The more we learn about the workings of the body, the more we realize just how vast is the intelligence at work within it and how little we know. When the mind reconnects with that, it becomes a most wonderful tool. It then serves something greater than itself.
A highlight of February this year was learning how to snowboard at Windham mountain, two hours from Manhattan. There are only about 21 days in the season you can ski Windham if you’re a weekend warrior like me. So, I was thrilled to get after it for even three days this year. After one initial day plus this February weekend, I am clearly not shredding like Chloe Kim, but you know, every part of learning (and there is still so much to learn) was eye-opening, worthwhile, and totally reminded me of this quote. Snowboarding was something new to be learned by muscle memory and not intellect. Plus, I found this quote in a book recommended by one of my friends I went to Windham with. Just another sweet part of the trip I learned to snowboard on- because this is life, and there are layers to it.
OK - So learning how to board. The first thing I ever learned about snowboarding was way before this year, when I was 10 or 11 years old. One of my friends from school came back from Utah with a goggle tan and something to share. She had been snowboarding - this magical sport that involved falling on your butt over and over again for all of winter break. I believed this was true. It had to be true because apparently you actually needed to put pads in your butt to last more than a day of snowboarding. And this was so funny to me because it was about butts and we were 10. And I remembered it well, and it was my whole imagination of snowboarding for a long time.
Then when I started surfing, I realized, just by putting one foot in front of the other in a goofy stance and balancing there, I became part of this holy trinity. I surf - so "Do you skate? Snowboard?" I had initially only been interested in the one where you jump into the ocean and stay there for hours, but this is life, and there are layers to it. So cue to the sound of me ratcheting my boots on tighter on top of the bunny hill.
If it seems so infantile, the exercise of falling down the littlest hill time and time again to learn how to snowboard, it's because it is! In fact, I would say 60-70% of the other people on the bunny hill are babies in ski school or being pulled by their parents on leashes. But that's OK. Because do you know who is learning at 1000% all day, every day? Babies! Think about it - if you practiced something everyday for the rest of your life - and I hope you find something you love enough to - will you ever make as much progress in one day as the day that you start? Just learning how to put on the equipment is amazing because its something you’ll do the same way more or less until you make you the Winter Olympics! So that's one thing.
The next thing that happened was I fell a lot. I fell facing frontways. bruising my knees and breaking my fall with my forearms. Then I fell, as I had been anticipating all these years, on my backside. Its a kind of fall that feels surprising, cant be helped, and knocks the wind out of you. Falling on your back hurts more! And you don't really see it coming, because your eyes are in the front of your head, and your arms can only break your fall to the front. I quickly developed a preference for falling front. I had taken one lesson before, and I tried to remember what they told me, as well as take in all the good instruction I was receiving this time around. But much quicker than I could internalize my lessons I was amazed to notice all the bad habits and good habits and patterns of going that I was just developing naturally. It became obvious all the forces of balance and self-preservation and muscle memory at work that I had no conscious control of but could to observe throughout the learning process. The body has its own intelligence.
First - falling to the front over and over again. I think the idea was to learn in lessons how to control your speed the proper way before going on a trail, but of course I can't help myself so I went straight on a green trail to figure it out. But to avoid people, and a speed that felt dangerous, I had to do something to stop. And so I fell forward, over and over again. I must have looked like I was just throwing myself at points, because I was- when I didn’t know how to stop or needed to turn but couldn’t I just fell on purpose. When I felt myself falling backwards I fell forward on purpose. Somewhere along the line in surfing, I had given up the idea that falling was bad or painful or embarrassing, so I had no qualms about pretty much falling on purpose again and again the first day of snowboarding.
Of course, falling on mountain of packed, New York snow, is much different than falling in warm water on a sandbottom beach break. And even if you can't feel it at first - or you feel elastic enough to take as many falls as you need, it DOES catch up to you. This is what I learned the next day. By the end of one day of this, my bruised knees were screaming. They were saying - no more gratuitous falls for the love of GOD!
I had to find a new way to push myself out of the snow, using my arms like a push up instead of putting any more pressure on my knees. But more crucially, on the second day, I learned how to stop the proper way, by putting pressure on my toes and creating friction between the board and the snow, instead of just falling forward wherever I was. It’s exactly what they had taught us, but only when it was too painful to do it the wrong way did I learn. Progress.
But even if I could move down the mountain this way, it was exhausting work for my feet without any long, smooth swipes, so I learned how to at least toe turn from this ttof look like I knew what I was doing, to make things a little easier, and get down faster. The funny thing is, I could only toe turn. But instead of learning the next equal thing, to turn on the back edge, my innate fear of fl backwards brought me to a different realization. Somewhere in my minds eye I saw Shaun white spinning 360 down the mountain and I realized, it really didn’t matter if I was goofy or regular foot so much, I could switch my front foot back and forth on a snowboard. So with my toe turn, I learned to avoid the backhand altogether by simply switching my stance each turn to go both directions with a toe turn. I did an entire blue trail this way, and though my speed and control was okay, my legs were absolutely screaming. Progress...
And on the last day, the weirdo 360s to toe turn down the mountain technique I developed only started to turn into real snowboarding when my legs were too tired to brace and edge and work in only one direction down the mountain. In the moments I let myself straighten out at least and pick up speed (a baby back turn) my legs said THANK GOD! My head was scared of the speed, but it was also a million times more enjoyable and less exerting to snowboard as the sport was maybe meant to done. Not to say my back turn came through by the end, I still fell on my butt when I tried the sharper turns and went back To my truly goofy habit of alternating stances and only toe turning. I realize my preference for the front turn and fall is partly about how much I trust my eyes for balance and how hard it is to let that go. But I know my legs learned a lot, because when I returned to the city suddenly I could handle more speed on my skateboard and turn to avoid potholes.
It’s weird, but a frequent thing I tell myself when I run is; “The horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh”. It’s a line lifted from the Christmas carol “over the river and through the woods” but I use it to channel my own brute strength all the time- if I just get out of my own way, my legs know how to run the distance, pick up the pace, and carry on. It’s a really gratifying thing when you realize your experiences in your body and not just your mind...
Sometimes I feel so competitive about running, or surfing or any sport I try, that I am almost ashamed of dabbling in everything- if I could just focus all of my energy in one place- I think, I would be great instead of being a beginner at so many things. But I love having the range to participate in anything - from swimming, skiing, triathlon, marathons - even if I never come in first. And more than that, I just love the experience of learning with more than my head, and letting my heart and body work in harmony.