Yoga and the Nutcracker Prince

My experience with mind/body disconnection taught me a lot about the value of keeping the two connected.  Over-stretching during an ballet company audition changed the course of my life forever.  I was empathetic when, many years later, I received hostile evaluations in Yoga class from a male ballet student.

Teaching Yoga to many dance majors at Butler University was an interesting experience. I wasn’t initially prepared for how challenging the class would be for them.  Of course they were strong and flexible, but they were lost without mirrors, frequent hands on corrections from me, approving comments, disappointing nods, music, a competitive atmosphere, and the chance to perform.  In class, the sound of their own breathing replaced music.  Individual corrections were few by design unless they appeared to be doing something dangerous.  I talked continuously giving them suggestions for increasing their sensitivity to “inner cues” and breathing.

The truth was, in the beginning, they didn’t have many connections to inner cues, and, within the exclusive world of ballet, up until they entered the  world of Yoga, that had appeared to worked in their favor.  In the blind interest of achieving goals, dancers train for years to override inner cues as they practice ignoring pain, hunger, exhaustion, and anything else that “gets in the way.”  They pay a high price for those disconnections that eventually limit them both in and outside the world of ballet. Poor nutrition, exhaustion, and numbness to pain increases the likelihood of early injury.  Disconnection decreases the likelihood of ever manifesting a unique and authentic vision.

In Yoga the dancers were fish out of water, strangers in a strange land, being guided by a teacher who, not so long ago, was one of them.  Their only written assignment was to write journal entries describing their thoughts about Yoga, their frustrations, and progress.  I would write blog-like comments in return and we carried on the conversations we didn’t have time for in class. If they showed up and handed in the assignments, they passed.  It was my way of rebelling against having to grade them at all.

I wasn’t too surprised when I read the journal entry from the student who was angry that the school did not provide a Yoga studio with mirrors, for my lack of personal attention, so little encouragement, and my basic “loser” status as a teacher.  I remember thinking that most of the students probably felt that way, but he was just firey enough to write the truth.  I remember my comments back to him and feeling secretly relieved that we’d had no time in class for this discussion.

I wrote back to him that if I was teaching ballet I would do everything he suggested, but this was Yoga, and they were very different. I explained the benefits of connection and let him know that I appreciated his honesty, hoping his perspective would change.  Within a semester it did.  He found time after class, despite his back to back class schedule,  to let me know how much breathing while stretching had improved his flexibility and dance performance.  He said it was important to him for me to attend the annual student performance of Nutcracker where he would be performing the leading role of the Prince.  He was very talented.  I always hoped that because he found Yoga, his career as a dancer lasted much longer than mine.  To know things had come full circle would be a great feeling.

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