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The wonder of muscle memory and being a badass

Posted on March 16, 2016

Your muscles are a genius


We might forget what we had for dinner yesterday but our muscles remember pretty much everything if they are trained well enough. Here’s a little story. One of the my best friends Briony, learnt to ski with me on a school trip to Austria over 15 years ago. Fast forward to today and she can still get down a mountain on a blue run with no tumbles. Consciously she might have felt nervous and a little tense, but her legs remembered how to get her down a mountain in one piece. Unconsciously her body was doing all the hard work, not a surprise when our unconscious mind processes 40 million bits of data  per second in comparison to our conscious minds working through only 40 in the same timefame.

Here’s the magic – when we learn new skills and train our muscles we create a physiological blueprint. Your brain creates new neuro pathways which connect to your nervous system and muscle fibres and as training continues the muscle movement becomes automatic. A weeks worth of skiing was enough to solidify the feedback loop between Briony’s brain and muscles in her legs and over a decade and a half later the pathways which had been archived were reactivated. So much so that within a day of being on the slopes Briony had moved from level one of ski school to level four. Pretty awesome.

Although I’ve skiied a bit more regulary, I’ve had a similar experience. No lessons since I  was 15 and my ability to get down a mountain has been entirely dependant on muscle memory. I’ve learnt this week that when skiing feels most natural to me it’s when I focus on my breath. I’m still working on my short turns and parallel technique and I’m at my best when I activate my turns through my breath. Inhale, ski left, exhale, turn and ski right and down the mountain I go. Everything flows and the breath literally lifts my body up and then down as I melt into my turn. Actively breathing helps my body to move more rhythmically which enables me to move faster and deeply relaxed.

Being a badass on the slopes

Skiing from a ego centred place is a no no. It’s natural to want to zoosch down a mountain looking like the pros. But I’m not a pro and beating myself up for not being one is a huge waste of time. The moment I put pressure on myself to perform my muscles tense and nothing flows, suddenly getting down the mountain becomes a zillion times harder.

Brene Brown, one of my favourite TED speakers talks about what it is to be a badass and the power of vulnerability – well being on a mountain makes me feel pretty vulnerable at times so her wisdom suddenly became hugely relevant to me.

So here’s another story….

After a great first day on the slopes we went higher up the mountain. Having tamed a red run already I was feeling confident and excited about what the day had in store for me. Fast forward two hours into our run on the second day and I felt broken. The blues were fast, steep and bumpy and it was so hot on the mountain, I was tense and gripping so hard that my little toes were burning. I was concentrating so hard on navigating the snowy terrain that I couldn’t  flow. I was having a miserable time and I was beating myself up for not keeping up with the others. Brown maintains that ‘badassery’ is about showing up, daring, falling , feeling our way through tough emotion and rising again. Well I’d shown up, I’d been daring, I’d definitely taking some calculated risks, but although I hadn’t taken a tumble, emotionally I was beginning to fall and the pain I was experiencing only made it worse. So I took myself out of the negative environment I was creating for myself and chilled on the side of the mountain with an Orangina (tastes amazing on the slopes), some water and loosened my boot straps. The others came to meet me later.

After lunch we were planning to ski down to a bar for a little apres rave in a mountain bar (perks!). I could have got in a cable car, but I knew I needed to ‘rise’ and get back on my skis. Cue a steep and busy red run and I felt hugely tested mentally and physically. I took my time and got on to the blue, I started taking some deep breaths and slowly my flow began to return. I can’t tell you how tremendous that beer tasted when I got to the bar. I’d made it, I’d ‘risen’, I had conquered that negative voice in my head, I’d worked with my body, I felt like a badass. Now I don’t have the fear or the self-doubt. The last two days on the slopes have been bliss, even if the conditions have worsened and I feel more at home on the mountains than ever before.

Maintaining my body

It’s also reminded me to give my body lots of love and not just expect it to get me down the mountain all day everyday. Like a car after a long journey I’ve been giving it a service – yoga in the chalet every afternoon. From my neck all the way down to my feet, I’ve had no DOMS (delayed onset muscle soresness) and every morning I’ve woken feeling fresh. In fact everyone that’s joined me in some stretching as felt super for it, noticing the benefits on the mountain the very next day.

I’m going to come away from my trip to the Courchevel mountains feeling physically and mentally stronger. I now know my mind and body more intricately. I know it’s a cliche but the magic does happen out of your comfort zone, you just have to graft for it and use your vulnerability as a key motivator. Your body can do it, the challenge is to make your mind believe.

Watch Brene Brown share her wisdom here – it’s the most watched TED talk of all time.

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