Skeeter Tichnor was a member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team. For over a decade, her love of movement fed her passion for competitive skiing and eventually led her to discover the therapeutic training system of Dr. Mosche Feldenkrais. Since then, Skeeter has travelled around the world, teaching yoga to those with disabilities as well as advanced yogis, athletes and dancers. As a certified Feldenkrais®, Anusara, Bones for Life® and Laughter Yoga® teacher, Skeeter’s twenty years of teaching have evolved into a method that is uniqely her own. She currently lives on Maui, where she has founded and directs the Open to Life Yoga Teacher Training School in partnership with Lumeria Maui. Skeeter shared her journey from Grand Rapids, Michigan to the shores of Maui with _PRACTICE.
I became a freestyle skier in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Grand Rapids isn’t really known for having big mountains, so it didn’t take long for it to become a bit boring – you know, just ski down the hill, then what? Well, what if I jumped off this bump? Then what? Well, how about jump off this bump, and then spin around in the air? So it evolved into the freestyle skiing form. It was an avenue of expressing joy in moving and joy in being alive. It led to a long passionate exploration of playing in the snow.
I liked finding excellence and embodying excellence from the inside out and that’s probably why freestyle appealed to me. It was a renegade sport back then, unregulated at that time. It never felt like it was about competing. It was giving a stage to an expression. And competition seemed to be the fastest avenue to keep on doing what you love.
While attending University, I was selected to the U.S. Ski team and was training for the 1988 Olympics. I was in a perfect position for the Olympics when I damaged my ACL during a pole flip. A pole flip is when you plant your ski poles in front of you, and lean your stomach into them, and then use them launch and twist off of. I was doing a one-half revolution twist. But my skis got ahead of me. My skis did two twists and my body did one and a half...
But I didn’t retire from skiing.
I traveled to Africa. And my therapy was to climb Kilimanjaro. Four months after total knee reconstruction, I was on top of Kilimanjaro.
I ended up falling in love with Africa, and eventually made over twenty trips there, working with handicapped people in jewelry-making workshops.
I worked with a group called Bombolulu. They were a group in Kenya for the blind. I loved the idea of blind people forming beauty that other people would wear. They couldn’t see the jewelry but were creating designs that would bring form into life. I also worked with a group called Jacaranda. These people had psycho-emotional challenges. They also made jewelry mostly with wire and glass beads. All their designs had spirals - so everything kept connecting, spiraling - everything back to nature, to feeling, and that helped them to have an artistic practice to connect back to nature. They could see the real value in their work and it was helping them to find avenues to create income for themselves and their communities.
That turned my life in a completely different direction.
When I came back to the states, skiing just was not my main focus. I thought I would take it one day at a time and see if the passion for competive skiing returned. But I was always much more interested in the creative element of ballet skiing than I ever was in competition. So now I was focusing my energy on a new creation...
The (Mosche) Feldenkrais Method was a huge part of my recovery from surgery. It was a huge part of my being able to climb Kilimanjaro. My first experience with yoga had come through the work of Feldenkrais. Feldenkrais is a method of learning how to learn. Quite simply, the most therapeutic action one can do in life is to be aware and to be continually integrating your environment with your thoughts and actions. The work of Dr. Feldenkrais got me started on this path and, to me, this has always been what yoga is when fully practiced -- an artistic expression of Grace embodied in the human form.
I had found one of his books, years before, when I was traveling with the ski team. I always liked to go into local bookstores wherever we travelled. I was just cruising around this one store and I ended up down this aisle and saw a book about “Awareness Though Movement.” I read a few lines and was amazed -- this is exactly how I think. I was so thrilled. What Feldenkrais was talking about was exactly what I felt, and still feel. It’s exactly what I’m exploring and expressing. That was a glorious day!
At first, it really didn’t occur to me to take a class or do a Feldenkrais training. It seemed that it was so obvious that is something that you know inside you. That this was simply returning to the teacher inside. Now I really understand the value of a great teacher is to be a guide to allow people to move more effectively towards their unique divine calling.
Right now, the ocean and the life in the ocean - particularly humpback whales - are my primary teachers. I love swimming with humpback whales. When I’m with the whales in the ocean, they radiate the most beautiful pure quality of love. It comes from every cell of their huge bodies and it is so powerfully transformative.
In the world, there’s so much suffering. In the body, you can see people suffering.
So to bring an experience into a yoga student where they actually begin to feel joy and feel love – not only feel it in body but feel it coming from the inside out and actually see it radiating it out and touching other people – that’s what it’s all about.
It’s about how we connect with others through the practice.
There’s great value and worth in committing your life to bring that forward. And that's why I founded the Open to Life Yoga school.
To learn more about Skeeter and her upcoming teacher trainings, please visit www.opentolifeyoga.com