Strike A Balance

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Life is all about balance.  In the sport of halfpipe skiing, quite literally, balance is the key to success. Finding center on my skis not only makes what I intend to do possible, it allows me to carry my speed and momentum through crushing G-forces allowing me to explode out of the top of the halfpipe with efficiency, going as big as possible.  Balance is the only way to say upright regardless of what we are pursuing. Early on in my career, my sport demanded that I prioritize: ski competitions over family events, US Ski Association meetings over prom, and training over socializing.  But as the years went on, I began to realize that constant hard work, left unbalanced, didn’t always yield progressive, successful results. I had let skiing become my everything. It was no longer just something that I did for fun, but what I did for my job; it provided my income, my recreation, my value as a human being—it became, not only what I did but also, who I was.  This was unsustainable.

I found myself burnt out, not loving skiing as I once did, and sought an alternative. Yoga has provided me with just that. Instead of always going to the gym to lift weights and focus on traditional, western, strength training, I began to supplement with yoga.  For me, the benefits not only came physically, but mentally. Like skiing, yoga offers a meditative experience. An entire hour and a half class would go by without thought of “should-haves”, “should-bes,” or “what-ifs.”  My mind remained still, focused on my breath, my movement (or stillness) in the moment, and the energy that my body possessed.

Balance is central to yoga. Sure, in the obvious sense, standing in half moon pose, staying in a headstand, or extending in dancer, all require balance. But there is a more complex phenomenon here that helped me see my life and where I was placing my efforts in a new light. In dancer pose for example, we only reach our potential by kicking our leg strongly into our hand and reaching forward with the opposite hand as we let our chest open. There is a “give” and an equal, but opposite “take” that makes extending into this pose possible. I realized that this was the same for my life, and the same for my skiing.

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Finding an even distribution of hard effort matched with an area of relaxation was the key: balance.  I used to be an all or nothing kind of person, but over the last few years my exploration of balance after discovering yoga has given me a new perspective. For a long time I was afraid to do yoga because I felt like I wasn’t a true “yogi” if I could attend only one class every other week. Often, I wouldn’t go because of this feeling.  But in reality, if I were to only do yoga, my life would be out of balance in another direction. I haven’t let yoga replace my former workouts and activities. My yoga practice supports my efforts on snow and in the gym; while my gym workouts and on snow ski training provide a base for my explorations in yoga.

The newfound balance that I began to apply to my ski training, led me to seek balance other areas of my life. Skiing had always taken priority over relationships, school and other hobbies, so over the last year and a half I have begun to make a change.  I’m back in school studying psychology at the University of Utah, have an incredible boyfriend, and get to spend more time mountain biking, doing yoga and spending time in the gym if I’m up for it.  Striking such a balance allows us to pour 100% of ourselves into an activity while we’re doing it instead of showing up half-heartedly.  And like yoga, there will be a period of time where we teeter-totter between the right amount of each activity, falling on our faces and our bums, until we find the ideal middle ground.

Wednesday Workouts: Balance and Biking

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1060332_394513227316337_447456783_n Biking saved me last spring.  When I fractured my tibial plateau in Russia at our Olympic test event, I was limited in terms of athletics, and was only allowed to do “non-impact” sports for 3 months.  I was grounded. Literally. Getting on my bike was the one activity that I found that could strengthen my quad and hamstring muscles without putting too much stress on my knee, so I started riding.  A lot.

My muscles began to grow and started supporting my knee more and more, but I also found that I was becoming happier.  The time that I spent on my bike, was time away from the grind in the gym, it was balancing out my training and offering some space to breath, think, and reflect.  Long uphill climbs became a meditative experience- an exercise in mental toughness & willpower.  Fast aggressive descents allowed my reaction times to be tested and my athleticism exposed.  I found a new balance in my life both figuratively and literally.

Balance and Biking

There would be days where I would show up to ride and spend the 10 minutes getting ready, just venting to my friends about various situations that were causing stress and anxiety.  By the time I was done riding, my worries would seem so much less significant.  So, this week’s suggestion is to get on a bike.  I don’t care what type, road, mountain, or even a cruiser on the way to an outdoor concert. I don’t care for how long, how far, or how fast.  Just get out there.  Hopefully you will find some of this balance as well.

If you feel like more of a challenge, you can try out the interval program that I use when trying to build a strong base level of conditioning.

Warm Up:

5 minutes easy

5 minutes hard

5 minutes easy

Session:

(30 seconds MAX EFFORT + 30 seconds EASY) x 10 minutes

Cool Down:

15 minutes easy

*Follow with adequate stretching and foam rolling.