Tie on your skates and jump on the ice. We've got lots of life lessons to discuss today...

Yoga in motion

Not long after I started coaching figure skating in Moscow, Idaho, I signed up for a yoga class at the Moscow Yoga Center This was the first time I ever took an entire series of yoga classes as opposed to just a one off class here or there, and it totally changed the way that I thought about ice skating and has influenced my teaching ever since.

The thing I realized in that class was that a lot of ice skating is essentially just a string of postures that you have to hold precisely in order to accomplish the most with your body. If you don't hold yourself properly, you often end up exerting more energy and always get less benefit. What's more, if you are doing things exactly right, people looking at you will have no idea how much work you are actually doing because your moves will look absolutely effortless.

Like yoga, ice skating properly will use muscles that you rarely use in any ordinary context. Crossing your legs just right and holding a rotational position in a spin or a jump takes a lot of muscular control, but it definitely gets easier with practice.

Yoga also taught me a few things about getting bodies lined up properly for various moves in ice skating. Hearing the yoga instructor in that first class tell us several times each day to fix our posture by lifting our shoulders up and then rolling them back and down into proper placement gave me a great tool for getting skaters to straighten their backs while stroking or preparing for toe jumps. It also taught me to check in with my own body regularly to sense whether I've lapsed into a lazy posture. That same instructor had descriptions of getting into the right position in a pose that helped me to think of the lines in our body that create the best balance for each move. It's because of that class that you will often here me explain to a student how they need to get the "nose-knee-toe" line fixed in one foot swizzles, pivots or the start of two foot spins.

Most of all, yoga taught me that breath is important in every posture, and that knowing when to breath and how can give you more power in everything you do. When you get tense and nervous, you tend to take shallow breaths or forget to breathe entirely. Part of that comes from tensing your throat and chest. Breathing in deeply as you prepare for a jump, and breathing out just as you launch into the air can both release unwanted tension and give you a burst of power right when you need it most.

Of course, whether you are in a yoga pose, ice skating, or running down the street trying to catch a bus, you don't want to stop breathing. In fact, you don't want to tense up any muscle that doesn't need to be tensed for what you are trying to accomplish. And that, is the real trick to relaxing even in the midst of difficult moves or difficult situations. Don't waste energy on worry or unhelpful tension. Breathe through your fear and keep your muscles trained on exactly what they need to do -- nothing more and nothing less. It's a delicate task, but it brings spectacular results! 0 comments

Work with physics, not against it

At first glance, today's title might seem like an obvious bit of advice. In reality, human history is full of us trying to fight physics. Think of the dream to fly, and the many early attempts that were doomed to fatal failure. Or think of the aesthetic idea in many cultures that the harder you make something to do, the more civilized or refined it is.

That second idea is what was behind the rule in early ice skating competition that all skaters had to keep their hands below their waist. You see, keeping your hands up helps you to work with physics and therefore makes skating easier. By keeping your hands low and trying to avoid using them at all you were increasing the difficulty of ever move. Thing is, if competitive skating had maintained that rule, we never would have gotten the rich variety of spins and jumps that we see in figure skating today, nor would we be able to choreograph in the beautifully expressive ways that make figure skating and ice dance so much fun to watch.

If you want to make a plane fly, you have to work with physics to create an aerodynamic vehicle and get it up into the air. If you want to ice skate you have to cooperate with physics in order to create the most spectacular moves. We pull our hands in tight and cross our legs to rotate faster and check our spins with open arms and pointed free leg toe to stop rotation. We use leverage in toe jumps to get up into the air. We use our legs and feet like springs to launch on edge jumps. We control our center of balance in order to minimize the effort put into any move.

So, if you want to understand what's going right or wrong with your skating moves, you should think carefully about the physics of the move. Take a look at videos of top skaters who can do what you are trying to do perfectly and at videos of skaters who are making mistakes. Take a look at videos of your own skating. Think about what the physical forces in play are, and learn to skate smarter, not harder.

Of course, skating smarter doesn't mean you don't need a lot of strength and coordination to do the moves. It's a lot easier to contemplate the physics behind a move than it is to actually accomplish the move itself, but understanding what you need to do is definitely a step in the right direction.

And really, all of technology is a result of wanting to do something that seemed impossible before someone figured out how to use the resources around them and the laws of physics to accomplish their goal. Airplanes and cars, modern construction equipment and robots are all amazing inventions, but none of them work without a source of energy and without being properly constructed themselves. There is a huge gap of learning between understanding how an airplane flies and actually being able to design and build one of your own. But the journey is half the fun, so it's well worth the time and the effort. 0 comments

Books and Skating Stuff

You may have noticed that there is a section in the right hand navigation called "Books and Stuff". That's a menu of links to the Two Edges, One Pick Amazon store. Shopping at this store helps to support this blog and helps me continue coaching on ice.

I have hand picked a selection of books for relevance and usefulness to skaters. Some of the books describe skating moves, others have helpful information about cross training techniques, and some are just about the history of the sport itself. The books are categorized so that you should be able to find what you need pretty easily.

There is also a selection of skating gear available through Amazon. I've tried to make sure that most of the gear is shippable to Israel, but not all Amazon Market vendors will ship things here. Please leave a comment here to let me know if something you tried to order was marked "not shippable to your address" in your Amazon checkout process.

Of course, I'd love to hear from you if you think that I've missed something important or if there is anything I can do to make this store even better for you.

Thanks for your support! 0 comments

Looking to the future

In the context of jumps and spins, there are two places where you will find yourself looking to the future, and they map onto two places where you should do the same in ordinary life.

The first is right before you step into a spin. You usually set up a spin from back crossovers and then hold a back inside edge for a moment right before you step onto your spinning foot. Before you step onto that spinning foot, you ought to be looking at the spot where you intend to center your spin. You need to have that spot in your vision before you step into it, but as soon as you've stepped toward it, your eyes need to move up "to the present" so that your body will be straight and your spin will be fast and centered.

The same can be said of the entrance to some jumps, actually. Most of the time, people enter waltz jumps or axels from backwards crossovers and then turn around and step forward into the jump. There's a moment before you turn around where you just look straight ahead, away from the direction of travel. That's the moment when you are "looking to the past". But then, just before you step forward, you look over your shoulder and check out the place where you are about to jump.

Life takes planning. Even the simple things have to be thought through before you do them, and you don't want to act rashly without looking. On freestyle practice sessions, not looking forward may get you into a head on collision with another skater. At work, not planning your day well might cause you far bigger problems. This is the realm of task lists and thinking before you speak.

But there are times when you need to look forward even more intensely. Sometimes you want to do something really big, something harder than your average task, and just planning ahead isn't enough. In those cases, you may need to hyper-focus on the goal you are trying to reach while you are on your way to it. Double jumps are like that.

In order to get the maximum rotation on double jumps, you need to turn your head in the direction of your rotation and "look to the future". It seems so unintuitive after you've spent so much time working on keeping your head straight on all your previous jumps and spins. But this time, that little bit of extra reach helps you get the hard stuff done. 0 comments

Looking to the past

Last time we talked about being always present in the here and now, but sometimes you need to look to the past to know where you are heading next. That's like the lead up to a spin or a jump. Nearly every spin or jump is started from a backwards skating position. Even jumps that actually start forward are often prefixed by skating backwards and then stepping forward to start the jump. In all of those situations, you have at least a moment where you are facing backwards and your view and attention are all on the place where you've just been. This is the moment where you align your mind and your body and prepare for the move you are about to do.

When you look to the past, it shouldn't be to hem and haw over your mistakes or your past glories. Living in the past won't help you have a good life going forward. But looking to the past is important for those times when you need to see where you have been in order to figure out where you are now and what you are going to do next.

As Thanksgiving approaches in the US, this is a good time to look backwards for a moment right before you launch into a new year. It's been a tough year for a lot of people with all of the economic turmoil and plenty of personal drama to boot. There are things to be glad of, though, and that sense of gratefulness can give you strength for your next move.

This is the lead up to your next great jump. Don't let recent falls or stumbles make your morale waver. You can still make this program a great one. Line yourself up, think of all the things you need to do to pull off your next move, and then enjoy this holiday season like a long, deep breath to center you right before you dazzle everyone's socks off. 0 comments

Eyes on the present

Every self-help book and guru out there will tell you something about how you shouldn't focus on the past, how you should plan for the future, but how you should always be in the present. Of course, I have some insights into that, too.

This insight comes from spins and jumps on ice -- really, any rotational move. The lesson is that there is a time to look at the past, a time to look to the future, and a time to keep yourself firmly planted in the present. And the source of the lesson? Head position before, during and after rotation. No, seriously, there's something to this.

When I teach beginners how to do a two foot spin, there is a very common mistake where the skater looks back away from the direction of rotation. If they are turning counter-clockwise, their head turns to the right. I call this "looking to the past", and it completely messes up their spin. We can't move onward until that's fixed.

In the midst of nearly any spin, you want to make sure that you are "in the present", not looking to the past (away from your rotation) or to the future (into your rotation). In order to make sure that you have your head in the right place, it's useful to try to see specific features on the walls of the ice rink as you go around. They may blur past you, but if you are watching for them, you will always know where you are.

In the midst of the main tasks of life, your job, spending time with your family, or chores around the house, the advice is the same. Attention to detail and being fully present make you better at whatever you are doing, and will help you to reach your full potential.

Be here now is such cliched advice, but it really does make a difference. In fact, I'd say that one of the great things about ritual practices and rules is that they can help you to develop that mindfulness, that full awareness of the present moment. Whether you are a religious person or not, you can keep your eyes open for the markers in your day, the metaphorical walls of the ice rink in your constant rotations. 1 comments

Keep your hands out

The third law of ice skating is "Keep your hands out to your sides" (but don't wave them about). That may seem like a strange rule, especially if you see advanced skaters running around with their hands in their pockets, but there's a lot of sense to it.

When you are just getting your confidence on the ice, and you are feeling like you might fall at any moment, keeping your hands out to your sides helps give you better balance. Like a tight rope walker using her arms to give her extra balance as she crosses from one platform to the next, you can feel more confident and in better control with your hands out.

On the other hand, you don't want to wave your arms about unnecessarily while you skate, as that will do exactly the opposite. There's a little demonstration I do for new skaters where I move forward by using just my feet, then I go back and, with my feet firmly held together, I wave my arms around and I move forward again. Then I show how moving your feet and arms in opposite directions, as you normally do when you walk, actually sets you in opposite directions top-to-bottom, and makes you more likely to fall.

The thing about ice skating, and you'll hear this from me lots, is that it's all about the small, subtle things that you do. When you make big movements or add extra things into the equation, you are more likely to fall than to do what you wanted to do.

And speaking of small, subtle things you do on ice, having your hands out helps you to steer your body better. Whenever you want to go around a curve, you can put the hand on the outside of the curve in front of your body and the other hand behind you, and you will go around the curve much more efficiently. If you watch figure skaters, you'll notice that they do that while they are doing crossovers on a curve. Hockey skaters will have their hands on their sticks, but if you pay attention, you'll see that they are actually doing the same move with their shoulders. I call this "hugging your circle".

In life you have to keep your balance, too. Know how to move forward with a minimum of effort and maximum results. Another way to say that is, "Work smart not hard." When you work too hard on something that could have been done more simply, you wear yourself out and you might not accomplish what you need to at all!

If you don't know how to work smarter? Ask your friends who seem to be doing it better than you are, or get yourself a coach of whatever flavor makes the most sense for your situation. Remember, coaches do two great things for you: they teach you how to do things more effectively and they push you to do the things that you want to do but don't think that you can. You can! So get out there and do it!! 0 comments

Sit down!!

OK, so "tomorrow" kind of got stretched out by a few days. Sorry about that! But, at long last, here's the promised post on the second rule of ice skating. (And no, it's not "Don't talk about ice skating." That's something different, entirely.)

The second rule of ice skating is that whichever foot has your weight on it, that knee should be bent. That's a lot of words, but the gist of it is, "Sit down!"

No, seriously, sit down. If you are a beginner, you will probably feel pretty funny doing this, but really bend those knees when you are standing on the ice. You should feel a bit like you are sitting in a straight backed chair. Don't lean forward, just bend your knees.

When you push, stay down. The pushing leg will straighten out as it goes behind you, but the skating leg (where your weight is) should stay exactly as bent as when you started the push. When you bring the pushing leg back toward your skating leg, bend your knee and put it right next to the skating leg.

Sometimes you might feel as though you are going to fall backwards. If that happens, Sit down! Bend your knees more, and you will almost always keep yourself from falling. But, if you do fall, at least you'll fall down on your tush which will hurt less than falling on your head!

Keeping your knees bent under you is so important for lots of reasons, but the number one reason that we'll look at today is that it gives you flexibility of movement overall. Your knees serve as shock absorbers when you skate. If your knees are straight, every little bump and divot in the ice will threaten to knock you over. But with bent knees, you are able to make little adjustments all the time without even noticing it. That keeps you on your feet and in control.

In life, you need to stay flexible, too. If you are too rigid in your plans, your ideas, or your actions, you will have a very hard time dealing with the bumps that life throws you. If you relax a bit and let yourself make the tiny adjustments needed to get through life's adventures, you'll fare much better. There are times when you have to bend a little more than others, and sometimes you just have to sit all the way down and take a little break. Having a warped sense of humor can help sometimes, too. 1 comments

Beginners' Advice

When I first meet a brand new skater I teach them the 3 fundamental laws of ice skating:

  1. Wherever your eyes are looking, that's where you are going.

  2. Whichever foot has your weight, that knee should be bent. (This rule is also known as, "Sit down!" )

  3. Keep your hands out to your sides, but don't wave them around.

The first one seems pretty obvious, but almost no one puts it into practice. Nearly ever new skater, most intermediate skaters, and a frighteningly large number of advanced skaters spend all their time looking at the ice. You do not want to go down there. Why are you looking there?

An ice skating blade is not like a knife with just one edge. A skate blade has an edge on each side with a hollow space in between. It's a bit like an upside down U. When you are moving straight, you are on both edges at the same time. When you are moving to the right you are on the right-side edge(s) of your blade(s). When you are moving to the left, you are on the left side edge(s) of your blade(s).

Here's the tricky part: any little shift in your weight can push you to one side or the other. When you turn your eyes in one direction, your body moves in subtle ways to put just a little more weight on that side. That makes you tip onto that edge of your blade, and then you find yourself moving in that direction.

With lots of practice you can overcome this tendency, but most of the time you are better off using it to your advantage rather than trying to fight it. Fighting it means that you are working less efficiently. Looking where you want to go means that you are using small, subtle, light-weight things to help you get big jobs done instead of strong-arming your way to whatever it is you want.

Looking down at the ice is generally the most deadly thing you can do. You see, ice skate blades don't just have a hollow with two edges on either side, they also have a rocker. On the front of a hockey skate, you can lean right over and just run out of blade. When that happens you go *splat*. On figure skates, you have a toe pick at the front of the blade. When you hit that, you will also fall over and go *splat*. Either way, this is not the direction you want to go. Don't look there.

This isn't just beginners' advice, either. All of these three laws are things I repeat again and again to students at every level, just in different contexts.

When you jump? Don't look down. You can't get up in the air if your eyes are looking down. That's not just because of your edge and your rocker. It also has to do with the body mechanics of launching yourself into the air, getting the most spring out of your legs, and making your body straight enough to go up and turn around while you are in the air.

When you are concentrating on footwork? Don't look down or you will go *splat*. Do look in the direction of travel or in the exact opposite of your direction of travel -- with only a few rare exceptions.

When you are working on edges, figures, three turns and brackets? Look in the direction of travel and you will stay on your lines better, keep your body straighter and have more control over your edges.

All of this advice about looking where you are going goes just as well for the rest of life. The things that you concentrate on are the things that you are going to become. The actions that you focus on are the things that you will do.

If you don't want to be like your evil stepmother, then don't think about her. She's the ice that will make you go *splat*. Keep your eye on the people that you do want to be like. Focus on the person that you would like to be, on the actions that you think make for a good person, and that is what you will become.

If you want to get good grades in school, or make a certain goal at work, then focus on that goal. Don't think about failure. Don't worry about what will happen if you don't make it. Don't think about the mistakes that you've made in the past or the way that someone else is trying to cause you problems or any other tangential or disconnected matter. Keep your eye on the prize, and you can reach it.

Tomorrow I'll talk a bit more about the second of the 3 fundamental laws of ice skating. In the meantime, tell me, what are you looking at these days while you skate through life? 0 comments

Do what you love

Life is too short not to do what you love. That doesn't mean that what you love necessarily has to be what you do for a living, or that you have to do what you love 24/7. It doesn't even mean that you should never do what you hate. Even the things you love most in your life are going to include some component in them that you don't like to do. What it does mean is that you should make a commitment to yourself to do the things you love on a regular basis.

Ice skating is a really addictive sport. The tag line for the ice rink in Tel Aviv is totally true, 'It's cold but you crave it.' I see a lot of people who show up to the ice rink completely terrified the first time. They might barely be able to stand up on their skates. For a few times around the rink they hug the wall like it was their best friend. But then they gain a little confidence, move away from the wall, take a few baby steps, and before you know it, they've fallen in love.

People go from thinking that they could never possibly stand up on the ice to loving the sport so much that they come back two or three times a week. It's not just kids, either. My oldest student right now is 62. I've had older students before. Most of these people have a million things going on in their lives: work, school, family. But ice skating becomes an important part of their life, one of the key things that they look forward to every week.

They don't get paid for skating. They don't make it their life's work. But they love it, and it does improve their lives. Sure, it's good exercise and it may help their health, but that's not what I'm talking about. Everything else in their week takes on a bit of the joy of skating, and that makes the whole week a little better.

What is your love? Do you make it a regular part of your life? How does that change your life? 0 comments

Life lessons from the cold edge of a blade

My name is Lisha Sterling, and I am a figure skating coach in Tel Aviv. One day I started thinking about all the ways in which skating affects people's lives and all the lessons that you can take away from the ice, and I realized I had to share these insights with the rest of the word.

You don't have to be a figure skater to learn the lessons from the ice, just like even a vegan can enjoy Chicken Soup for the Soul. If you are a skater, though, you are bound to pick up some useful skating advice along the way.

A lot of the titles here are refrains that my students hear me say all the time. "Where ever your eyes are looking. That's where you are going." "Know when to commit." "Straighten your spine." (Actually, there should be exclamation points after each of those, since I'm usually competing with the loud music on a public session. But you get the point.) These sound bites aren't the whole picture, though. They are just mnemonics, reminders of larger concepts.

This blog is about the larger concepts, one the ice and in life. 0 comments