Lesson 3: Letting Go Does NOT Equal Laziness.
I still remember dancing days when I could turn like a top, and then days when nothing I did could make those pirohuettes happen. I also remember my response to those dark days: total frustration. I actually remember the sensation that would rise through my body and into my head: hot, red, angry and confused. Then, I would pull myself together and apply my well-engrained dancer’s work ethic: I would practice over and over again, pushing through the problem in the hopes of arriving at a solution.
Unfortunately, it didn’t always work. In fact, in retrospect, I’m pretty sure it didn’t do me much good, most of the time. So why did I stick to that plan? I think it’s because dancers have a hard time letting go; it feels totally foreign, and often we confuse it with being lazy or giving up. I was never good at letting to go, particularly when it came to my technique.
And this is where Lesson 3 from Yoga comes in…
…much of yoga requires relaxation and deep breathing (which cannot be done when tense and straining). Success is achieved when the breath initiates the movement, and when we accept our bodies and abilities in that moment. And sometimes, things don’t work, just like in dance.
But unlike dance, yoga instructors have a different approach: they recognize that one day is not always like the next: there are variations in what our bodies can tackle and that is okay. It’s not a sign of devolving ability, or lack of dedication or discipline. Just, some days, you can do a head stand or a triple pirohuette, and some days you can’t. *
So yoga instructors say things like, “Go into lotus, if it is available to you today.” If you can’t make lotus that day, you can sit cross-legged, and no one seems to mind.
It has taken me a long time to stop minding and to just let go when I can’t achieve something I did yesterday. In that moment, when I let go and surrender to breathing, I grow in a different way. I accept that I am human, that my body is slightly different every day, and that my real challenge is in letting go, not in pushing hard.
This is an important lesson for dancers who are taught to be perfect every day and to really beat themselves up for variations in the abilities. Sometimes relaxing can help. Give it a try.
* This reminds me of a performance of Don Quixote I saw last spring at ABT where Gillian Murphy danced Kitri. Murphy is an exceptional turner who regularly wows audiences with her multiples, but that night, she was off. Rather than feeling disappointed, I was actually excited to see her dance on an off-night (which was still incredible) because it gave me the opportunity to see her work through her body’s issues. Of course, she was fantastic and if you didn’t know she was a turner, you never would have guessed she wasn’t on.