Get some tips from observing your footprints in the snow...and from
by Zia Parker, M.A., C.M.T.
and comments by Esther Graw, Ed.D
Written for "Sno News", magazine of the Master's Ski Racing Association Zia has been an certified Aston® Patterner for 18 years, and in practice as a health practitioner for 25 years. She has an M.A. in Movement Therapy and certification as a Massage Therapist for 21years. She has worked with all levels of athletes, from volunteering with the sit-sled program(for paraplegics) at Breckenridge, to working with bicyclists at the Olympic training center. As a note of interest, her great uncles helped build the first ski jumps on Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs.
Next time you see your footprints in the snow, look again. There is much information to be gleaned here. Perhaps your tracks tell you there is more weight left, or right; one foot turns out more that the other, one foot has more weight on the lateral heel, the other more weight on the mid-line of your forefoot, etc. If your weight is predominantly on your heels, you may ask: what strategy is best for me to counteract this tendency so I can get forward on my skiis? If your weight is heavy on the outside borders of your feet, it may correspond to a tendency to turn too wide at the slalom gates...or, depending on your pattern of body-use, too narrow. Like the cue ball on a pool table, the distinct forces of weight-bearing express themselves in many different ways as they travel through your body, somewhat like force vectors. Footprints in snow, or sand, or the wear-pattern on shoes are ways to get a reading on our habitual movement patterns. Orthotics, cants, etc can help to a certain extent. However, structural imbalances will inevitably translate to other body parts, perhaps causing secondary problems.
These issues are the expertise of Aston-Patterning®, a movement-based body therapy method. In the Aston-Patterning® system, movement patterns and structural balance are seen as flip sides of a coin. That is, movement patterns ("how" you use your body) shape the structure of the physical body over time; and structural misalignments and imbalances define movement patterns. In Aston-Patterning(AP)®, movement patterns are assessed in every session through 1) observation of gait, and 2) mapping of the body's tension pattern. The tools to facilitate change toward more efficient and effective movement patterns include: movement coaching, three types of hands-on work ("myo", "arthro", and Aston® massage), very individualized exercise design, and ergonomic education. Rather than trying to fit each individual into an ideal that is based on an external model , Aston-Patterning® recognizes that each individual, with his/her unique history of accidents, injury, psycho-emotional influences, derives balance in a unique way. The process is a collaboration between practitioner and client. AP offers many possibilities for increasing your body's ease, efficiency, and balance. The possibilities for positive outcome include:
* knowing your body better--it's unique strengths/weaknesses/potential
* improved alignment
* more direct weightbearing, therefore, less unneccessary effort involved in working against gravity
* learning to use gravity to your benefit
* learning efficient use of body-weight for momentum (learn to use your body-weight to your advantage--not your disadvantage)
* learning why you tend to get injured where you tend to get injured, and how to minimize risk of injury
* excellent tools to assist recovery --from injury, or neutralizing the effect of working out
All this adds up to more ease and less effort, less aches and pains, and more comfort in your body. Also important, generally speaking, of course more efficiency means the potential for more speed. It helps to know movement principles to optomize performance for any sport. Most athletes know their sports, but are not as well-versed in knowing their bodies and the full potential for performance. For example, I once worked with a cross-country skier from the American team. He had injured the lower ribs in his back.
He expected me to treat the symptom area only. I asked him to mock up his current training regime. At the time, he was working out on roller skiis. As he showed me his technique, it became immediately obvious to me why he injured himself where he did. He was using his thoracic spine as a hinge, whereas the hip joint would more effectively provide the predominant source of hinging action.
His coach had encouraged him to hinge more at his hip, but did not perceive that he was trying to use his ribs as a hinge, and did not give him "the how" to help him identify the difference and reroute his movement strategy. To change a well-worn groove in our movement patterning, it works best if a new movement option is offered to the nervous system as a choice. I coached him with simple, "bite-sized", stair-stepped kinesthetic sequencing to make the distinction clear to his body and his mind.
"Myo" and "Arthro", hands-on techniques of Aston-Patterning®, were essential aspects of the relearning process. The hands-on work assisted the healing process of the overused and abused ribs that were not designed for hinging action, and helped him open the more efficient movement pathway of hip-hinging. In AP, we find that "the how" is very important. Kinesthetic learning, that is, learning in the body, occurs through carefully sequenced small experiences of success. This is what we call "learning on the yes".
Our minds are capable of abstract thinking, so we can easily instantly grasp what we want to happen on a cognitive level. Our bodies need to learn through an entirely different process. Understanding the process of kinesthetic education is the special talent of Judith Aston, the originator of Aston-Patterning®. The Aston® work has influenced sports & exercise, body therapy and rehabilitation, industry, and ergonomic product design in many countries over the last 30 years. Judith is still active in training, writing, and product design at the Aston Training Center® in Lake Tahoe. Her latest project, a treadmill workout video that assists in structural balancing is soon to be released.
Recovery is so important. The more one engages in recovery or "nuetralizing" as an ongoing process, the less one will be likely to come up against a major injury. I tell my ballet clients, "don't take your ballet body to the Safeway store". This applies to any sport. There was an ultra-distance runner I worked with that looked like he was running even when he was standing still--the movement pattern of his sport was so strongly imposed on his body. In Aston® Fitness classes, one can learn a simple, succinct routine to nuetralize the effect of your sport.
In the Aston® Fitness classes, we test relative strength of the various groups of leg muscles. This is very important to know in your training strategy. For example, if your hamstrings are the strongest and shortest of your leg muscles, they will consistently draw your spatial orientation posteriorly (pull you backwards). This backweight will give you less control via edging, lessen stability, and create a gravitational disadvantage.
Train smart, not just hard -- this is the message. Esther Graw, who has worked with me for 2.5 years has this to say: "I believe the Aston-Patterning® work that Zia practices is important and valuable for athletes in all sports, especially those of us who can remember when slalom poles were bamboo and precisely what we were doing when JFK was shot.
Studying and practicing Aston-Patterning® with Zia Parker for more than two years, and it has made a huge difference in my life. When I first went to see her, I was suffering from plantar fasiicitis(which causes extreme heel pain), my lower back was painful, and I was having trouble with my knees. Zia has helped me change my movement patterns through her hands-on work, her movement coaching with my skiing in mind, and her specifically tailored exercise program. My plantar fasciitis, back and knee problems have cleared up completely, and my skiing has improved markedly. The biggest improvement in my skiing has been that now I can bring my hips forward easier and more naturally, enabling me to make better turns. My body is also more in balance, stronger, and more flexible than I can ever remember.
Zia is an excellent skier, and was a spectator at our Masters Nationals at Winter Park last year, so she understands our challenges as ski racers. I enthusiastically recommend her to anyone who is hurting and/or just wants to ski better and avoid getting injured. "