Ironically, decades after ending my career as a professional ballet dancer, I am more aware of my body than ever. It sounds impossible to believe, doesn’t it? I only wish I had discovered yoga earlier, before all those years I was a dancer with no real relationship with my body because I didn’t know how to live in it fully. By its very nature, dance forces dancers to stay focused, but it’s too easy to keep the focus narrowed to a pinpoint, and miss out on other important elements of life. But dancers are human first, and it serves us to explore other avenues that may seem completely unrelated to dance, but aid in our evolution as both dancers and people. For me, and lots of other dancers, yoga is one of those things.
Deep breathing is one of the primary tools that a yoga practice provides. Although breathing is involuntary, there is breathing and there is b-r-e-a-t-h-i-n-g. Ancient yogic scriptures state that we have only so many breaths in a given lifetime, so it follows that extending each one of them will prolong existence. Even more importantly, deep, full breaths mean more oxygen to the body and therefore more power to every we move we make.
Heightened awareness of every single cell of the body is another incredible benefit of yoga. Proper placement is key in all yoga poses, just as it is in dance. But specific tips, such as aligning or stacking bones and joints actually teach us to create strength in all postures by building from a firm foundation. Each movement is dynamically conscious; breathing is linked with alignment. Check points for each pose are verbally offered throughout class and practitioners conduct an interior inspection to make sure all points are lined up where they need to be. Suddenly you know exactly where your little toe on your right foot ought to be, or if the joint between your thumb and first fingers really is pressed firmly into the floor. It’s almost as if we reclaim every last remote corner of the body, one cell at a time. It is an entirely new level of awareness of the body’s moving parts.
But the most valuable piece that yoga provides is peace of mind. Who couldn’t use a little bit more of that? Breathing in a deep and controlled manner, moving the body gently and consciously, produces this lovely, blissful effect. By keeping the mind focused on only two things (breath and conscious movement), it lets go of all other things. Laundry lists, chores, problems, anxieties or concerns all fall by the wayside for that blissful hour or so of class time. Each yoga class is a chance to go on a mini-retreat inside of ourselves and just be.
The challenge, of course, is to take everything that you’ve learned out into the world with you. Whether you are a dancer or not, a regular yoga practice provides the tools to deal with the challenges that everyone faces from time to time. This body, this lifetime, this moment can be all the more vibrant when met with true awareness.