I'm sure many of you have done yoga. It's quickly becoming compulsory in summer intensives and college dance programs, and many professional dancers swear by it as a great supplement to their classes. Yoga comes easily to ballet dancers, as the flexibility, discipline and core strength required is often already there. But while I've heard so many dancers talk about the physical benefits of yoga (increased flexibility, strength, and balance), I don't often hear many talk about the mental benefits.
Ballet, while it is one of the most beautiful things you can do, is also one of the most stressful. In my last post, I wrote about the toll that stress can take on a dancer physically and emotionally, and it can certainly make ballet a lot less fun. I remember days when going to class seemed like such a chore, and when I really felt like I could never live up to my expectations or those of my teachers. This kind of feeling is so common among dancers, and the fear of falling short, of failing in some way, is what causes a lot of anxiety for many of us. But it wasn't until I started to practice yoga regularly that I realized how much it can help to calm your mind by encouraging you to focus on the rhythm of your breath, and, perhaps most importantly, to be proud of anything you do. This is probably what I find most beneficial about yoga--not the physical workout I get, but how much it helps me to relax and accept myself the way I am, and how it balances out the critical way I look at myself when I dance. It's incredibly important to try and achieve that balance, because it helps you achieve your artistic goals in a much healthier fashion than simply whipping yourself up into a hypercritical frenzy every time you step into the studio.
Yoga's not for everyone, and I'm not saying that it's a magic key that will instantly change your attitude about life and dancing. But if nothing else, it will give you a place where you can get away from the mirrors and the eyes of your teachers, coaches and classmates, and just let yourself breathe and feel good. To me, yoga class is a safety zone where I'm not competing with other people, or trying to please anyone except myself, and that, I think, is as important in the life of a ballet dancer as technique class.