Grace At Any Age

By Sibel Iren

A hardcore skier learns the joy—and wisdom—of listening to her body.
by Sibel Iren
Almost everyone I know skis. In the early ’80s I decided to move from Los Angeles to Alta with the single intention of skiing every day. In fact, we had so much snow that year I must have skied over 150 days. Prior to that, I had skied maybe 20 days total in my life. What a contrast.

For the next 11 years I lived and breathed Little Cottonwood Canyon. Winter and summer I enthusiastically experienced almost every kind of extreme sport possible in the mountains. Then in my 20s, I took my physical fitness for granted. It was easy to stay in shape merely by doing the sports I loved every day.

Time passes. A few seasons went by where I didn’t ski much at all. Even so, I was under the impression that I had kept most of my sports fitness from a decade of ski resort living. Then one day early season, I found myself standing atop Great Scott at Snowbird, taking in the view. The conditions were bare, rocky, hard and bumpy and it obviously hadn’t snowed for several days. Ready to ski, I distinctly heard my brain give the commands to my legs to drop in. Instead, to my complete surprise, I seized up. My body said, “NO!” I clearly knew that I couldn’t make the turns required to stay on my feet. Needless to say, I ended up skiing something less challenging.

Disappointed, dejected and embarrassed I poked my way back to the car and sat there, pondering. Beating myself up. Feeling old. I was not even in my 30’s any more (ahem), but did that really matter? I was still in decent shape. After all, I took care of myself, received bodywork, ate well, and hopefully was a little wiser, so what on Earth happened?

I wasn’t suddenly out of shape or afraid; it was that my body felt uncoordinated and out of synch. Moving as I used to seemed no longer an option; my body instinctively declined to comply with my mental commands, in order to keep me safe.

As I calmed down and contemplated how to remedy this situation, an answer to my plea was already waiting. My body had been trying to communicate something important to me. I decided to pay attention. I asked all the cells of my body very specifically, “What do we need to do differently or to have now, in order to feel better?” It wasn’t about becoming a “better skier” or “skiing like I used to.” The question emanated from a very different place inside.

In response, my body told me I could no longer function in the same way as when I was younger. My body was different now, my mind was different, and so was my spirit. I was different now in every way. But I was behaving and moving based on patterns, habits and activities defined by a younger me—or more accurately, an older version of me.

This was an important discovery. To attempt to move in a way that was not natural anymore would be counterintuitive to my physical senses as well as full of unnecessary effort.

In fact, I had been unaware of what was happening during this process because it occurred organically. But it was clear that I was somehow allowing myself to adapt as a result of the life that I had lived in order to stay current with who I was becoming. Therefore, habits of thinking, perception and movement must change along with the me that was changing.

The more I thought about it, the more compelling this concept became. I considered several friends and acquaintances who had focused on intense sports for years, such as skiing, who also now tended to dance between injury and recovery. They were still mentally and emotionally attached to attitudes and habits that had served them well in their younger years. Now they were often frustrated and disappointed in themselves as they viewed the discord between who they remembered themselves to be and who they really were now.

I contemplated my own similar reality checks over years of skiing and how I also managed to fend them off, buying more time.

On the other hand, I also knew others within the same over-40 bracket who told a very different story. These people had a sport they loved, whether it was new or old to them. They trained hard, competed, had families and careers, and manged to stay healthy and happy. How did these folks, with their similarly busy lives and various physical abilities, manage to continually function at high levels, injury-free?

In talking with them it made perfect sense. This group of people stayed in touch with who they were becoming while living life. Their attitude simply reflected the reality they had created for themselves and they functioned from that awareness. They were having fun in virtually all areas of their lives and their bodies were giving them the thumbs-up!

How fascinating and amazing to view life as becoming more wonderful every day!

Our bodies are our barometers. They tell us every minute of every day how we are doing in relation to ourselves as we live our lives, have experiences and add to our overall blueprint of Self. When we find ourselves out of balance, tired and unmotivated, our bodies are very clearly sending us signals that we are not aligned and in our flow. It makes it hard to do the things we love, especially sports.

Skiing is a very clear channel for this. The nature of skiing is to flow and it is readily apparent when we are not flowing while skiing. This is a signal.

On the other hand, when we are in our flow we aren’t even thinking about it. It happens quite naturally: We feel good, energized and enthusiastic. Everything becomes effortless, including the way our bodies move. We have elegance, strength and overall balance. This is also a signal. It matters, then, where we place our focus. And the way we know how to maintain or redirect focus is by listening to our bodies.

On the practical level, the skill of listening to our bodies is not as vague as it sounds. Most of us perceive our bodies through physical sensation. However, our emotional, mental and spiritual experiences are also registered in our bodies and in particular, our cells. They are the record keepers, which makes sense since it is the only thing we take with us wherever we go. We develop this skill by training ourselves to pay attention to the signals.

The first important step is to become familiar with the types of signals we are receiving. They can be physical sensations or emotional responses to an event or situation.

We do this by paying attention, even when we do not like what we are hearing. By simply allowing the information to come forward and acknowledging its existence, we automatically set change into motion.

The next step is to recognize we can choose to further engage these messages or ignore them. This is where a lot of people get derailed. If you ignore a signal your body is sending you, don’t worry, it will generally get louder—usually with an injury or illness.

By intending to listen carefully and frequently to our internal guidance system, however, one can make course corrections before it becomes a crisis situation.

Now that we have started to train ourselves to listen to our body’s wisdom, what next?

This is where we access our intui?tion. All of us have it and it is readily available for our use, just like our computers. And, as with a computer, it involves asking to be shown the direction—much like a Google search.

When the body gives messages requiring a course correction, ask it to clearly show the best course. Then pay attention to where you are drawn.

In my case, I was drawn to Pilates. Within a very short time, I was feeling more integrated. My coordination was returning. Pilates really spoke to my natural style of movement. My body signals were telling me I was on the right track because I started feeling much better, integrated and back in my flow.

During this same period I attended Kristen Ulmer’s Ski to Live program. Ski to Live incorporates Big Mind, a creation of Zen master Genpo Roshi that waxes the tracks to transcendent experience. Repeatedly dubbed by the media and her peers as the most extreme woman skier in the world, Kristen herself was dealing with injuries from years of constantly pushing her body. She saved herself with her own program and has shared it with skiers and snow-boarders at all levels since its inception in 2003.

Ski to Live takes the participant on a journey to become acquainted with one’s preferences, beliefs and habits in the psychological and spiritual realm, then bridges it to a physical experience, in this case skiing. Participants can quickly see how self-perception affects not only the inner landscape but outer experience as well, and how it’s all linked together. I was quickly connecting the dots of my own inner and outer experience and actively changing my relationship with skiing to better suit who I am today. The timing was perfect.

Looking back on my life, I realize that all along my body has been sending messages. I’ve often ignored them, sometimes interacted with them and usually made some course correction, consciously or not. In every case, I’ve grown.

Kristen has seen hundreds of people blossom in the process of accessing their inner knowing. And it’s a wonder to behold: “Jumping off 70-foot cliffs was exciting, but not nearly as exciting as helping people access something they already know; what they’re capable of—not just as athletes or business men and women, but as human beings.”

I’ve found that in my work, as well. I’m eternally grateful for the courage to allow myself to change, share what I have learned and have fun doing it!

With a highly skilled trainer or on your own—paying attention to your body’s own signals is where it all begins.

Sibel Iren ( has an intuitive healing practice in Salt Lake City. She receives her inspiration form the majestic Wasatch Mountains, is grateful for her education in spiritual psychology and is an unabashed seeker of joy.

Ski to Live:

This article was originally published on December 31, 2008.