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

The Layback

Layback spins are a particularly difficult challange in equilibrium for a lot of skaters. By the time you are working on a layback spin, you have a pretty good idea of what good balance in a spin feels like. But, face it, this spin is weird.

First off, this spin is strange because it completely messes with your sense of direction. In a moderately good layback you'll be looking at the ceiling, but in a really good layback you'll actually be looking at the world upside down. You can get used to that feeling of disorientation by practicing headless spins before you start doing laybacks.

A headless spin is just a regular one-foot spin, but you tilt your head back to look at the ceiling and hold your hands together in front of your throat, with your elbows pointing outward. This spin is a lot easier than a layback because, other than your head getting tilted back, your whole body is straight the same way it is for an ordinary scratch spin. You may find it takes a little practice, though, because the disorientation from looking up can make it hard to keep that perfect straight-spine position.

Once you are comfortable with the headless, you are ready to move on to the layback, but here's the catch: The layback is NOT just a headless that you lean back further. In a layback, your whole spine curves backwards. But we've already learned that you have to maintain equilibrium -- equal balance/equal forces -- in any move on ice. So, if your whole spine is curving backwards, how do you maintain balance?

The answer is in the hips! In a layback spin you push your hips in front of your skating foot to counterbalance the weight of your upper body leaning backwards.

The thing is, this is not a natural or a comfortable position for most skaters when first learning this spin. Most skaters who are just learning a lay back end up keeping their hips too much in line with their skating foot as their head leans back and they curve their back just below the shoulder blades. The thing is, your body is very smart. It's not going to let you spin like that, because your brain knows that it can't hold you up in that position. So, you push forward on the rocker of your blade, and next thing you know you're all the way up on your toepick and the spin is a mess.

Center, Leg, Hips, Back

These are the steps for a perfect layback:
  1. Center yourself
  2. Get your free leg back
  3. Push your hips forward
  4. Lean back from the waist

Practice layback balance everywhere until you get it right. When you are standing in line, waiting for a bus, whatever -- whenever you have a couple of seconds to spare. Start by standing on your skating foot. Put your "free leg" behind you. Push your hips forward and lay back from the waist so that your whole back is as curved as you can get it.

When you first start practicing this, you'll need your "free leg" to stay on the ground, even if just your big toe is there for balance. As soon as you can, though, start lifting that free leg into the air until you can balance in the layback position anywhere and any time.

Now you're ready to take it to the ice.


I'm always saying that ice skating is like yoga, and it's not just because of the positions that you have to hold when you do moves, either. The layback spin is like a mini-meditation on accomplishing anything really difficult.

First you need to center yourself in the comforts of your normal life: family, home, friends, faith, routine, and whatever else brings you to your point of moving balance.

Next you step out of this safe space, and create a new balance that is out of the ordinary. If you travel far from home, you might find comfort in the presence of new and old friends. A travel buddy may become your lifeline of normalcy as you explore new foods, new languages, and new cultures. Or you may find that you rely more heavily on calls home to mom than you normally would in your workaday life.

Finally, knowing that you've found a balance that you can hold comfortably for a while, you relax into whatever adventure you are on. You reach for those stars, throw yourself into an ambitious task, and rest assured that this odd equilibrium that you have will keep you steady until it's time to return to your center and get back to ordinary life.

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