Playing on the slackline

Most nice days there are some folks on the quad with a slackline—a strip of nylon webbing perhaps an inch wide pulled fairly tight between two trees. You—if you’ve got pretty good balance—can walk the line from one tree to the other. Today for the first time, I gave it a try.

My first attempts were not a success—I was able to get up on the line, but not able to balance myself without an assist, nor walk more than a step even with an assist.

I did, however, learn a lot.

The balance work I’ve done as part of my taiji practice—single-leg standing—has been very different. All my experience in taiji has been about establishing a stable base on the standing leg. If you do that, then you can do pretty much whatever you want with your arms or your other leg.

The slackline is completely different. There is no stable base, and trying to establish one is pointless. Instead, you need to just accept the fact that your base is unstable: You need to actively provide your own stability, by constantly adjusting to the constantly moving slackline under you.

I only had a few minutes to experiment before my Esperanto meeting, so I didn’t figure out the trick before it was time to move on. But I think I’ve got the intellectual part figured out. Just like a tray is balanced with your hands and arms and not with your eyes, you need to trust your feet, ankles, and legs to do what is necessary without staring at the line: the feedback via your eyes is simply not fast enough to be useful.

To attend my Esperanto meeting, I’ll be wandering through the quad most Saturday afternoons all spring, so hopefully I’ll get several more chances to play on the slackline. I expect I’ll get it figured out before summer.