Three years ago, I started to practice yoga. It was something I had always meant to do, but somehow never got around to it. After I was diagnosed with arthritis in my feet and it became too painful to do ballet classes for fun, it seemed like a good time to give yoga a try.
Now I cannot imagine NOT practicing yoga. It has changed my body, my strength, and the inner workings of my mind in ways that I could not have imagined. I’m going to share some of the lessons I have learned from practicing yoga that you might find applicable to your ballet training. Let me also say that if I had practiced yoga as a dancer, I think it would have helped me enormously. If only I had known…! *
First Lesson: Yoga is a Practice.
You might have noticed that I used that word a lot above: I practice yoga; I have a yoga practice. It took me a while to stop saying “I do yoga” or even “I take yoga.” “Practice” just sounded weird to me, but now I get it. Doing and taking aren’t the right words for yoga: we come to the studio and we practice. Which suggests a few things that are worth considering as a dancer:
- We don’t expect perfection. The word practice gives us permission to work for something other than perfection. We don’t expect someone who is practicing piano to be perfect. Same thing here. In some ways, we almost expect mistakes, right? After all, we’re just practicing! What a relief both mentally and physically.
- It’s a process. Practice implies a process: we are where we are, but we’re working to get better. It’s not about being able to do the poses, it’s about the daily process of getting there. I find this relieves pressure; if I don’t get it today, maybe tomorrow will be better.
- Progress is ongoing. I have yet to hear a yoga teacher compare one day’s success with another day’s failure. In fact, they never say the word “can’t”- instead, they say things like, “Move into full lotus, if you can access it today.” Or “Just do headstand prep if your headstand isn’t available today…” Isn’t that a great concept? That some days, certain things just aren’t available? They’re not gone forever, you didn’t lose them, they’re just not always available on demand. It’s a much more gentle approach to progress than perhaps we allow ourselves in dance. I remember the frustration of feeling like I had lost my pirohuettes to the left- the agony! It was truly devastating.
I think this approach could have some major benefits for dancers. I also think the idea of having access to different areas of technique at different times is much more realistic than what we’re used to. Why not demand a little less in terms of outcomes and focus a little more on the process of our training? It might relieve some of that internal pressure we put on ourselves to be the perfect dancer every day.
* Or if only I had listened to my mother who suggested yoga on many occasions to me, but for some reason, I never listened. Argh!