I Once Was a Figure Skater

I was a figure skater before I was a yogi.

I know.

I’ll pause for your reaction.


I was a figure skater before I was a yogi. In fact it was the competitive figure skating that took me to yoga. I was sixteen and skating regularly, and I began searching for its compliment. Some kind of cross-training if you will. I wanted to try something new, where I could be kind of anonymous but do a form of movement that would assist my skating. So I ended up in Iyengar Yoga. And so the story unfolds.

My private sessions with my figure skating coach often involved ten to twenty minutes of me talking about what was going on in my life and about ten or fifteen minutes of fierce maneuvering across the ice. We always started our time together with a “check-in”. It just so happened that since I thought my life kind of sucked, and I trusted her, I had quite a load to “check-in” about.

I was once asked to describe something from my past that had surely brought me to my current point on my path. These skating privates were my first experience with what I know now as Somatic Therapy. Now of course this was not Psychotherapy in the traditional sense. We weren’t in an office. I didn’t sign any confidentially agreement. It actually wasn’t the relationship we originally agreed upon. Other friends had purely teacher student relationships with their coaches. But some of us, myself included, also found solace in the intimacy of the teacher-student dyad.

So while it wasn’t psychotherapy, it was therapeutic in that the relationship was healing. She gave me a place to be heard. She gave me a place to tell the truth. She gave me a space to be validated and reminded that my experience was real. When you skate and you hurl yourself at high speeds across frozen icy surfaces and then you fall, you can’t say, “oh that didn’t hurt at all”. That is a lie. It hurts. It hurts a lot. But you get up and you keep going. You learn pretty quickly that your reality of the ice being cold and the falls hurting is true and real. And that you also have to get up, keep going, and where gloves. You also learn that you cannot see yourself clearly. You need someone to sometimes tell you why you keep falling.

It was the first time I understood that in order to process my emotions; I had to move my body. Everything I felt or had talked about in the first part of our lesson I left on the side, and poured myself whole-heart onto the ice. Sometimes I would empty my emotions into my jumps and spins. If I was angry I could leave that mark through my toe-pick. Sometimes I skated to sail away from problems. Sometimes I skated to remind myself of my sanity. But mostly skating just felt good. It felt like I could be home in my body for a little while. I bet the falling and shocking my body into feeling something, albeit pain, was also one of the allures. But that story is for later.

We are very emotionally sterile in our culture. Therapy goes over here, friendships go over there, and education goes in that corner, mentoring in the box over there. To maintain the sanctity, and specialty of the psychotherapeutic relationship is to everyone’s benefit. But sometimes healing does not actually work like that. Again and again we see that the therapeutic relationship itself is what creates healing not just the behavior modifications. In fact, I would argue that behavior modification does not work without a solid foundation in the relational dyad. We also know that moving our bodies in some kind of discipline (Even free form dance has a certain discipline) is regulatory. As my philosophy teacher says, “clear boundaries, no limits.”

So while I honor and abide by the notion that Psychotherapy is a special relationship with very clear documentation, language, structure and limits, we also need to remember that life is circuitous and strange. No relationship fits into a tidy box actually. Therapy and Healing are not isolated events occurring in a vacuum. We reveal our secrets to those we trust. We repair wounds when trust affords safety and offers love. 

Livia ShapiroComment