7 Things Being A Professional Ballerina Taught Me About My Body
As a child I knew I was different. I would fall asleep at night listening to Chopin and Tchaikovsky, and draw versions of the tutus I wanted to wear on stage someday. I traded play time for ballet class and was hyper focused on achieving my life’s greatest goal, performing for a living.
Through my 10-plus years as a professional ballerina, my relationship with my body has evolved from one of self-loathing and self-discipline to the deepest, closest, most intimate friendship I’ve ever had. I learn more from this relationship each day.
Here are seven big lessons I’ve learned over the years:
1. No pain, no gain works! Until it doesn’t.
During my career, I became so used to pain that I wasn’t always sure when an injury was serious or not. Ballet dancers must have a high pain threshold to stand on their toes and contort into unnatural positions, yet pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong, and ignoring it can lead to severe injuries. I used to think that pain was weakness, and stopping because of it was laziness.
It’s so common in our culture to ignore the body’s need for rest and continue to push past our limits, but when we stop to refuel and recharge, we actually are way more productive, feel so much better and heal even faster. Our brains might argue with signals of fatigue or pain, but these cues are the intricate workings of our bodies, letting us know when we’ve done enough. It pays to listen, stop and rest.
2. If you stare at anything long enough, you’ll find its flaws.
Growing up in front of a mirror, I learned how to correct myself by watching. In order to intimately know my instrument, I had to judge my shape, form and movements often focusing so much on the negative elements of my physique that I failed to see the beauty I created with my body. I would cringe at my own reflection and was shocked to see myself in photos or videos that pleasantly exceeded or surprised my expectations.
How often do you catch yourself being negative about your appearance? When you look in the mirror, do you notice a strong, capable, beautiful individual, or do you get stuck on your imperfections? The next time you look in the mirror, I invite you to notice this dialogue and gently shift your focus to the positive aspects of your being. The more we focus on the good in ourselves, the more beauty we actually radiate.
3. The body is far more resilient than we give it credit.
With each injury I experienced, or sequence of choreography I learned, there was often a period of time when I thought things would always be difficult; that I would never heal or learn the new steps. It’s taken the repetition of this cycle time and time again for me to trust that my body was designed to adapt to the craziest situations, heal itself from almost anything and create balance no matter where in space I might be.
The body is a brilliant machine. It doesn’t make mistakes — our eyes can see in the darkness, our lungs don’t forget to breathe, our hearts beat all day long. If you begin to doubt your body’s capabilities, think back to a time when you have witnessed your own healing and trust that this innate wisdom is always with you. Your body is so powerful and is designed to support every ounce of your existence.
4. What you eat is what you are.
To dance for a living, part of the work includes fueling the body. I learned very early on that rehearsing and performing with a hangover was not an option. I quickly came to recognize that I had different energy and strength when I ate vegetables instead of cupcakes (and I love cupcakes).
Plain and simple, the foods you choose create your body: your muscles, blood, tissue, hair, thoughts and moods. The quality of the food you eat affects your experience of health and well-being. Period. By choosing to eat nutrient-dense, whole, unprocessed foods, you empower yourself and your body to perform at the highest capacity of joy, energy and clarity each day. Start small. Try swapping an afternoon candy-fix with a healthier alternative like fruit or nuts and see how you feel afterward.
5. Each body has its perfect formula to thrive.
I often experimented with the diets and habits of successful dancers, hoping it would make me a better, thinner artist. I adopted veganism, eating meat, eating raw foods until dinner, wrapping my body in plastic to sweat off extra pounds … eventually I realized that each body has its own formula for vibrancy. What works for some does not work for others.
To figure out what your personal prescription for greatness is, spend some time truly tapping in to the subtle cues of your body and really pay attention to how certain foods and habits make you feel. After all, you’re the only one that knows your body and what is best for it.
6. Taking care of the body is not just a luxury.
I used to think that physical “tune ups,” like regular massage or acupuncture, were only for special occasions. While these things may feel luxurious, prioritizing the care of our physical being is not just a luxury. Nurturing our bodies can help assist them carry out what they’re naturally designed to do. Making these elements a part of your personal health care is a way to offer gratitude and respect to your body for all it does each day.
Schedule a monthly date for bodywork, or take five minutes to stretch tonight before bed. We spend the entirety of our lives in this amazing vehicle, so caring for it is necessity.
7. Our bodies are loving homes.
Through years of wishing my body were different, pushing past its limits, inconsistent diet and, frankly, being pretty mean at times, I’ve come to realize that my body is a patient, wise, loving home. My body recognizes elements that my brain sometimes doesn’t want to, and it carries me gracefully and elegantly through my life. This body of mine is truly my best friend, no matter how I’ve treated it.
As I’ve left the professional world of ballet and entered into my life as a holistic health coach, I’ve fully and deeply recognized these lessons as a part of my existence today. I am consistently inspired and amazed when people take these lessons to heart and I've seen lives heal and change in major ways as a result of reconnecting mind to body.
Where could you deepen awareness around your relationship with your body? How would your life be different if you could recognize the gift you’ve been given with this amazing body that is your home in this lifetime? How would your days be different if you fully committed to loving and caring for your body the way only you can?
I invite you to love the body you call home.