

Eye movements can affect muscle tension, especially in the spinal muscles and muscles at the base of the skull. And the tension in our spinal muscles and eye muscles can also affect vision. Here is a fun exercise to help you “see” what I am talking about. This movement piece is especially helpful for snowboarders after looking over the same shoulder run after run, but everyone can benefit.

1) Sitting or standing, turn your neck to the right as far as you can comfortably. Next, do the same on the left. Notice how far behind you can see, and which side is easier.

2) Take a deep breath and this time turn your head right. Keep your head turned to the right, then using only your eyes scan back and forth slowly. Do this three or four times. Now turn your head back to center. Breathe and do the other side. Take another breath and look straight ahead.

3) Find an object straight ahead to gaze at, then – without moving your eyes – turn your head to the right a few times. Do the other side. Breathe. Now, retry step 1. Notice how much easier it is to turn your head. This gentle but powerful exercise allows us to affect muscles used for vision that we are not able to touch. By releasing these muscles, we improve our neck’s range of motion and in turn release the muscles at the base of the back of our head that affect our vision.

On the hill, at work or at the computer, when you don’t have the time or attention to do this eye exercise, slowly turn your head right and left to relax muscles up and down the spine. In addition, at least once an hour, look out a window or at an object that is at least 20 yards away. Allow your eyes to observe all the space around yourself.

One final exercise is eye palming, a luxury to do during the day or as a bedtime routine. Take your hands and gently cup them around your eyes, without pressing on your eyeballs, so that no light shines through. Breathe. Imagine that your eyes are softening in their sockets towards the back of your head. Palm your eyes for a few minutes and notice how rejuvenated you feel afterwards. Palming allows our eyes to rest and relax which is extremely important for vision. I find this one especially important after a busy day, an emotionally stressful day or after staring at a screen for a long time.

 

Luca Williams is a certified rolfer in Glacier. She helps snowboarders, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts to get aligned and out of pain. Website: lucasrolfing.com. Blog: movingwithgravity.wordpress.com