How Louisville Ballet’s Leigh Anne Albrechta Uses Yoga to Care for Her Mind and Body
Some ballet dancers spend their off-season traveling or learning new skills. In Louisville Ballet member Leigh Anne Albrechta’s case, she was able to combine both. During the summer of 2017, Albrechta spent her time off exploring Greece with a friend, visiting places like Athens, Santorini, and Naxos. Afterwards, she went to the island of Amorgos on her own and completed 200 hours of yoga-teacher training through Awakened Life School of Yoga. Now, Albrechta is a certified Vinyasa flow teacher at YOGAST8 in Louisville. Vinyasa is a form of yoga where poses, or asanas, are linked in a fluid way, connecting breath to movement.
Albrechta, who joined Louisville Ballet in 2009, took her first yoga class in 2006 while a student at The Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts. “A teacher I adored there, Victoria Mazzarelli, would always go to yoga, and she’d invite some of us students to go with her,” remembers Albrechta. She continued to do yoga occasionally, while attending summer intensives, and then started going regularly at studios while a trainee at North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet).
Albrechta, 34, uses yoga as a form of cross-training to build strength and flexibility. But over time she has also learned to appreciate the ways in which it nurtures mental health and body awareness. “It’s that idea of self-care and giving yourself the time and space to get away from all the corrections and choreography that’s running through your brain,” she explains.
Having also studied gymnastics until the age of 16, Albrechta says yoga has helped her develop a leaner frame and increased her upper-body strength for contemporary work, which she loves.
During Louisville Ballet’s season, Albrechta teaches four times a week at YOGAST8. Since her schedule is busy, she will typically take drop-in yoga classes for herself when time allows or do exercises on her own in between rehearsals or at home. When the company is on break, typically April through August, Albrechta usually teaches additional yoga sessions. She also enjoys other cross-training classes, such as barre and Pilates, during the summer.
And she walks in the morning as her schedule allows. “I usually take a mile or two walk to clear my head. It’s like meditation.”
A Balanced Plate
When it comes to nutrition, Albrechta tries to “find balance between protein, fruit, vegetables, and carbohydrates.” Some of her favorite snacks include a green smoothie in the morning with her coffee, a protein bar after class, trail mix, pretzels, hummus, yogurt, granola, and raw vegetables, such as cucumbers and carrots. She also enjoys a sweet treat every day: “I’m a dark chocolate girl and also a big fan of Twizzlers.”
Albrechta has been a vegetarian and pescatarian since the age of 17, but she just recently began introducing meat into her diet, starting with foods like natural beef jerky and meatballs. “I believe your body keeps changing and needs different things at different points of your life,” she says. “I am curious to see how my body functions now with eating a little bit of meat. I’m doing more principal roles and my schedule is heavy, so it’s important that everything I put in my body is helping me stay on top of my game.”
How-To: Figure 4 Yoga Stretch
Albrechta recommends this stretch during your warm-up or as a cool-down after dancing.
- Lie on your back and bend your knees, crossing your right ankle over your left thigh. Use both hands to pull your left thigh towards your chest, giving yourself a figure 4 stretch. This targets the piriformis muscle (external, or lateral, rotator of the hip) and the outer right glute.
- Take the entire figure 4 shape and drop it to the left so that the sole of your right foot and outer left thigh both make contact with the floor. Twist away from the stretch by extending your right arm out and looking over your right shoulder while keeping your right foot and left thigh on the ground. The twist works your obliques and stretches your side body.
- You can make the stretch deeper by pulling the right foot closer to the hip bone (picture 2); dropping the right knee down towards your bottom left heel; or letting the knee fall in towards the chest while on your back and twisted.
- Repeat on the opposite side.