Essay: Using yoga to find the same freedom I took from ballet

Janina Laszlo

"Yoga had met me in a new place: a 33-year-old woman who had strayed from the dance floor," Candice Perkins writes on her renewed love for stretching.

Throughout the year, espnW's essay series will feature pieces about moving forward.

I laid across my yoga mat, my arms curled under me in the form of a push-up, my torso barely lifted. Each stretch was a reminder that my muscles had changed, evolved in a way that would not be familiar to my younger self. I pressed my open palms against the floor, squaring my body to the living room window.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I thrived off the feeling of being close to the ground. Last year had been rife with conflict, from personal obstacles to the palpable racial tension going on in the country. I needed my body the most, to relieve me, to ease away and sweat out what was going on in my head, what was clashing with my spirit.

Channeling my emotions through performance art had always been my way.

Somehow, over the years, I'd lost touch. I'd made a decision that last year's obstacles would bear fruit. This year, I would work to be centered. This year, I would find my way back into a space of calm resistance.

Like many former dancers, I'd searched for methods that would continue to use my body in ways I found freeing. Movements that would build focus.

While many of my peers leaned into running and CrossFit, nothing invigorated me in the same ways the repetition of barre movement once had.

The act of telling myself that my leg can go higher and my feet can move faster is the very essence of will.

Assuming this amount of defiance, of pushing against the pull of gravity, had a way of ingraining in me a sort of communion. A ritual. I untangled my turmoil through the build of the piano melody. Released unrest through sweat. Pointed toe, arches clean and pronounced, my arms strong and balanced.

Ballet for me was about the juxtaposition of solitude and joy; that quiet needed to heal. I would come back to it time and again, relying on it like a compass. Reminding myself what my mind and therefore, my body could do.

Coming to yoga at this stage in my life had filled the gap where ballet once stood. Yoga met me in a new place: a 33-year-old woman who had strayed from the dance floor. To move forward into the new year, I told myself I would stretch.

Every day. I would start here. We all need a place to begin. I inhaled and raised myself into downward dog, my body breaking at the bend of my hips to form a perfect triangle to the floor. This season in my life would be about breath.

Hearing my own. Taking strides. Holding to the light.

Feeling the very pull of my own tendons as they stretch into the universe and create movements that meet on the terms of my Creator. I would lean into each ache, weary though they were, and speak grace into them.

Speak balance. Speak defiance against gravity, against the wearing down of the world. I would use my body to find peace.

Candice E. Perkins is is a freelance writer living in New Orleans. She is an alum of the Voices of Our Nation Writing Workshop (VONA) and a graduate of the University of Southern California's Master of Professional Writing program (MPW).

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