La Grande Motte (3563m) would be our objective on this final day. The cable car climbs to 3456m (11,338ft), quite high enough to affect breathing if you are not used to altitude. The shear faced mountain peak next to the Grande Motte is the Grande Casse (3885m) the highest mountain in this particular area. Mont Blanc – to the North is the highest mountain in the Aps at 4809m. Just being at the top of the Grand Motte has a “feel good” factor that is off the charts!
Today’s video clip is Don’s Yoga Skiing – to the music of The Afro Celt Sound System – “Rise Above it!”
We didn’t actually get around to any technical work (it had been my intention to focus on the steeps and pivoting) but it was an excellent ski down from the top of the glacier and Don took the time to appreciate it. Earlier, during our warm up when skiing down from the top of the Toviere, I mentioned to Don that the objective was really to be mindful of our actions when skiing. Overall issues such as speed, other people, conditions etc. just become peripheral and not the object of focus. In a race when the skier nears the end of the course, if his mind leaps ahead to think about the finish, he probably won’t make it that far! When the mind is focused within the body, whether on breathing or some particular movement, feeling or other sense – then we internalize our thoughts. This focus then allows us to relate accurately to the outside world – and keeps us in the present. Being as fully as possible in that moment we lose the stress and tension that often dominate. Skiing isn’t about wondering where you are going, how fast you are going or what you look like (though it is to most) – it is about being one with your senses and the environment you are in (which is second to none!)
The commercial “holiday” ski industry totally misses this. Even ski racing misses it and bases itself on a violent, destructive process of Darwinian natural selection – producing a tiny number of racers who have unconsciously adapted and understand nothing about what they are doing. When their racing days are over they will quit skiing.
For mindfulness to develop we need to have correct technical information. Standard International ski instruction is about as incorrect as it could possibly be made. It would be hard to achieve this deliberately and can only be paralleled by the same stunning level of incompetence in the medical industry. (Though mainstream science isn’t too far behind these days unfortunately). Martial Arts, Yoga, Meditation, musicians and artists generally work in the right direction but “sports” gets well and truly sidelined – hence the artificial “recreational” and “elite” divisions. You cannot even “visualize” unless you understand the underlying movements. Much of mindfulness lies in feeling but a lot depends on visualizing. Visual perception is not what people think. The brain can only see something that it understands – hence why the newborn child is blind. The child uses all its senses to build a picture of the world. In skiing, when we have the right information then we can successfully and automatically visualize – enormously aiding the “mindfulness” process.
I asked Don to ski the steep parts without gaining speed and to value the feedback from the mindfulness above all. His focus had to be on “getting out of the way” and pushing the outside foot forwards plus working from the core. Don skied this first steep part in full control and enjoyed it.
When instructing I carry out the same instruction myself – fixing my focus on the exact same thing. This is never boring, tiring or even too easy – it is always rewarding and fascinating. Mindfulness is timeless and an adventure “within” that just knows no limits. People often comment on my patience – but I don’t need any patience. They comment often on my passion or enthusiasm – all the same source! A master of anything in life knows that he’s not at the top of a pinnacle of learning – he’s just at an open door that opens onto dozens of other open doors without limit.
Don now has a good understanding of the real fundamentals of skiing and so now it’s largely a case of mindfully applying this. The learning process is feedback driven and you are largely your own coach when working with this information.
Near the bottom of the descent from the Grande Motte Don passed in front of me at a tricky part of the piste and I was immediately worried and hoped he would contain his speed. Unfortunately he let his skis run straight at the wrong moment and being startled by the sharp acceleration he reacted unconsciously and found himself going backwards on his head! Fortunately there was no damage done other than us having a slightly shaken up Don for a while. Returning to skiing after a lunch break was interesting because the shock had put Don on the defensive and his skiing reverted to his previously trained emotionally based forcing. This was the perfect opportunity to apply mindfulness to overcome a problem. Focusing internally is simply the best way to remove stress and get back on track. Additionally, I asked Don to control his breathing by only using nasal breathing – both in and out. This increases CO2 and Nitrogen Oxide levels and returns blood flow to the extremities for fine control. Don recovered possession of his faculties and his skiing skills in about five minutes flat. I was impressed. Once Don was back on form we spent a few minutes shooting the final video clips.