Why do I feel so wonderful after class?

– says almost every adult ballet dancer at some point during their training with me

We’ve all experienced entering class in a terrible mood, not particularly sure wether we feel like even being there to not just leave feeling better, but wonderful.   

So why is this? Well the answer is actually one of the reasons why my work is called Balanced Ballerinas.

Your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for rest and digest with a slower heart beat, reduced oxygen intake and more relaxed muscles. Your sympathetic nervous system is responsible for fight or flight with a faster heart beat, increased oxygen intake and contraction of muscles.

The beautiful thing about a ballet class is that you dip in and out of both your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems – creating balance.

Anyone who practices yoga has probably had their instructor explain the beauty of finding flow within the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems…

An excellent yoga class will begin calm and simple, increasing the complexity and challenge as you arrive deeper into the hour. As soon as a challenging posture has been attempted (fight or flight) you’ll be asked to return to a safe, grounding posture to recalibrate and focus on the breath (rest and digest).

An excellent ballet class will begin with a gentle warm up filled with comforting repetition, increasing in complexity and challenge as you arrive deeper into the barre work. But as soon as that grande battement exercise is finished (fight or flight) and we head into the centre, a soft port de bras brings your focus back to your breath (rest and digest).

In my opinion, an excellent teacher of any movement is a master of balancing the delicate dance between your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.

Many people attest to the effectiveness of expressive therapies (art, music and dance) however little research has been done to truly understand why they’re so effective. In The Body Keeps Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk he says, “Trauma overwhelms listeners as well as speakers…” which speaks volumes to the productiveness of movement therapy.

We all know that exercise and movement releases chemicals called endorphins and as Elle Woods from Legally Blonde says, “Endorphins make you happy!” but I think there is so much more to it.

Whilst reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle I pondered his thoughts about humans keeping situations, stressful events and traumas alive in our minds for far longer that necessary. Tolle calls this ‘destructive mental movie making’ and I believe a ballet class forces us to be present, disrupting this mental behaviour.

So my short answer to the question? You feel so wonderful after class because ballet forces you to bring your attention back to the pristine present moment whilst encouraging the flow between each nervous system, giving your body permission to transform. Now that’s powerful.