Leyla Day 2

Today began with a warm up run on the Grande Motte – moderate controlled skiing to warm up the muscles and to get  out of the wind. Leyla remembered the dynamics, skating and pivoting from yesterday and so after verifying that by watching her skiing we were able to move on without delay.  Because of the ease that Leyla showed at handling the new moves I decided to work on posture and feet – coming to this decision during the first run. There are usually corrections to make at this stage instead of introducing new concepts but Leyla proved to be comfortable and stable with yesterday’s changes. Posture can be very tricky for people to deal with so the subject has to be approached with great care and I was surprised at being able to move into this subject so early. The appropriateness of the choice was confirmed when Leyla unexpectedly asked me about posture at the top of the next lift, while I was actually looking for a place to carry out static postural exercises.


Classic Upper/Lower Body Separation

In order to explain “posture” I had to explain “angulation” and “anticipation”. Hip angulation is the angle made by the upper-body flexing forward on a single hip joint below the pelvis, and then rotating outwards relative to the leg. This can also be perceived as the leg rotating in the hip socket – but with the leg out to the the side (as in skating) and following an arc relative to the upper-body. In other words the rotation is not in the same axis as the femur. I prefer to see it as the body turning relative to the leg and ski because this helps to stop people trying to achieve it by twisting the leg – which would be inappropriate. “Anticipation” is the facing outwards – or downhill – towards the end of a turn – which increases angulation and has the body anticipating a rapid movement of the centre of mass from deep inside one turn, across the skis and into the next. “Anticipation” refers to the direction the body faces and it facilitates sharp building up of pressure and turn changes. At very high speed and in longer turns there is no anticipation – the skier basically follows the skis and uses massive inclination to both create and deal with the forces involved. The static exercise used to explain this involved standing in skis side on to a snow canon and using the canon as a support. The shoulders were anticipated towards the outside (away from the canon) and the bottom then turning towards the canon could be pushed with both buttocks against the canon. Tilting forwards completed the angulation and Leyla could feel that the upper body was loose even when pushing hard against the canon with the legs. I explained that this is classic technique and the upper-body becomes pure dead weight. There is no protection for the spine and there is some twisting of the spine opposing the direction of the turn – from shoulders down to the base of the spine. This twisting is vaguely referred to as “upper/lower body separation”. It is often described as “winding up the body like a spring” and is then accompanied by an up motion and unwinding to begin the following turn. Unfortunately Leyla had to be made aware of all of this – I say “unfortunately “ because it is all wrong and extremely damaging for the body, yet it is taught universally by international ski teaching systems around the world.

Chi Upper/Lower Body Separation

To describe Chi Upper/Lower body separation was now simple. Just hold the shoulders facing the same way as the skis and only turn the bottom towards the canon. This now twists the spine in the opposite direction and still pulls the hip into place. The hip is now back relative to the shoulder above instead of ahead of it and this is what protects the back and activates all the core muscles and glutes. Amazingly Leyla connected clearly with this difference immediately and could feel the protective contraction of the core muscles when pushing against the canon. With only a few exercises using it in a traverse she was able to fully integrate it into her turning – making the hip shift during the turn transition for each new turn.  To keep it simple – pull back the left hip to go right – but don’t pull back the left shoulder… The core muscle contraction creates a “hydraulic sac” that protects the spine – the vertical forces travelling through the body being distributed over the whole midsection instead of just through the spine. More information can be found describing ChiSkiing at the following fixed page link: “ChiSkiing” The only slight problem Leyla experienced was with pelvic tilt and holding the pelvis up at the front while relaxing and sitting slightly at the hips. This is normal and didn’t actually appear when she was skiing.


The second new item today was regarding the use and awareness of the feet, anterior tibialis and adductor muscles. Indoors, with one boot removed Leyla tried to bend her legs and automatically collapsed her ankle. I pointed out that the other ankle was simply supported by the ski boot but that the boot is not designed to support collapsed ankles. The solution was to place the weight on the heels and then try to bend. Without me explaining Leyla then bent correctly, with the ankle, foot and anterior tibialis (shin) muscles tensing and rigidifying the ankle automatically. The bending was now in the knee and hip with the ankle going into a strong shape conforming to a ski boot with about 12° forward lean. I explained that with the weight on the front of the foot the collapsing ankle causes a loss of support and ultimately a falling backwards of the skier. The simplest solution is to stand on the heel. There are other ways but they are more advanced and not essential. Standing on the heel allows the foot to be rocked laterally at the subtaler joint below the ankle – permitting the foot to roll on edge inside the ski boot. Combined with the lateral support from the shaft of the ski boot the foot can be sustained on edge – rocking the outside foot inwards is the most important aspect of this action – though often to maintain symmetry the inside foot must be rocked onto its outside edge (though not always).  Rocking the outside foot onto its inside edge also activates the adductor muscles which pull inwards on the inside of the leg – up to the groin. Pulling inwards here is important in almost every turn and critical in pivoting.  

Holistic Learning and Centering

When asked to ski with all of this and following behind me Leyla had no problem managing all of it – dynamics, skating, chi-upper/lower body separation and feet/adductor muscles. However the moment I wasn’t there in front for her to copy it all escaped her completely. This is why it isn’t captured here on video today. Leyla felt frustrated at this phenomenon but I assured her that the reality was that her ability to assimilate all of this and to copy me was already rather exceptional and unusual.  She has a natural holistic way of learning that requires a visual reference. This appears to permit her to handle a lot of information  with the visual “right brain” giving the “parallel processing” function and not the linear logical step by step processing of the“left brain”. The key now is to back this up with a very clear and precise rational understanding. Meantime I worked with Leyla to show her how to train herself properly by simply focusing on one aspect at a time – fist the dynamics then the skating etc. It’s necessary to trust the body to do the rest while only one thing is focussed on. Sometimes you can choose a couple of things and work on them both as one blends into the other – like the hips aiding dynamics or aiding skating – or the skating aiding dynamics etc. Leyla was also distracted by the poor visibility so I pointed out that focussing internally on the body removes this problem – which is simply a distraction. The better you get at focussing on the body and movements then the more centred you are mentally and physically and the less you can be thrown off.


On the first run of the day I had introduced the concept of separating the edge of the foot from the edge of the ski to help Leyla with pivoting. The idea is to stand on the uphill ski and allow it to flatten slightly beneath the body – pulling the foot over onto its inside edge – but with the shaft of the boot keeping the ski on the uphill edge. This allows the adductor muscles and “rocked over” foot to aid better in the pivoting. Much of this would of course be felt more clearly after the indoors “feet” exercises. The key to pivoting however is angulation and anticipation with the use of a pole plant – then the active use of the centre of mass slightly downhill of the skis – with pole support (keeping the ski on the uphill edge as long as possible). The feet and adductors only gently assist the process. To enhance awareness of this process Leyla did some pivoting from the lower ski instead. I added a demonstration of “two ski” pivoting to explain why sometimes a two-footed and very close stance was sometimes useful in both bumps and off-piste.

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