This past winter while skiing at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, NY, my son and I learned some valuable information from a group of teenage snowboarders. After listening to these young riders talk about doing flips over jumps and spinning off rails, I inquired as to how one would even begin such a procedure. I was certain, after all, that their first trick was not a back flip off a 30-foot high ramp.
They replied, “It’s simple. Start by going slowly down a hill and when you get to a small bump just look over your shoulder and your snowboard will follow.”
“Interesting,” I thought to myself. “And what about those back flips?”
“Same thing,” they replied. “Go off the jump and then flip your head back while looking behind you and the snowboard will follow.”
I noticed immediately that they didn’t say, “Turn the board” or “flip your body.” In both cases they said, “look.” In other words, where the eyes go the body follows.
This is well known in other sports such as mountain biking and waterskiing where focusing on an obstacle actually causes the athlete to hit exactly what they are trying to avoid. Research bears this out as well where studies have shown that “the output of motor systems responsible for moving the feet is heavily influenced by motor systems responsible for generating and coordinating eye and head movements to peripheral targets.”
Consider, how many of our clients look at their feet while walking? How might their neuro-motor systems be functioning in relation to a persistent downward gaze? I have noticed that these clients seem to be trapped between the downward pull of their visual focus and a desperate attempt to hold themselves up; literally exhausting themselves as the opposite sides of their bodies fight each other.
In order to create efficient movement strategies, we now know that direction of visual gaze is of vital importance as it activates reflexive neuro-motor systems and stimulates natural balancing mechanisms. Rehabilitative Qigong & Tai Chi gestures always include three points of focus: body, breath, and vision. By weaving these three elements together, our physiology enters into a relaxed, efficient, and purposeful state where barriers to change are gently moved aside, like stones being rearranged by the consistent flowing of a stream.
So this week, stay relaxed, stay consistent, and watch where you are going – for that is where you are certain to end up.