jo skates

Skating in the key of life


Wherever you go, there you are

I must be clairvoyant, because earlier this week I put this picture (a junior team, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter) in my last post. Lo and behold, it illustrates something that I had a lesson on yesterday: correct head position on back outside edges.

To help keep aligned on my left back outside edge, I am working on keeping my head up and looking slightly left. (Look how well Lorraine does it!) The head position is key; it helps place the back in the proper position relative to the skate (rather than slightly forward). And this allows for a good strong lean into the circle.

This picture really captures the speed and beauty that is possible on that back outside edge. I imagine it’s like hitting the sweet spot in tennis. Once you’ve found that edge, you can just let the blade carry you and fly.

Even though the positions are strong, there is no tension, no clenching of the muscles, no premature motion towards the next edge. There’s security there, so that one can let go and move with abandon.

I could just sit and look at this picture all day.  Poetry in motion!

I spent some time this week just cruising on these back outside edges, feeling like they could go on forever. It was a nice change from the anxious feeling that I sometimes have both on and off the ice. Whenever I am unsure of what I’m doing, I often add the problem of rushing from one thing to another. For instance, I magnify the difficulty of three-turns by turning early. Or I spend spending much of my time on each edge thinking ahead to the next step, especially if it’s a challenging mohawk or choctaw.

“You don’t like that edge,” Ari sometimes observes of my left forward inside edge. It’s taken a while to get past my first response (simply agreeing “no, I really don’t like that edge,” or even worse, the snarky “well, duh!”) and to understand what this really means: that I’m supposed to like my edges. I’m supposed to enjoy the feeling of being on each edge. It’s supposed to be fun, not just correct. It’s like that James Taylor song:

Since we’re on our way down/We might as well enjoy the ride

Another way of putting is: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Used to be a funny line from Buckaroo Banzai before it became a mindfulness mantra.

The thing is, it is fun (especially when I’m not so worried about it and really get into the edge). It’s a wonderful feeling, that the deep swoopy glide that comes when you’re really really into the skate. There is a natural sinking into or rising of the knee, and the action of the entire body is strong yet fluid: no ossification here! (I just wanted to use that word for the benefit of my friends Jeff, Karen, Terri, and Doug.)

For freeskaters, it’s that outside back edge that happens when you nail the landing on a jump. For ice dancers, this should happen on–well, just about everything! Some illustrations:

I know that these are polished performers, but I can’t help but think that the thrill on their faces actually comes from the pleasure of doing those edges so well.

There are a lot of wonders in life, but there really isn’t any other feeling in the world quite like being into the ice.

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Flow with the flow (and Mom’s sweater #2)

“Flow” is a term used in ice dancing to describe a fluid movement from one edge to another. USFSA lists under skating skills the terms “flow and effortless glide”:

Rhythm, strength, clean strokes, and an efficient use of lean create a steady run to the blade and an ease of transfer of weight resulting in seemingly effortless power and acceleration.

“Flow” is also a term used in contemporary theories of happiness and satisfaction in life. For psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow is a state of full immersion in what you are doing, a concentrated state of being. In a 1996 interview with Wired magazine, Csíkszentmihályi says that flow is “Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

To achieve flow, you have to be absorbed in something that is challenging. You lose yourself in the activity and sometimes lose track of time. You gain a sense of clarity; you forget yourself and feel like part of something larger. What you are doing–no matter how laborious it might seem to others–becomes enjoyable for its own sake. Flow makes us happy.

Csíkszentmihályi says that “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times–although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Flow: The Psychology of Happiness, 1992: 3) He adds that “in the long run optimal experiences add up to a sense of mastery–or perhaps better, a sense of participation in determining the content of life–comes as close to what is usually meant by happiness as anything else we can conceivably imagine” (1992: 4).

Flow is good skating and flow equals happiness. A coincidence? I think not!

IMG_3276When I stepped out onto the ice last night, Sonia immediately came up and asked “Is that one of your mom’s sweaters?” and offered to take a picture of mom’s sweater #2.  Sonia, you rock and flow! Thanks to Greg for taking the picture of both of us.

I’m adding this note about this sweater a few days later. It’s one of those that only buttons up part way. I noticed when I wore it to the rink that my mom, never one for fashionably low necklines, had added two tiny snaps above the buttons so that it closes up most of the way. Perfect for keeping warm at the rink. Thanks, mom!