I sat on the ground after yoga, breathing deeply as I laced up my pink and silver sneakers. I saw the man next to me staring intently in my direction. He was middle-aged with glasses. I had only seen him in class a few times before. I made eye contact, and smiled.
“You’re a ballerina.”
I paused for a moment, perplexed. “No,” I replied with a shy smile, “I’m not.”
Softly, with command, he replied: “You must be a ballerina. Your grace, your poise…you flowed so beautifully through all the poses.”
Counter-arguments soared through my mind and out my lips: ”I am not a ballerina. I’m not an athlete at all. Just yoga. When I began, I couldn’t do much of anything without out falling over.” I laughed outwardly at the thought of my first fledgling tree pose. “Two years now, once or twice per week. I don’t dance, I don’t exercise. Just yoga,” I muttered.
And suddenly the small soul within me beamed in recognition of the TRUTH in his statement. I am a ballerina. Perhaps not in the traditional sense, seeing as my only experience with ballet was showing up to class at age three, and then crying in the corner of the studio until my mother picked me up. (I’m guessing that doesn’t quite count.) But I know exactly what he meant. I am familiar with the sense of flow he described: The point at which challenge meets achievement. That place where your body, mind, and soul are aligned in such a way that you can feel the energy gush through your being. Those moments where you’re contorted in such a way that you cannot see yourself in the mirror, yet your body knows that it has achieved a perfectly balanced Warrior III. (Matt Inman of The Oatmeal comic wonderfully describes the meditative quality of physical activity in his latest post.)
I stood up and walked slowly out of the room. I could not stop thinking of that man’s comment, nor of my immediate response: I am not an athlete. Just yoga. Despite my commitment to playfully ground myself, I have never viewed the practice as a form of exercise. Over the past two years, I’ve developed the balance and flexibility necessary to achieve Bow Pose. I now have the core strength to hold Dolphin Plank for over a minute. Somewhere along the line, I mastered sweeping my leg forward into a Runner’s Lunge. And now, when invited to run, hike, kick-box, and lift, not only do I (usually) avoid embarrassment; I often excel.
It seems I have been so focused on my definition of yoga as the philosophical practice of discipline that I failed to recognize its extensions, the ways in which that mental discipline has shaped my physical practices. Gradually, and without my direct knowledge, my persistence has transformed me from a non-athlete into ballerina; it has endowed me with strength, stamina, agility, and poise. Through consistent attendance and my drive towards mastery, I have moved from fumbling novice to exemplar student in a matter of months.
At some point, I must have lost sight of the fact that my body is an incredible machine, capable of wondrous feats. Though I have always prioritized caring for my body, and though I am ever grateful for its amazing performance, the intrinsic link between effort and reward was buried beneath practicality and everyday goals. Upon my exit from childhood, I stopped recognizing myself as a dancer; I ended my practice of whirling and waltzing about daily to the rhythm of life’s ever-pulsing song. I stopped viewing my daily experiences as a form of dance.
I am a ballerina. I see that now. Before the mirrors of the yoga studio, behind the dual monitors at my desk, in the passenger seat of my best friend’s car, and everywhere in-between.
This life is about persistence and play. It is about tuning into the resonance of the universe, and then choosing to dance along to nature’s song.
I am a ballerina, as are you.
Begin to recognize the areas of your life in which you already gracefully flow through new challenges. Embrace those experience. Seek out more of the same. And never stop dancing.