by Margot Schaal, GCFP CM
A couple decades into teaching the Feldenkrais Method® I decided to venture into Figure Skating classes to expand my movement vocabulary on the ice,. I wanted to learn some moves beyond my rudimentary childhood skating experience, which was on a rough pond or flooded playground where teenagers dominated the scene.
What a great activity for energetic kids!
Photo by zero take on Unsplash
Some people sped past me during open skating time, others hung tightly to the border wall of the park rink. There were speedy youngsters learning hockey, making such fast directional switches that new-comers would retract in fear (and be more likely to fall). Graceful, experienced skaters made dance-like moves. Many people of all sizes were on the ice for the first time – cautious, tentative, brave, exploring, and very uncertain about how to stay upright.
Whatever your experience skating is a fun outdoor activity in the winter. Even if you haven’t danced much on earth or in a studio, you still get to glide while on the ice. You also get to watch the advanced skaters spin. Their smooth movement created by ice melting under their skate blades is delectable.
It is evident on the ice who is a” licensed driver” and who is not. The “licensed” folks are aware that others are in their immediate environment and they are looking out for whatever is happening. Even someone new to skating can quickly know who is near and assess their skill level without thinking about it. This expansion of vision in the peripheral field that broadens our ability to take in the world around us is often addressed in Feldenkrais® lessons, and it is a way of living that translates well onto the ice rink!
For me the great joy of sailing along on the ice included falling. “Margot, you fall so beautifully!” declared my teacher after a couple of falling incidents. Falling is associated with failing, but consider how “mistakes” benefit us – we learn new ways to do things by finding out what we do not want to do again! In this case, we learn to find our balance, and how to ground oneself in spite of the slippery circumstances. We learn about our breathing, how we make transitions, about emotions that arise, and our personal tolerance for risk.
Everyone has an intelligent nervous system which.
knows how to keep them upright on land, with or without shoes, but on two narrow blades on ice that seems to slide away from them!!?? It’s a different sensation and requires finding equilibrium in a new way.
How do you quickly learn to be comfortable with falling on the ice? These are my (falling) tips:
- Spread out the impact, which is like equalizing the distribution of the effort throughout you in an ATM® (Awareness Through Movement®) lesson. As you land, make yourself big and soft. By the way – your intelligent nervous system is on task to keep your head up, away from the surface below.
- Welcome falling, Enjoy it – How? With humor and pleasure. Fear interferes with safety and the possibility of landing in a way you like. If you feel fear, notice if you are breathing, and how expanding your breath gives you the option to choose a different emotion – choose pleasure! Pleasure is the universal benefit I see among people on the ice, regardless of their skill.
- Take time going down – Sound familiar? Slowing down once you realize you are going down to the ice makes it more fun and more graceful too! Breathe! Bend at your joints. Try humming a tune.
- Slide if possible, which is determined by how close the other skaters are. This also spreads the impact, allowing the force to dissipate.
- Keep flexible. Stiffening in resistance to falling increases the impact and resulting pain. Injury, pain and bruises are not a given. And fluidity allows your natural rebound to return you to uprightness.
- Skating with your knees and hips bent helps you fall forward, where you can manage the transition most readily, and are less likely to get bruises.
All of my figure skating teachers had been professional skaters; they demonstrated what they taught, moving so gracefully on the ice. My favorite instructor reminded me of a Feldenkrais teacher because in the class of varied experience, he was able to address each person’s level of development and need while maintaining a positive and supportive attitude to the whole group.
Previously my means to stop had been turning around myself, which was not the safest way to halt. Sometimes a fall stopped me. I learned to stop as figure skaters do, maintaining the direction I was going, and coming to a halt. The teacher gave useful technical detail, found ways to address the learning style of each individual and was respectful. He also taught, you guessed it – dance!
Thinking about dance and the multitude of directions a dancing person goes, sculpting space. Once you have facility on ice, skating around and around counterclockwise in a circle, oval, or kidney shape may get tedious. Why does the rink always send you counter-clockwise? No wonder I cross my right foot forward more easily than my left! Well, once in a while the direction is changed.
Here are elements of awareness emphasized in Feldenkrais lessons that transfer well to learning how to dance on the ice:
- Balancing the tonus of your muscles – now for precise action. Accessing mutual support from the front and back of the torso; quadriceps and hamstrings harmoniously exchanging contraction and lengthening, not countering one another, so they enhance leg action.
- Support through the spine, erecting (with a little bend forward from hip joints). Think length, as if your tailbone goes into the earth and the top, your head goes up to the sky.
- Familiarity with where your torso lands over your hip joints while standing and walking, and what adjustment of this helps with skating.
- Flexibility in joints, including knees, ankles, ribs – allowing joints to move, as they are made to move. In skating, your feet are bound, secured in a tight boot, ankles held well by the skate. As we know, restrictions limit movements elsewhere, so remember to breathe, preferably through your nose, which warms and cleans the air. Bending the knees while on the ice helps you find equilibrium, and create speed when you’re ready for it.
- Accessing your center for ease, balance and support while your extremities, the arms and legs move in various directions. Move from your center – think pelvis. If you have done Feldenkrais lessons you have had the opportunity to experience this.
- Know where your eyes are directed – that is where you will go!
- Regulation of breathing. Are you breathing? Once your muscles gently squeeze air out, the lungs naturally open to receive air.
Regardless of your skill level in skating or dance, Awareness Through Movement® lessons are a fine preparation that connects your whole physical self, and your mental and emotional aspects as one ‘You’.
If you want to dance on the ice, and haven’t been able to yet, try to begin by walking on the ice. This is actually how the pros teach children to begin skating. While you may not have the advantage I had learning on size 2 double bladed skates, those simple first steps get you moving from your center, as a child naturally does. Notice if any part of you gets left behind. Take your time and take breaks to sit down now and then, like the rests in FI and ATM lessons. Not only can your nervous system take in the new information as you pause, you can release any frustrations, watch others maneuver on the ice and catch your breath!
The many conscious and unconscious learnings you have had in Awareness Through Movement® or Functional Integration® will help you enjoy the sport, and the fabulous exercise it offers. Prepare to sweat!
The season is upon us – let’s go to the rink!
(Disclaimer – be safe; it’s up to you.)
Margot Schaal graduated from the Marin II Feldenkrais® Professional Training Program in 2003 and is a Certified Assistant Trainer of the Feldenkrais Method®. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and is a Reiki Master and Qigong teacher. Margot now offers classes and private sessions online. She teaches Feldenkrais and Qigong together to bring forth the deeper levels of the Feldenkrais Method that engage each person’s inner teacher and capacity to heal. Her extensive movement background includes martial arts, dance, playing violin, horse-back riding and sports for pleasure. Her website is www.margotschaal.com