I’ll never forget my first pair of ballet shoes. My Mum took me to Nolan’s shoe shop on the high street of our small Irish town and I sat on a little three legged stool transfixed as Mr Nolan brought out several pairs of soft leather slippers in the palest coral pink. This was it – I was really going to be a ballerina!
My dream didn’t work out quite as planned (bum, boobs and thighs not yet welcome in the professional ballet world), but I gained so much from the ten years I spent at the Wicklow School of Ballet, not least the ability to tune in and connect with my body in a way that I am only now, 35 years later, beginning to fully appreciate.
For me, there has always been something other-worldly about dance as an art form and before I discovered meditation it’s probably the closest I came to accessing that blissful, meditative state of ‘everything that’s happening right in this moment is just perfect and just as it should be.’ I loved everything about dance – the physical challenges of exhorting your body to stretch that bit further, kick that bit higher and bend and fold in a myriad of different ways. I loved the powerful emotions that were stirred in me when I danced, and how movement became a vehicle for expressing things I could never convey in words. I loved the sense of achievement I experienced when a sequence of steps became a story, and how the curve of an arm or the arch of a back or the sweep of a leg told you all you needed to know about what lay at the heart of that story. It was and is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
My relationship with my body has not always been an easy one, but as the years have gone by I have come to appreciate more and more the powerful mind/body connection that was cultivated through my years of ballet and modern dance. When I’m uncertain of the answers in my head, I now turn to my body for guidance, and the more I trust in it, the clearer the decisions become. It is comforting and reassuring to know that when my brain is tired and foggy, besieged with emotion or just plain refusing to play ball, I can check in with my body and see what it has to say.
So then, how does this work? Well a good way to start nurturing this mind/body relationship is by simply noticing what you experience physically when you react to things emotionally. Where does fear, anxiety, hurt or anger sit in your body and what physical reaction do these emotions bring about? Do you feel tension in your shoulders, tightness in your chest? Do you hold your breath or start to breathe more quickly? Now you are beginning to notice what happens when you experience dissonance. By contrast, notice how your body feels when something feels resonant – when you are happy, excited, relaxed, chilled, proud or pleased. You will likely feel very different physically. Your body knows there is nothing to fear and nothing to worry about so it defaults to its ‘home base’ state. The more you practice this, the more you’ll be able to turn to your body when you need to make a decision about something that’s enveloped in strong emotion, or when the stakes are high and it feels like the wrong decision might derail you completely. Find a place where you can be still and breathe slowly and steadily for five minutes. Bring your awareness to your physicality and ask your body to give you guidance. You’ll be surprised how quickly it responds.