I remember taking my first yoga class in college, when Katie Teutchler decided to teach yoga instead of her regular advanced modern class one day. Even though admittedly my first yoga class did feel a little awkward and foreign, I remember leaving the class feeling refreshed and connected with my body and the world around me, as if my senses had been heightened.
When I moved to New York, I started a work-study program at a Bikram yoga studio in Brooklyn, and later decided to pursue a teaching certification though Integral Yoga NY. It wasn’t until then that I first really began noticing what yoga had done for my dancing. The benefits of yoga for dancers go way beyond building core strength and improving flexibility. Through yoga, I was able to finally begin filling out my movement – finding energy, extension, and fluidity in and between every movement. This was something that I’d always struggled with in the past and even through college. I’d returned to dance later in adolescence after years away, and didn’t have a great deal of confidence – so I shortened my lines and was a somewhat timid mover.
I always say that Sarah Mangelsdorf taught me how to breathe my freshman year of college. Yoga didn’t necessarily teach me how to use my breath to support my movement for the first time – although for dancers in all genres, this can be another important benefit of developing a yoga practice. Through my teacher training courses, I learned different breathing techniques and how to use breath or Prana – the life force – to help clear my mind. I believe that dancers, by nature, are perfectionists, and this perfectionism carries through to other aspects of our lives. It’s easy to dwell in the past, or get wrapped up in what is going to happen in the future – later today, next week, next year. Learning how to use breathing and meditation techniques to quiet the chatter of the mind and live in the present moment, which has helped me find better focus in technique class and while performing. I’ve gotten to the point where I can really feel a deeper connection with what was going on in my body, and have a much better awareness of where I’m placing it in space.
I find myself often wondering what kind of dancer I would have been when I was younger if I’d found yoga earlier and practiced consistently. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am to have discovered yoga when I did, in my early 20’s, and how I am so lucky to be able to continue learning, growing and evolving in dance and in yoga. I feel strongly that for me, the two are interconnected.