Last weekend I went skiing in Whistler.
Now, I am not what you’d call a great skiier. Last time I was on the mountain was three years ago, before that, it had been a decade. So let’s just say that I was shocked to find out that good skis aren’t straight and that it’s now considered cool to wear helmets.
My idea of making it down the mountain in one piece is to traverse it as slowly as possible. I ski horizontally across to one side, do a little jiggle hop, then cruise on back across the mountain. Now, if you know something about skiing, you’ll know that covering the mountain like you were crawling down switchbacks is not precisely the point.
To ease my way back from what was essentially at 13-year hiatus, I took a lesson.
Yoyo, my very kind Japanese instructor, first made me ski without poles and keep my body facing down the mountain. Down the mountain? Yes, down the mountain. In a move that seems bizarrely counter-intuitive, I am supposed to turn my body down towards the sloping belly of beast, regardless of what my hips and knees are doing beneath me – or the natural tendency to lean back. Despite my misgivings, keeping my torso facing down the hill actually seems to help me stay in control and Yoyo seems pleased with me.
“Much better. Much more stable.” He nods approvingly when we stop.
I’m pleased, and a little flushed. “It’s a lot to think about,” I say. “Keep the head still, torso down, arms forward, shoulder forward, core in…”
He frowns, “No, no. Don’t think too much.”
I frown back. Easy for the ski instructor to say.
We continue to work on my upper body (“Keep body facing down!”), but towards the end of the day, Yoyo deems me ready to work on my edging. He instructs me that instead of lifting my skis to turn, I should roll my weight across them to use the edges. Edge on one side, then roll to center, turn, and edge on the other side. I give it a whirl and notice with a bit if panic that when my weight becomes even on the skis, I seem to suddenly move much faster.
“Good, good!” says Yoyo. “See your lines, better edging.”
I glance behind me and -sure enough- my skis have cut twin grooves in the fluffy snow.
Life is grand. I swoosh down the mountain by following in Yoyo’s tracks.
And then we hit the ice.
I wipe out. In a beautiful blitz of snow.
Yoyo swishes up to me.
“I need,” I say, trying to haul my butt up, “to slow down, huh. Make slower turns.”
Yoyo shakes his head. “No, turn faster.”
“Point your skiis down, and turn more. Turn, turn, turn.”
I have managed to get up. I look at him. Rather doubtfully.
Despite the screaming resistance in my brain. I turn my skiis down the hills. And Turn. And Turn. And Turn.
And strangely, despite the fact that I am going faster – I’m cruising right along, really – I feel more connected to my feet. I feel more in control. The skiing is actually going better.
And it’s the same with yoga.
And with life, since, let’s cut to it, people, yoga is really just a big ol’ reflection of life.
Sometimes the next step on the path is not to know more. You can’t study up harder. There’s no more homework to be done. Learning more details and having better skills won’t always take you across that final chasm. Instead – we have to trust. Isvara Pranidhana, as the sutras say. Surrender to god. What takes us into handstand is that moment where we go, well, screw it, and let the chips fall where they may. We practice, we prepare the ground….and then we have to let go to something bigger. And when we turn our skiis down the hill, when we give up our scrappy attempts at control and dive into the jetstream – that’s when, strangely, everything starts moving with grace.