7/1/2023 0 Comments
I said to a friend and colleague the other day that when you have a Type A skater who is obsessed with details and needs everything to be perfect, the coach’s job is to help them lighten up a little–to see the beauty and growth in the imperfections; and when you have a skater that doesn’t care about details and just plows ahead “fast and bad” over and over, the coach’s job is to help them see the beauty and growth in the details.
As with everything, there should be a happy medium. Or, as the same friend said her mother always says, “Everything in moderation.’
Even the most competitive skaters can’t even experience long-term success if they are panicked about being uncomfortable with making mistakes. And even the most recreational skater can’t be happy long-term if they stop making progress because they won’t slow down to pay attention to the details.
Like with everything in life, the goal in skating needs to be a balanced path, and what that looks like will be different for each skater and family.
We are each born with a unique set of characteristics and personality traits, so regardless of the formula each coach or family chooses, we all must learn to harness our strengths and develop our weaknesses in order to find that balance.
This is what the practice of yoga is all about–finding the right balance of the right ingredients to calm the fluctuations of the mind. For skaters, this translates as learning to train smarter, to ultimately skate better, and enjoy the process more.
If yoga is so helpful in this pursuit, then why isn’t everyone doing it?
Because not everyone has the same experience with yoga! In my time teaching yoga to figure skaters, these are some of the most common barriers that stop skaters from connecting with yoga and experiencing true transformation.
Few Yoga Teachers Really "Get" Figure Skaters
When I first started exploring a yoga practice, I started with a DVD. I appreciated the flexibility of putting on the video whenever I felt like it, and I was using one with a really great teacher. I decided that I wanted more variety and an in-person experience for accountability and community, so I went to a local gym for classes.
I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped because I didn’t find the teaching to be as thorough as I expected. As a teacher that comes from a family of teachers, and as someone who has learned from some excellent teachers, I wanted more detail than what that particular teacher was able to provide in that particular environment. And unfortunately, I stopped attending because of it, and it would several years before I found my way back to yoga.
Just like in Learn to Skate, the characteristics of the teachers of beginning classes are crucial to the retention of students.
If you try yoga and don’t love it, give it another shot with a different teacher or two or three before giving up on it.
There is Too Much Focus on the "Look" of the Pose
As goal-oriented people, it’s easy for skaters to want to put their energy and focus on the shape of the pose. After all, skating is all about what things look like–it has historically been an aesthetically judged sport. We consistently talk about alignment, carriage, extension, ballet hands, pretty positions, packaging, and “the look”. Focusing on the shape is what makes sense to skaters.
However, the real transformation that yoga brings is from the internal journey–building awareness and confidence from the inside. How does a particular pose feel? And how deep can you or should you go while maintaining smooth, steady, and full breathing and soft facial muscles?
On the ice, the emphasis is getting things to look right, but on the mat, the emphasis needs to be on exploration and curiosity, not judgment, and certainly not on making your pose look like the pose of someone with a completely different skeletal structure than you.
Figure Skating Coaches Don't Really Understand the Benefits of Yoga
Competition and classical aesthetics are ingrained into our sport.
Not only do skaters struggle with their self-worth in the face of these two philosophies, but coaches, officials, and society, in general, have also been conditioned to highly value them.
It’s hard, then, to convince coaches and other skating folks that adopting a completely different framework is not only beneficial, but it’s crucial.
Most coaches see yoga as either for “old people” or for the hyper-flexible.
They don’t understand the holistic approach that yoga can offer in our quest to develop a balanced mindset and effective and safe training habits that allow for longevity and happiness in the sport.
They also don’t understand the mechanisms through which yoga helps athletes build awareness and confidence.
Skaters Fail to Make Yoga Part of Their Off-Ice Training Routine
For yoga to lead to any significant and lasting change, skaters must actually practice yoga on a regular basis, and they must “do” more than just asana (physical postures). They must also practice the other limbs of yoga - yamas, niyamas, pranayama, pratyahara, and dharana.
To do this, they need practical tools and exercises that they can incorporate into their busy daily routines - things such as self-talk exercises, breathing practices, visualizations, meditations, and relaxations, in addition to any physical postural training they may be doing.
I like to have my skaters attend a class once a week, if possible, and the rest of the week incorporate shorter practices into their skating training routine.
Instead of sitting on their phone on the ride to the rink, for example, they can practice some breathwork and/or a guided meditation to help them switch out of school mode.
Another simple tool is to review their program keywords and positive self-talk mantras before heading into the rink.
Then, they can add some sun salutations and a couple of yoga poses into their off-ice warm-up.
It is also important to have tools on hand for those stressful moments on the ice. Knowing when and how to pause for a time-out and regroup, what breathing practice can help during a pause, or when to strike a power pose to change harmful body language–are powerful, accessible yoga practices that skaters can practice in less than five minutes.
Skater Are Often Too Impatient For "Results"
Skating is an expensive sport and many skating folks are willing to try anything to succeed.
So when the technical requirements get harder and harder, the hours get longer and longer, and the bills get higher and higher, the last thing you want is to be told to exercise more patience.
Yet, the reality is that even if you spend the most money, skate the most hours, and have the most tricks, winning isn’t guaranteed. Competitive results are not guaranteed.
The only way to stay happy in this sport is to come to terms with that fact, and not all skating folks are ready to truly hear that.
Yoga can help us learn to embrace the journey, rather than spend all our focus and energy on rushing to the destination. This is a mindset shift brought about by an internal awakening - the practice is actually what the experience is all about.
Don’t let your impatience for results or fear of not measuring up keep you from experiencing the true joy of the journey.
All skaters can benefit from practicing yoga, but not every skater is willing to give it an honest try because it takes patience, honesty, openness, and consistency. Just like with landing a double axel, the results don't come overnight.
Look for a teacher that understands the unique challenges and conditioning in figure skating culture and one that focuses on more than just the postures. Skating folks needs just as much focus on mindset (yamas), habits (niyamas), breathwork (pranayama), relaxation and awareness (pratyahara), and concentration (dharana) as they do on asana.
The Skating Yogi offers space and support to help figure skaters, through yoga, release harmful conditioned beliefs and habits to let a new path unfold, leading them to true connection and contentment. Following the framework of Patanjali's 8 limbs of yoga and a unique application of the 8 limbs to the skating journey, I help skating folks of all ages learn to train smarter, skate better, and enjoy the process. Ditch the comparisons and begin to connect with your true self and to a new kind of skating journey.
Get easy-to-implement tools to incorporate into your daily skating training routine with my FREE GUIDE: Anti-Anxiety Tools for Skaters.
Author // the skating yogi
My name is Sarah Neal. I have been immersed in the world of figure skating for over four decades. I have seen firsthand the abuse that happens at the higher levels of our sport and experienced how that trickles down into unhealthy training practices and habits at the grassroots. I have seen this play out in the operations of the very institutions that control our sport. Whether for a profession or hobby, pursuing skating should be a joyful, rewarding process, an opportunity for athletic and personal growth, and a place to build lasting friendships.