I began my yoga journey nearly 10 years ago. I grew up dancing and cheering, never competitively, and it stopped gradually once I entered high school (and discovered boys and live music). Despite being dubbed “Sloth” by my older brother as a child, I have always loved movement (however slow it was). I could whip out a tripod headstand from a very young age. My flat little head made the perfect base to turn me into a human spinning machine. I’d pop up, straddle my legs and around I would go, walking my hands a full 360, sometimes two. It made my dance teachers and cheer coaches happy- I have VHS proof of being front and center, spinning away. But this blog post won’t be about my full yoga journey, or my odd set of skills. Be patient.
I discovered hot yoga on a whim one night, out with some friends after a bad breakup, trying to fill the time before it was appropriate to go to the bar. We went to a $5 community class at a hot power studio. It was intense, sweaty, and fun. I have never been so hungover the next day, and I quickly learned the importance of ultimate hydration before hot yoga class. I was good at yoga, I thought. I could touch my head to my knees and nearly split on command. Flexibility was my thang! Sun salutations and planks, not so much. Flexible,but lacking strength, hey, I had one part of the equation down. I stuck with it for a while, and began studio bouncing, taking classes when I could afford it, finding instructors I adored. My practice was hot and cold over the years, at times completely devoted; others I went solely out of guilt for the previous night's endeavors.
And then came barre. I was familiar with the ballet barre. The idea of it had a sense of nostalgia, and I walked into my first class confident that I was going to look like a prima-ballerina. WRONG. Barre kicked my butt. It made me feel clumsy and completely out of shape. I was sore for a week after that first class, and cursing the instructor for being a psycho. Yet I’d impulsively bought a class pack that had an expiration date. With fear of losing out on some hard earned classes, I willed myself back to the barre. It was just as hard. I took so many breaks, hated myself, hated the instructor, but kept returning anyway.
I have always had good rhythm and flexibility, and I can hold an 8 count like a boss. Eventually, barre started to feel good. I was developing arm muscles. Yep. I could actually see them. Abs were still very well buried, but little by little, I could plank without breaks. I practiced barre religiously for a year and a half. And then I started noticing how TIGHT every muscle was. I built up knots on either side of my neck that multiple physical therapists couldn’t break through. I was getting strong for sure, but I was losing my flexibility.
I got back on my mat and fell in love all over again. Sun salutations were no longer the bain of my existence. My legs were solid, my core could handle planks and updogs, maybe a chaturanga here or there. I started to feel open in my hips again, and my neck started to loosen up. I felt badly for ditching my barre babes, but knew I had to keep this balance between the two. I was floored when my barre instructor asked me to train under her and start picking up a class at her studio. Was I really good enough? She thought so, and so I agreed. I would ride around in the car shouting out 8 counts and alignment cues and trying desperately to memorize series of moves without jumbling all my words. I was nervous, but yoga kept me sane during the transition from student to leader.
Three years later, I am happy to say I still am teaching barre, and taking yoga religiously. Barre builds my strength, and yoga adds to it, and then stretches it out. Barre keeps me on my toes (literally) and reminds me of all those itty bitty muscles that need to fire. It doesn’t get easier. As a barre student I still take breaks. I shake, sweat and quake. Sometimes I still curse the teacher in my head. I take that with me into yoga, and lose all of my barre rigidity by the time I’m through. Barre is NOT ballet. We use the barre as a prop. We use other props, too. But it’s all optional. We modify. We take breaks. We stretch a little. We move to music that’s got a faster tempo, and we pulse a whole bunch. It’s a beautiful compliment to yoga, and I can say with confidence that it has helped me appreciate my practice more and more. So next time you’re in the studio, maybe you plan to hit the barre before your mat. You might never look back!