Today, I’m writing you a prescription for rest. It may seem silly, but sometimes we need permission to be kind to ourselves. Rest is something our bodies crave, yet it is rarely ever granted. Here’s why:
As dancers, we are used to beating ourselves into the ground. When we have a rough class or performance, our usual response is, “Well, I guess I will just have to do more tomorrow." So, we cram in extra work the next day. Maybe we start taking two classes-a-day instead of one, or we force ourselves to jump on the elliptical for an hour after a long day of rehearsals. Perhaps we wake up earlier to squeeze in more exercises before class. And, forget about taking time off from dancing…a vacation or layoff can seem like a death sentence to most dancers. The common notion is that we aren't good enough as is, so we must do more to get better.
But, here’s a mind-blower: what if getting better didn't involve us doing more...but doing less? What if the reason you feel heavy and sluggish in class wasn't because you weren't doing enough... but because you were burned out from already doing too much?
The body can feel so different on a daily basis depending on its recovery. Case in point, I recently took a class the other day where I felt super heavy and “stuck.” The very next day in rehearsal I felt like I had a completely different body - light, powerful, in control, and coordinated. In the first scenario, my body was under-recovered from my workout the day before. A younger version of myself would have thought that I was struggling in class because I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. I would have immediately added in extra work for myself in my efforts to get ahead – more technique classes, extra cardio for stamina, more exercises to beat my body into submission. This would have further perpetuated the destructive cycle leading to more burnout, which would create more dissatisfaction with my performance, which would cause me to punish myself with more exercise, and so on.
But, the Bad Girl Ballerina knows better. She fights the demons that tell her to do more in an effort to prove her worth. She knows that the quality of her workouts matter more than the quantity. And, she knows that once her body is fully recovered, she will feel more powerful than ever. That’s where the secret weapon of the Bulletproof Ballerina workouts come into play. They provide sufficient stimulation to keep your body and your ballet technique progressing while at the same time allowing for recovery time to avoid burnout. In other words, they make you strong enough to let yourself step away from your dancing for a few days and not fear falling apart.
I’ll never forget the first vacation I took where I didn’t have the constant anxiety in the background of needing to get my workouts in. I did NOTHING for a whole week. When I came back to dancing, instead of feeling like a tight, clumsy oaf like I used to dread…I felt more powerful than ever. From that day on, I learned to respect the power of recovery…and the importance of being Bulletproof.
There is something so freeing about taking a vacation and not having to panic about your ballet suffering. If you are home visiting family for the holidays, or if your company is on layoff after a brutal Nutcracker season, I challenge you to let your body rest. Let it heal from all the stress you’ve been putting it under.
If you are off for more than 4 or 5 days and want to keep your body healthy without being tied to the dance studio and overworking yourself, here’s a typical routine that I follow while on layoff. It's enough to keep your body tuned up and ready to jump back into things when the season starts up again, but it still allows for the essential rest your body craves:
- Light stretching (nothing extreme, just about 10 minutes or so) – 1 x per day
- Foot articulation exercises (with a TheraBand) – 1 x per day
- Bulletproof Ballerina workout (20-30 minutes) – 1 or 2 x’s per week
There you go…your permission to let yourself rest and enjoy your holiday break. If you have any questions about your specific situation, please send them my way. Wishing you all a happy holiday and restful winter break. See you in the New Year when we can start fresh with our goals and aspirations! Hint: I have some exciting surprises in store, so stay tuned!