The body achieves what the mind believes . . .
Most of you know how much respect I have for the whole 'mind over matter' theory and there's a very important reason why.
There's a very strong, intimate relationship between your emotions and how our bodies perform physically. We are learning more and more about this as time goes by, accepting it as a way of either worsening our situations or bettering them. It's a tool and like all tools it can be used for good as well as bad. Now, I'm not a scientist but in my own personal experience - intensive vocational ballet training, dealing with nerves before performance, mastering technical and artistic challenges and finally, recovering after my very serious spinal injury - I can tell you, if you're willing to be open minded it might just change your state of life!
In the context of the ballet studio, using your mind to control pre-first-ballet-class nerves or frustration over a step you can't quite master or the fear of falling out of a pirouette is very important as allowing these feelings to keep coming to you will only hinder your ability and progress. Remember, you are completely in control of your mind and body and what you think is what you feel. If you believe you're not very good at balancing on demi pointe, you will NEVER balance on demi pointe! I'm not saying that there isn't technique involved and perhaps the reason why you can't balance on demi pointe yet is because of a postural misalignment. However, if you continually feed your body negative thoughts, like a planted seed it will grow and spread its roots deep into your subconscious. You will begin wiring your brain to see balancing on demi pointe as something you're not good at therefore making you feel bad about yourself and before you know it your confidence has disappeared, as has your motivation!
I used to use visualisation throughout my ballet training. It began as imagining my body like a building made of blocks placed one on top of the other to achieve good alignment while standing at the barre. The sensation standing firmly on top of good foundations (my feet, using my 3 points of balance) and becoming tall and pulled away from the floor enabled me to feel strength within my body and find correct posture. I imagined my neck and head like a balloon, floating light above my body, anti-gravity and tension free. Thinking of my body in this way made the whole experience a lot more relatable and creative and I began using my imagination to influence other parts of my training. Like combating nerves before going on stage or when attempting challenging technical feats like pirouettes, long adage sequences or tricky pas de deux lifts. We were very frequently told as dance students 'your body is an instrument' which I often found dehumanising. There seemed to be a real focus on the body performing to a certain level all the time with very little regard for how the mind plays a role within that performance. And let's be honest, if the mind isn't in the right place you can guarantee your body won't do what you've intended it to do. Or even worse, it will perform but without integrity or skill and therefore an injury could occur. I began to understand how choosing my thoughts based on the recognition of my abilities on a broader spectrum (for example recognising I was good at English and French at school) actually transformed how I saw the challenges in front of my in the moment. I started remembering how it felt to achieve accolades within those subjects to influence how I felt about trying a tricky solo en pointe in front of a panel of judges! The thoughts gave me confidence and pride which ultimately tricked my brain into believing I could achieve just a good an accolade when I danced . . .
You still with me?! What I am trying to highlight is that our thoughts become our reality. What we think, we are. And when I began to re-train after getting injured and being immobile for years I didn't dwell on the fact that I had once been a great ballet dancer, that my body (or mind) had failed me along the way or that I wasn't anywhere near as fit as I once was. I choose to think of myself as a beginner again and train my brain to be present, mindful and kind to myself. Not malicious or self destructive, although at times I had to fight that tendency! As a beginner I was able to wipe the slate clean and start again. I had all the wisdom of my training but none of the baggage - or at least I chose to not carry it with me anymore! I didn't know where it was going to lead me. All I knew is that if I gave it my all in that moment it wouldn't be a waste of time because I would either learn something new or at the very least reaffirm what I had already discovered. This kept me consistent.
One of my biggest issues during the period between initially becoming injured and finally having to stop dancing was that I was becoming so preoccupied stressing about the outcome of the situation that I was completely distracted and unaware of the process that would lead me to that outcome! I would project a negative result due to my negative outlook of my current situation. Put in the context of a ballet class, my ballet teacher was expecting to see me perform an center adage exercise involving a pirouette in arabesque . . . not my favourite step in the world and what with my spinal injury preventing me from actually finding and sustaining a good looking arabesque I already felt anxious about the whole thing. Then a change in my physical body occurred which saw me stop breathing, stiffen up, disengage from the moment and total, groundless fear took over me! And of course I fell off balance when trying to pirouette in arabesque. I had placed such expectation on the arabesque itself rather than all the fundamental aspects that go into making an arabesque strong and beautiful to look at, all of which I had spent my whole life training for and were therefore well within my capabilities. Had I only been calm, present and logical about the situation I could have again, like I had done many times before convinced my body to believe I had the balance! But instead I was emotional, irrational and frantic in my mind . . . Not the recipe for success! I later read a book which changed my life and way of thinking. It was called The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters and he writes of how if we find ourselves in a stressful situation or environment, whether self-manufactured or natural we should focus our attention on the process of getting through the present rather than assuming the result or outcome. I realised this was exactly what I had lost the ability to do due to the pain and confusion I was in from my injury. Once I had become a ballet teacher, I quickly implemented this way of training in my studio with my clients to incredible effect. The more you repeat this pattern of training the more your mind responds in a positive and rational way to challenges and therefore creating a safe, confident and practical way of approaching hard aspects of everyday life not just your dancing.
We have complete control over our many thoughts. We can create the life we want by just imagining it and as creatures of habit this can be challenging as we tend to follow the outlook of our parents or we could be heavily influenced by culture. But we also each have a mind of our own and the power to manifest a reality that is unique and exactly what we want.