Inner Skiing by Timothy Gallwey & Robert Kriegel
Inner Skiing is full of anecdotes such as these, making it, the right book for me but more importantly at the right time. It’s been sitting unread on my shelf for a couple of years all the while I have been wrestling with why I just can’t seem to “get” skiing.
I have recently come back from Switzerland on a high because for the first time I skied beyond my fear to achieve new limits. And what’s more, I enjoyed the whole experience, not just the fresh Air, fun friends and coffee stops.
Until I read Inner Skiing—after the event—I did not know why or how such a transformation had occurred. So with renewed enthusiasm, I grabbed the book off my shelf to see if it had any answers.
The timing was impeccable. I know now that had I read this book before I had experienced my own epiphany on a subject that has challenged me for two decades I would not have been be able to resonate fully with the book.
More than a book on learning to ski, Inner Skiing is a book on the process of learning. It uses Timothy Gallwey’s Inner Game methods—that revolve around quieting the ego mind and trusting the subconscious to gain confidence—and applies them to skiing.
Inner Skiing has been written by both Timothy and Robert, a former all-American athlete and now coach to Olympic and professional athletes, but the narrative is from Robert’s perspective. The words, the concepts, the humour, the reference to spiritual texts—Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Carlos Castaneda’s Teaching of Don Juan—all resonated after my own breakthrough skiing experience.
Skiing happened to be subject I was learning, but the timing of Timothy’s wisdom on the process of learning is spot on given the rapidly changing world we live in. “The willingness to be a beginner is an essential ingredient to being a good learner,” says Timothy. “It is the willingness to “not know” and to be comfortable with not knowing that makes both children and adults able to learn without fear.”
This book is about rediscovering how to learn. The oak exists within the acorn is the basic premise. “Learning is about improving what is already within…. Learning happens best when both instructor and student recognise that experience is the teacher….Like anything else, learning to ski is a process of discovery that comes primarily from experience itself…our body learns from its experience, just as it did when learning to swim or ride a bike,” says Robert.
“[A] skier discovers that the secret to success in skiing lies in not trying too hard, and that his best teacher is his own experience. He develops a true sense of self-confidence that allows him to view his falls and mistakes as learning opportunities rather than reasons for anger and frustration.”
Natural learning process is discovery by experience. “The quality of learning is directly proportionate to the quality of the feedback one receives from experience,” says Robert. “The experiences that we call mistakes are actually valuable feedback….errors are an integral part of the learning process….What we need to eliminate is not the mistakes themselves, but our fear of making them and the consequent judgements, criticisms and anger,” adds Robert.
In addition to feedback, another part of learning is practise as it is by practising that we achieve mastery. “Practise requires motivation and motivation requires recognition of the importance of practise,” says Robert. This probably explains why it has taken me so long to learn: a few days of skiing every couple of years is hardly going to bring on my excellence over night, but I was reading this book because I was sure there was more to it.
The book is filled with golden nuggets of wisdom that can be applied to skiing, tennis, Yoga and life itself. I have been a believer in the Inner Game ever since I read Timothy’s Inner Game of Tennis, but because tennis was a game that never seemed to out my inner monsters, the transformative effect of silencing them was lost.
Timothy discovered this when he tried to teach the Inner Game of Skiing to ski instructors. The lecture went down like cold soup on a freezing day, but when he talked about the Inner Game as it related to tennis, the ski instructors all found parallels and understood the metaphorical relationship much better.
I am not sure the book would have been so powerful before my own personal epiphany. I would have known the theory but not had the experience of knowing that body awareness, trusting natural instincts, learning by paying attention, and the simply enjoyment of skiing, is already in there. It is just waiting for some silence so that it can come out. “Breakthrough appears only when we stop thinking,” Robert says.
The idea of stilling the mind is central to many transformational processes, such as yoga. But instead of discussing the different types of Meditation one can do, the Inner Game process goes to the source of the “noise,” the inner chatter, also known as the inner dialogue.
Core to all of the Inner Game books—Inner Game of Tennis, Inner Game of Golf, Inner Game of Work and Inner Game of Music—is understanding that the inner game is a conversation (often an argument) between two selves that Timothy calls Self 1 and Self 2. Some disciplines prefer to call Self 1 the ego and Self 2 is the soul or the conscious and subconscious minds, respectively.
One of the reasons why this book of all of Timothy’s has resonated so loudly is that skiing is where my Self 1 is at its most ferocious and most likely to hurl me down a mountain by filling my head with fears. Robert says fear is probably the biggest obstacle to any learning process. “It exists in the mind, and almost always is based on something that might happen in the future, rather than what is happening now.”
“The fears and doubts in the mind are automatically transferred to the body in the form of tension, rigidity and awkwardness,” says Robert in the opening chapter. And it is the tension, rigidity and awkwardness that is likely to result in the falls we fear.
I have been referring to my recent ski trip as a breakthrough trip, picking up on Robert’s idea of a breakthrough run. “[Breakthrough moments] are those creative flashes when the solution to a problem emerges at the instant you least expect it, the intuitive eureka…they help us recognised our inherent possibilities…. breakthroughs appear only when we stop thinking.”
Taming the mind is crucial because as thinking increases, awareness decreases. “The truth is that the more awareness you can bring to the practise of a new skill, the more easily, quickly and thoroughly you will learn it,” says Robert.
But there is one more skill that Robert and Timothy added into the learning process: developing the art of concentration. “The simple law of concentration is that it follows interest. Whenever we let our minds become truly absorbed in an activity it is enjoyable. Making the choice to concentrate is to practise disciplining one’s mind and directing one’s own awareness.”
While I did not know that silencing Self 1 was probably at the heart of my breakthrough ski trip, I am convinced that my new regular yoga practise has had some thing to do with it. I attribute the transformation to the benefits of yoga because it seems to be the only variable that is different from the last two decades of attempting to ski.
By reading the book, I felt I had made a connection between two seemingly disparate practises. In addition to awareness and stilling the mind, another skill I believe yoga has brought to my skiing is that of balance. “[Skiing] is a sport for experiencing one’s freedom and trust in one’s inner balance,” say Timothy.
“For many [the natural learning phenomena] allowed skiing to become a metaphor for the freedom and autonomy that they wanted to bring into the rest of their lives,” says Timothy. The ability to learn without fear is crucial as new technologies and reorganisations require mastering totally new skills, he adds.
“Modern life is not kind to ruts. Everyone is being required to unlearn old ways of doing things and to be able to adapt to changes without losing balance. We are all being called to rediscover the inherent talent for learning we have as human beings,” says Timothy. As a book for learning life skills, it is probably one of the best “self-help” books I have read to date.