Unleashing my inner ballerina. Learning ballet yoga and the fantastic Gyrotonics (and Gyrokinesis)–and learning to breathe like a baby

I’ve found the right yoga for me–balletic, grounding, meditative

Most readers will not be in the least bit surprised that a long-cherished dream has been to be a ballerina.  The delicacy and refinement of ballet is beautiful, and the grace of movement of an accomplished ballerina is a triumph of mind over body.  Ballet is also very much in keeping with my thoughts about fitness and body shape, the concept of being long and lean, strong without bulk.

Taking up ballet, but as a female, or should I say, doing the practice and parts that a female dancer would do, has been a long-standing goal of mine.  By some degree of good fortune I met a woman, a physical therapist (whose specialty work goes into those with extreme movement needs), and knew immediately she was a ballerina.  I confessed that I wished to learn to walk like her, to hold myself like her, to develop that unique poise.  She spoke of her practice, what she teaches, and she offered to take me on as a student.  It is something called Gyrotonics.

Gyrotonics is a type of yoga designed for ballet dancers, and incorporates balletic movements, stretching, strength exercises, and breathing, but all done with the philosophy of body movement central to ballet.  Founded by a Romanian ballet dancer, Juliu Horvath, who danced with New York City Ballet and Houston Ballet before becoming a teacher and developing his unique method of exercise and yoga for ballet.  His methods were considered essential training in the ballet world, and today there are over 15,000 certified teachers around the world.  Surprised?  I was.  But after trying it, I know that it will become a part of my life.

I met her in her ballet studio, and it was an incredible high-tech set with many “machines”.  The machines had pulleys and benches, and were all made of wood, so the studio felt very organic, and with its beautiful large windows and wood floors, was a lovely space to be in.

As you might have guessed I showed up in something tight and skimpy, and she promptly had me take my socks off—and no, for once my nails were not painted!  Phew.  She knows vanilla me, so rainbow nails might have generated conversation. She wanted me to have my socks off, because “grounding is an important part of what we do.”

She asked me to tell her what my goals were.  “Grace and flexibility, long and lean, strength without bulk.  I want to learn to move like a dancer,” I said.

“Good, that’s what we’re going to do.  What you describe as a dancer’s movement is about efficiency, about removing resistance, and flowing in the natural way of the body.  It is about finding your meridians, your centre lines, finding the four meridian lines that follow the four primary lines of your skeleton, and also finding the spiritual fifth meridian.”

In a demonstration of the bizarre and increasingly interconnected threads I am touching on, we talked about feeling like a baby. She said, “you know how when you hold a baby or kitten and they sort of flop around in your arms a bit like jelly, fully flexible and free in their movement?” Yes. “Well, that’s what I want you to feel like.” And then she taught me how to breathe like a baby. To breathe in a way that brought all that wonderful energy into every part of your body. She described how you can see it in a baby’s body when they breathe, and how it seems to light them up. She taught me to open my chest and to feel and think, “oh my Gxx,” as I breathed in, and it worked, this feeling of a gasp that brings air to every part of you. Dear reader, just how coincidental this exchange was is another one of those uncanny things that has been happening to me lately.

We started by standing and she asked me to stand straight and tall, to feel myself lifted, to feel myself lifted from the back of the head, to raise my chest, and to find my exact centre point, to find the balance where I was perfectly centred.  It was an interesting exercise and showed how I often stand off-centre.  Finding the centre point was like finding the point from which you tip in each direction.

She talked about moving not with your muscles, but with your skeleton. And she had me sit flat on the floor and do leg movements by simply moving my bones, and not my thigh muscles. It was fascinating, difficult to do, but different feeling. “That is how I want you to make every move. Lead with your skeleton, lead with your meridian.”

Our first exercise was sitting on a stool.  We faced each other and she asked me to follow all of her movements as best as I could.  As a former ballerina with the New York City Ballet, she has a poise and control of her movement that was hypnotic to watch, and it felt “easy” to follow her.  It was like being on auto-pilot in a way, it was as if her movements were magnets and guided me.  And to be sitting close and facing one another made it so much easier.  Rocking back and forth to release the spain, raising the chest, opening up, breathing, and then curling back was designed to loosen the spine and find the centre point from the pelvis.  We “stretched” our skin by various slow twists and arm raises.  We stretched our necks and side bodies.  In all cases, the goal was not a sustained stretch, but a fluid movement, moving in circles, coming back to the stretch, doing a bit more each time.  It was extremely relaxing, and I found myself in a kind of trance as I followed her movements.

She told me over and over how good I was doing.  Some of you will know how that is music to my ears.  I graduated to using one of the machines, designed for upper body flex.  This too involved circular movements, regulated breathing, and a repeating pattern.  It was all so very relaxing.  The leg exercise machine involved putting my feet into slings and being pulled up—the kink possibilities for this machine seemed alarmingly present!  

It was not as if any of the exercises were “hard” in the sense that I was not breaking into a sweat.  Instead, I felt that I was getting a deep stretch and was going into a meditative state.  This is something I have always struggled with, but I kept zoning out into “thinking about nothing” as I did these exercises.  It was fabulous.

When we were done I felt totally relaxed and comfortable in my body.  She asked me to walk around the room and feel my body, and to tell her about what I was feeling, and asked me to do the exercise we had started with which was to find my centre point.  

“How do you feel?” she asked.  And in truth, I literally felt two inches taller, but I didn’t want to exaggerate, so said, “I feel as if I’m an inch taller.”

“You look taller,” she said, “especially in the chest.”

Let me tell you.  When I walked out of that studio, I felt that I walked in a much lighter way.  The feeling has persisted, and I feel a change in my gate.  You won’t be surprised that the same evening I texted her to book two more sessions with her.  Such quick and powerful results speak to her talents and to the magic of Gyrotonics.  This is my new thing.

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