Ham. It’s just ham.

Emotions are interesting. For me, it has been quite the journey to unlock, control, and accept them. As a teenager, I was always so focused on my goals that I saw showing my emotions as a sign of weakness.

When I joined my first ballet company, one of my coworkers thought I was a cold and emotionless bun-head because I was so quiet, rarely showed feelings, and focused everything on my skills. Then came our tour to Spain…Spain has a lot of ham. One day, we were trying to find a place to eat while most shops and cafes were closed for siesta. The one place open nearby was only serving ham sandwiches. It had been about 3+ years since I ate ham, but a girl’s got to eat, so I gave it a try and it didn’t seem so bad. Flash forward 2 hours after taking the train to Barcelona. When we arrived, my stomach began to cause me a lot of pain. It was so bad that I could barely stand up and yes, I began to cry in the middle of crowded downtown Barcelona. This was the first time that coworker saw me cry and till this day she claims it is the moment she realized I was a real human with a soul. (We’ve been best friends ever since)

I am much more open with my emotions these days. Yesterday, in the middle of yoga, I had a complete meltdown. I went into the hot room as I usually did ready and hydrated for class, but as soon as we hit the floor, I was flooded with emotions. Emotions I could not handle. My heart hurt, the heat was annoying me, and my muscles were so fatigued they began jittering. What was going on? I was thinking, hold it together, finish your practice, you’ll be fine. My body had another plan though and released the floodgates. I felt so emotional that I couldn’t physically do the postures and had to sit some out. The teacher asked if I was ok and of course I replied yes, but I wasn’t and have no clue why. Maybe I was just being a girl, and letting go some of the stuff in my heart? Maybe it was my emotions from the night before finally letting themselves out? Maybe it was because I didn’t get the same sleep I usually do? All I know is I let it happen. I laid there and cried and took deep breaths and let the feelings run their course. Then I rejoined the class for the final few postures. Guess what, I felt so much better after! I think it was just stuff that needed to come out.

My emotions often come out at odd times, like the ham incident. I mean really? I cried over ham? haha Sometimes it is hard to decipher when to show your emotions and when to hold them in and be tough. People may judge you or you may feel vulnerable. However, I believe it is perfectly fine to show how you feel, when you feel it. It will only allow you to go through life more truthfully and open 🙂

 

Kaia and I. Thanks to that ham sandwich for bringing me this best friend :)

Kaia and I. Thanks to that ham sandwich for bringing out my emotions and giving me this best friend 🙂

 

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

I woke up today and for some reason I had this song stuck in my head. I could not stop singing that line “Have I told you lately that I love you” and then it really got me thinking. I began thinking of all the people I love. My parents, sister, brother, nephews, grandparents, the rest of my family, friends near and far, loves. I was wondering when the last time it was that I told them I loved them. I try to show my love everyday but as far as saying it, I think it could come out a bit more often.  So I made a pact to say it. If I love someone, on any level of the word, I should start telling them more often.

Then, as I thought more and more about this phrase of the song, I thought “Wait a second! What about me?!” Do I love myself? Is it ok to love myself? Is there a way to fully love yourself without being narcissistic? I’m writing today to tell you that it is possible and needed. It is very much ok to love yourself. Most of us spend days upon days trying to impress others and please others and trying to make others love us, when really what is probably most important is loving ourselves first.

Every day both at ballet class and yoga, I am forced to look at myself in the mirror. In ballet, the mirror is a means to fix lines, movement qualities, and aid in placement. However, in yoga it is there to face yourself and begin accepting who you are. To become comfortable with who you are and then if there is something you would like to change, to be able to see yourself changing but because you want to, not because others want you to change or because that change will make someone else happy. I have been practicing for quite some time now and am just beginning to see it. I am accepting who I am and honestly, beginning to love it. Flaws we see in ourselves are just our bodies and minds being unique and we all need to love ourselves for them. When you begin to feel comfortable with who you are this amazing sense of freedom encompasses you.

I do believe that we can only begin loving others once we have a strong grasp on who we are and once we love the person we are. Because once that freedom in yourself is obtained you can begin to spread it to loved ones. Otherwise, if we are not yet in love with ourselves, we are only seeking it in others to feel accepted, not to actually love the person.

So I challenge you all. Spend a few minutes just looking at yourself in the mirror. Look in your eyes, look at our face, your body, you hair. Observe, absorb, critique, compliment and then end by saying “I love you”.  Try it everyday until you begin to truly understand you and accept who you are. It may sound easy, but trust me, things will surprise you. Then, once you’ve got a handle on loving yourself, go out in the world and spread your love to others 🙂

Now enjoy this tune: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ4NAZPi2js

First Timer Mentality

I have a new goal: To walk into everything with a first timer’s mentality.

I took my cousin, Elizabeth, into NY yesterday to take her first Bikram Yoga class.  Before hand, she had kept asking about the class and what she should expect.  I didn’t want to say too much in fear of scaring her or giving her a preconceived notion about it. All I said was the usual, “They tell you that your goal for the first class is to just stay in the room. If you feel light headed, sit down. Drink plenty of water before and after the class.” Liz is naturally a very strong person after years of gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, and track, so I knew she would be able to handle it well. What I didn’t realize was just how well. haha

As we began the class, she seemed to be picking up the grips and coordination of breathing rather quickly. Then as we moved into more postures, I was amazed at how she just dove right into them. Not in the sense that she went too fast, but that she listened carefully to the instructor and did all the postures to her fullest then proceeded to hold them until it was time to come out. I began to think how great it was and how I wish I had that beginners mind during every class I take. I believe that as a beginner, you walk in the room thinking you have to try everything and do your best. Some people may think, “everyone says this is so hard, but I’ll show them.” So they go in the room and push themselves. They don’t know exactly what to expect from each pose or how it will make them feel. Since practicing for a few years, I occasionally become apprehensive about certain postures because I know how they make my body feel or I know what emotions they bring up in me. Yes, I get scared and sometimes take too much time getting into a posture to try and avoid the amount of time I am there.  Watching Liz yesterday made me remember when I was in my first class. I was a lot like her. I tried everything right when the teacher said to.  I thought to myself, I can do all this no problem. I had no idea what to expect from each posture and it worked. It wasn’t until a few classes in that I began to feel what it did to my body.  Certain postures focus in on my tightnesses, others on my weaknesses, and some bring up a lot of emotions or feelings. It wasn’t until after I realized this that I started fidgeting a lot more, wiping my hands off before getting started, and lying in savasana a little bit longer before sitting up in order to procrastinate doing to pose.

After experiencing class with Elizabeth yesterday, I am determined to walk into class today, and every day from now on with the mentality of a first timer. I hope to also have this translate over to my dancing. As dancers, once we know what steps are more difficult for us or what things aren’t necessarily our strengths, we often shy away from them. While a first timer would try everything because they do not know exactly what to expect. I want to have some of that unknowing, unaffected, naivety back. It is now a goal of mine to go for everything and try to wash away the fear or hesitation I have built up about certain postures in yoga or steps in ballet. I believe could also apply to many other aspects of life as well so let’s all give it a try!

Maintaining a Strong Back

Maintaining a Strong Back

Gaining strength has always been a bit difficult for me. I have always wished I could be one of those people who gains muscle easily, but I’m not. I have to work extremely hard every day and eat a healthy diet to maintain and improve my strength level.

This is especially the case when it comes to my back. My back has always been on the more flexible side, but when it came to strength, I had to work and work and work. When I was younger, my teacher would remind me during class and rehearsal every day to hold my back. We are often told that movement begins from our back. As a dancer, when you have a strong back, your movement will become more solid and powerful, giving you freedom to do more.  Another added benefit of a strong back is it brings a certain look of confidence.

I have put in many hours at Pilates, Gyrotonic, and yoga studios in addition to working with a personal trainer to attain greater overall strength. There are a few exercises and stretches I do every day to uphold the level of strength I have in my back and today I want to share some with you. Of course, overall strength comes with working out each muscle in your body, but these are geared specifically to the back. It is always a good idea to balance back exercises with abdominals and many of these actually work both areas at the same time.

As always, with practice comes improvement. Enjoy 🙂

– Begin with a 10-15 cat stretches to warm up the spine. This is when you kneel on all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips, and then arch and curl your spine.

Cat Stretch

– Remain on all fours, maintain a straight back, and hold your abdominals. Keeping your head and neck aligned with your spine, extend you right arm forward while at the same time, extending your left leg straight behind you. Return to your starting position and then repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Do 2 sets of 12.

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– Sitting cross legged with your back straight, hold a thera-band with both hands. (depending on your strength level, adjust your hands closer or farther apart) Reach your arms over your head, palms facing forward, and slowly pull your arms out and down toward your sides, feeling the resistance of the thera-band. For those of you who often go to the gym, this is like a lat pull down. Perform 2 sets of 20.

– Planks are one of the most versatile exercises out there because it works the muscles in your abdominals, back, shoulders, chest, and legs. All you have to do is lay on your belly and place your elbows under your shoulders with your arms at a 90 degree angle. Then, lift your hips and stomach off the ground and come onto your forearms and toes. Keep your body parallel to the ground and hold for one minute at a time. Repeat 2 more times. (You can also do side planks)

Plank

– Now, place your palms down right under your shoulders and lay down on your stomach. Slowly reach up through the top of your head toward the ceiling using your back muscles. Try not to put too much weight into your hands. Come up as high as you can while keeping your feet together and on the ground. Release back down and repeat until you have done 15.

Cobra

– Remaining on your stomach, extend your arms overhead. Lift your legs and arms off of the floor at the same time and begin to flutter as if you were swimming. Continue this for 30 seconds and repeat twice more.

Swimming

– Laying on your stomach, place your elbows under your shoulders and palms facing down, legs straight out behind you. Come up into a slight arch and then reach your right leg out and toward the ceiling making sure the leg is directly in line with your hip and has not swung out to the side. Your leg should ramin straight the entire time with energy reaching out through your toes. Hold at the top for 5 seconds and then release. Repeat on the left side. Do 2 sets of 10 raises.

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-To stretch out, push back into child’s pose.

Child's Pose

– Finally, I like to finish by rolling out my back on my foam roller. If you do not have a foam roller, I strongly recommend investing in one. Here is a link for my favorite one: Trigger Point Therapy – Foam Roller

Reestablishing My Yoga Practice

Reestablishing My Yoga Practice

Today, I want to write about my Bikram Yoga practice and how it has related to, aided, and transformed my dancing and many other aspects of my life. On Sunday, I returned to the hot room after a few months away. It was the perfect day to start getting back into my practice as it was also the day I created this blog and was thinking a lot about my future.

I began taking Bikram yoga while I was dancing in New York. When I walked out of my first class, the teacher asked if I was a dancer. After replying that I was a ballet dancer, she began to tell me how I should continue to do yoga and how it would be like physical therapy for me. I was skeptical at first, as many people are. I thought, how could this be beneficial for my ballet? Most all of the postures are in parallel and on a flat foot, not like ballet at all. However, I looked past my skepticism and went back for more. I wasn’t practicing too regularly at the time, but after a few weeks, I did begin to notice some changes in my strength and stamina during ballet.

Then I moved to Chicago and had the luxury of having a Bikram studio just 3 blocks from my apartment. Not only that, but they were so welcoming to the dance community and also understood how this yoga helped to maintain our bodies both mentally and physically. Thus, I began practicing regularly about 3 or 4 times a week. I felt so many changes. I was becoming so much stronger while at the same time, more flexible, and it was transferring into the ballet studio as well. Also, my stamina was building up, muscles were becoming more defined, my skin was clearer than ever, and my sleeping schedule became like clockwork. One might say I got hooked on that “after yoga high”.

When I returned to the hot room on Sunday, I knew it was going to be a tough class for me. I had a lot on my mind that may distract me from fully focusing on the class. However, I was determined to try every posture and not give up. I had to use all my focus that day to limit my fidgeting between postures, remain standing, ignore the sweat making my hands slip out of grips, keep my eyes focused on me in the mirror, and ignore everything else I was thinking about that day. I will confess…I sat down…twice. After our first backbend, I became very overwhelmed, so I sat down. Those of you who know me personally know that this got on my nerves. I hate slackers and I hate giving up. I told myself I am stronger than that. I didn’t have to sit down. The feelings would have passed if I remained standing still on my feet. So then, I stood again and remained standing no matter how badly I wanted to sit or how many times I fell out of some of the balancing postures. It was my first class back and the most important thing was not to give up. When I finished the class, I felt great and was so happy to be back. I knew that day was the return of my dedication to yoga and for the rest of this week, I have been practicing stronger each day.

Bikram is like ballet in that you can never achieve perfection. Each posture has certain steps to follow in order to execute it fully and properly. You are ultimately trying to achieve a full posture, but no matter how hard you work at it and how close you come to achieving it, there will always be more to grow and improve. As a ballet dancer, you deal with the same thing. We want to achieve perfection so badly but it is not always possible. Everybody is made differently. We all have different alignment, different ranges of motion, and different coordination. All of which can be improved, but no one person will ever achieve absolute perfection in all areas. We also have different opinons on what perfection may be and thus, it is subject to opinion. I believe we all need to set goals for ourselves. Look for something we want to achieve and focus on that goal until it is achieved as close to perfection as possible. Then, once we have arrived there, we can continue to grow even more and also aim for another goal. With each added goal, I try to keep focused on the previous ones as well. Although it can be frustrating at times, it is exactly what keeps most people going back. With hard work, one can physically see and feel improvement in every class. It keeps the motivation alive. Both Ballet and Bikram teach discipline, focus, the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and how rewarding hard work can be.

I recommend to everyone that they try Bikram. It will change so much in your lives and will help in ways you didn’t think possible. People heal injuries and deseases, gain more energy, and achieve overall wellness through a regular practice. I am so fortunate to have found this and to be able to have it enhance and supplement my dancing career.