Zen and the art of the ballet body

Monday night upon arrival to the studio, I was suddenly and extremely bloated. Which was uncomfortable and, as much as I tried to dismiss it as unimportant when looking in the mirror, negative thoughts wormed their way in.

It is sort of shocking to wake up with one body shape and end the day as an entirely different shape — while you are wearing a skintight leotard and looking into a wall of mirrors.

Also, I’ve been trying to do some yoga at home, so I had sore shoulders and arms from that, and felt generally stiff. I guess it was a physically uncomfortable class.

I had a really good class the Wednesday before because I took the day off work to go look at my wedding venue, and when we got back I took a nap. After the nap I had coffee, so I was double refreshed and energetic for class. Everything on releve!! Then my calves were super sore, still, for Saturday’s class.

I need to find out the name of another woman who comes to class regularly. We got pretty chatty before a few classes, and we attend almost all the same classes, so I started to think, “I have a new friend!” and I haven’t seen her since. Hopefully she’ll be there tonight. I also haven’t seen Elizabeth in like 2 weeks! I hope she’s okay.

I was telling Miranda I want to add another class to my schedule. She recommended Thursday nights at the other studio. I think I will! I can’t go this Thursday but starting next week! Four classes!

Over the past few days I’ve been listening, reading and thinking a lot about Eckhart Tolle’s teachings, which if you aren’t familiar are sort of reminiscent of Buddhism (but not really religious) and mainly focus on staying present and living your life “in the now.” That’s why I’ve been doing more yoga, because a physical yoga practice pairs very nicely with training yourself to be present as much as possible.

I’ve always found ballet to be similar to yoga in that you go into a meditative state in your mind for the entire class. But ballet is missing that spiritual aspect. Spiritual? I dunno. I’m a pretty logical, agnostic person but it’s like I have this secret side of myself that comes out in yoga class and I get really into it, the hippie dippier the better.

I have a bunch of loose thoughts rumbling around about the spiritual or “zen” as I like to call it (probably am using that word wrong but I keep referring to my personal spiritual journey as “getting zen”) aspects of yoga vs. ballet so I’m just going to put my thoughts into some bullet points willy-nilly.


  • You have more time and opportunity to think and feel, even in a vinyasa practice. You have to consciously practice staying present, breathing through movements, breathing through pain
  • You can carry these techniques into daily life
  • The instructor often imparts spiritual words of wisdom as you practice, giving you food for thought and things to meditate on
  • Sometimes you actually chant mantras and Ohms
  • The nice scents (aromatherapy abounds in yoga studios) and ambiance like low lights, candles and sound bowls etc add to the peaceful experience, even as your body is working hard
  • You meditate at the end of class (savasana)
  • The mind-body connection is explained with concepts like chakras and bandhas
  • The body is used for spiritual aims (rather than artistic)
  • After class I feel (spiritually) centered and peaceful


  • During ballet class, your mind empties of your usual repetitive thoughts like “oh why did I say that earlier” “did I make a mistake when I did this thing” “what to do for dinner” “what’s on the docket tomorrow” etc. But your mind is filled up INSTEAD with “one two three four, side close front, back, side, front, side” etc as you remember combinations, as well as little cues and reminders about placement, and there is so much to think about that you physically cannot think about anything else. It’s like a cheat to being present. And still involves a LOT of thoughts
  • Actually do we really THINK in ballet?
  • The mind is not quiet but it does feel empty, much of the “thought” is automatic or very tightly coupled with the body, so the thoughts sort of live in your body instead of your mind
  • Instructors usually just call out physical cues, but use lots of imagery to do so. Sort of like thought experiments over and over that is almost reminiscent of guided meditation “You are being sucked up through a straw” “Imagine your body is connected by a zipper and someone is zipping you up” “imagine a teacup placed on your heel” “Imagine you are between two walls”
  • There is the dance aspect to ballet – using your body to move to music in an artistic manner. This can feel very beautiful and spiritual and of course PRESENT when it is happening. You MUST be present to dance!!
  • The body is used for artistic/creative purposes (rather than spiritual)
  • After ballet usually I feel calm, energetic, happy, and much less stressed, similar to post-yoga class but definitely nowhere near as “zen.”

I guess it ultimately comes down to a spiritual vs. artistic endeavor that you’re doing with your body. I think sometimes, certainly, ballet can feel very meditative. Other times it can feel thrilling and invigorating in a way yoga never does. And yoga often feels peaceful in a way ballet never does. I love them both!

Well, I will revisit this topic. I’m very interested in how these new ways of viewing my mind and the world and the universe will carry over into ballet class.


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