Do Not Envy the Dancers. ~ Laura Olson

Via Laura Olson
on Jul 26, 2013
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Can we talk frankly?

I read a great article the other day, all about why we should hang out in primary series a little longer and not feel “stuck,” not be so pose hungry or move on so quickly.

It kind of pushed my buttons.

It was a well-written article with a lot of wise advice. I agree with a lot of it. Though there are many opinions about how long “long enough” is. I think we can all agree primary series is not to be hurried through like getting to the end of a race.

Personally, I did finish it quickly, but then was made to hang out there for eight more months just to settle in. I had to learn all the vinyasa counts and spellings and pronunciations and breaths and dristis as I went, and I will be forever grateful for that very firm foundation.

But that’s not my point. As I read the article, I found myself getting upset. The author referred to “looking around” and “seeing people for whom they are” as “easy.” She suggested they were probably dancers or gymnasts and the fact that they could do asana didn’t mean they were necessarily doing yoga.

And here’s what: I am a former dancer. The twisty bendy parts of primary series were not hard for me. But the asana still means a lot, and I still have just as many struggles as people “blessed with stiffness” (to quote Richard Freeman), they just manifest differently in the practice.

As a dancer, I came to Ashtanga with an easy connection to movement, sure. But that does not mean I was good at everything. Ok, so I could do Marichyasana D, but I could not do a single sun salute without feeling inadequate. Chatturangas were not my friends. It took me something like a year of falling over in headstand every single day to be able to stay up. No, not handstand; headstand. I was bendy but not strong. And I had no endurance.

And, more importantly, I did not like myself. Ok, I did not know myself, but what I did know, I did not like.

And so, Ashtanga stirred up my stuff. It is the point of yoga, sort of. And, it totally worked. For the first few years of daily practice I was a complete mess. As a person with a difficult relationship to food and body image, it was incredibly painful to face myself on the mat every morning. And, sometimes the challenge of trying to treat myself well, trying to change my habits and lifestyle, of having to really face myself every day, drove me to actually treat myself worse rather than better. After a painful bout of this behavior, I would get on the mat the next morning in extreme discomfort.

But, being a dancer, I pushed through. We’re good at that. Broken toe? No problem. Loaded down? Just work harder. Feeling upset? Suck in your gut, lift your chin, and get on with it. It’s what we do.

Sometimes though, I would dissolve into tears. Ok, more than sometimes, I would almost always manage to just push through the asana. And maybe it still even looked graceful. So to look at me, it was some sort of easy dance. But really, I was facing my demons just as wholeheartedly as everyone else.

And I still am. I may be doing the advanced series. And it may look even more fluid—now stronger than ever. But there are still demons to be faced. It is just taking different asanas to bring them out—and sometimes they manifest in different ways.

Fortunately, I am much stronger and more resilient than I was when I started. I not only know myself a little better, I think I am beginning to like myself at the ripe old age of I-will-not-tell you, at the point that some of those graceful practices actually feel awesome and juicy. Maybe more often than not. And, when I get to one of those “sticky” days, I usually do not dissolve in tears on the mat, I turn my thoughts to my breath and manage to move through them, rather than either gripping on or pushing them painfully away. But you may never know which days are which.

And that, finally, is my point.

You cannot know what is going on inside another practitioner, just to watch them from across the Mysore room. Ashtanga and asana and yoga and life all together are never easy.

In some way, you will be forced to face your stuff.

Do not envy the dancers.

We may have an easy relationship using our bodies, but we often do not have any kind of experience loving them.

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Assistant Ed: Gabriela Magana/Ed: Bryonie Wise

Photo: via Pinterest


About Laura Olson

Laura Olson is a writer, yoga teacher, passionate ashtanga practitioner, enthusiastic chef, fine wine enthusiast, beauty branding expert and constant student of life. She believes healthy food should be delectable and finding balance is the key to happiness. Laura is on a mission to spread joyful, healthy living to NYC, the Hudson Valley and the entire planet. Find her on her website.


23 Responses to “Do Not Envy the Dancers. ~ Laura Olson”

  1. April says:

    Never read an article more true!

  2. @pegmulqueen says:

    this touched my heart – because it came from yours. there are many writers who will use the stories others to preach their lesson, but those writers who bravely choose to open themselves up and be vulnerable are the ones i find most inspiring – and the lessons, most meaningful. laura – YOU inspire me. thank you for sharing this.

  3. @ndo says:

    All I can say is, yes. Truth here. Also, the link to your website is not working.

  4. devacat says:

    Beautifully said. I'm grateful for this kind of articulate discussion of the difference between craft and practice, and will share it with my students.

  5. amphibi1yogini says:

    I consider myself a dancer … NOW. Not professional, never had the potential to be so.

    It is the fault of the media.

    I used to envy the dancer, because of FASHION, never because of yoga. In fact, when they were my vinyasa teachers, I had plenty of words with them and their attitudes …

    The FASHION leviathan has valorized the dancers' stereotypical body for DECADES.
    Yoga – both commercialized and yoga used in advertising, are just the latest swallowings of the FASHION monster …

  6. jean marie says:

    I love this! I appreciate your willingness to strip down and share. it is, as others have said, truly inspiring. thank you for writing it.

  7. Lia Leilah says:

    I like this article; except I think it is too bad to feel the need to defend against another person's jealousy by listing one's own shortcomings. I would hope that the beautiful, strong, bendy dancer across the room is as blissful as can be in every way, including contentedness with her physical body, and not feel envy or comparison or speculate that even though her asana rocks, she is not really practicing yoga on the inside…

  8. all our good days says:

    loved this! and it's an important reminder to not assume you know what's going on in someone else's head on the yoga mat or anywhere for that matter! Thanks for sharing!

  9. lauralovesyoga says:

    Hmmm. Interesting point of view. Of course any written piece can only address so many issues at once. This is just one side of a very complicated coin. I love my practice and completely own that I'm practicing yoga inside and out. I love my body (now) and I get giggles from rocking my asana. And, I had blissed-out practices, lots, at the beginning too, or I could never have committed myself so wholeheartedly to such an intense practice, every day, for a decade. But it's important to see the other side of the coin and to know we're all just human. Maybe this part of the discussion is a whole new article. Thanks for speaking out!

  10. Gena says:

    I can't tell you how much I loved this article, Laura. You capture so perfectly the ways in which yoga forces us to confront ourselves (and, ultimately, forgive ourselves). As someone who has watched your yoga videos and taken your class, I'm naturally incredibly envious of your dexterity and strength…but this is a very good reminder that we're all on our own journeys, dealing with our shit, getting deeper into ourselves. Thanks.

  11. lauralovesyoga says:

    Wow, Gena, exactly my point. I love my yoga, asanas and all, and I'm still dealing with my shit.

  12. Rugbychix says:

    I feel for the author's struggles with self acceptance.

    "And here’s what: I am a former dancer. The twisty bendy parts of primary series were not hard for me. But the asana still means a lot, and I still have just as many struggles as people “blessed with stiffness” (to quote Richard Freeman), they just manifest differently in the practice."

    I got some bad news for you…this is intellectually dishonest. You probably don't even know any better because yoga has lots of people playing at knowing things about the human body. Joints in adults have a finite range of motion based on genetics, prior activities and the nature of the joint its self. Flexibility in joints is like physical beauty, there is a very limited amount of upside but plenty of downside when you neglect yourself. There huge number of people who will never safely be able to complete some of the poses that require extreme flexibility in the primary series. So forgive the folks who see you jump into Supta Kurmasana with a smile and struggle to find empathy because you feel inadequate over Chatturangas. It's not the same challenge: your challenge is almost a 100% possible with work, their challenge will be one of years and years, with very little chance of obtaining the pose.

    But there in lies the issue, more western style judgement over obtainment, achievement hoarding. That perspective seems to have a home in some studios. Thankfully not where I practice 🙂

  13. lauralovesyoga says:

    Hey Rugbychix, thanks for weighing in. I agree, I get to do some things others can never hope to do with their bodies. Sadly, my language skills are apparently still in development, since all I mean to say is, we're all working at something. No one escapes the world or the practice without some kind of effort and transformation. And the physical challenges are almost beside the point, except that by working with the body we can transform our minds too. Nothing about achievement and obtainment. All about the journey.

  14. Anne says:

    Nice post Laura! Your blog is totally inspiring…

  15. mieo says:

    beautiful photo!

  16. cricket fan says:


  17. Beautiful photo of a beautiful woman.

  18. Jasper says:

    Genuinely when someone doesn’t know after hat its up to

    other people that they will help, so here it occurs.

  19. Laura says:

    Hi Peg,

    I don't know why I never replied to this. Was just revisiting the article, with evolving thoughts, and saw these sweet words. We'll never get anywhere without open conversation and continued questioning. So many of the questions and discussions in your podcasts strike a nerve for me. Thanks for inspiring me too!

  20. Laura says:

    Hi @ndo,

    I was just revisiting this article and thinking about what's changed, how I've evolved, how I'm the same, how the issue will always be current for so many. Thanks for recognizing the "truth"! And, hope the web site is working now…

  21. Laura says:

    Hi Devacat,

    Where do you teach? I'm so glad to hear I struck a chord.The more i revisit this issue, the more I want to talk about it. We need to foster open discussion about the "sticky" issues and help the practice be a safe place of inquiry for everyone. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  22. Laura says:

    Hi Anne, just revisiting my thoughts on this. There's always more to consider and share. Thanks for visiting the blog!