September 24, 2013 by Nicole
So there I was: in class, sweating profusely, left leg extended out in the highest développé à la seconde I could muster, going through an already extensive mental checklist of keeping my shoulders down, chin up, arm supported, when I hear it: “challenge yourselves!”
While my immediate reaction was “what the….like this isn’t already challenging enough?!”, my mind quickly flashed back to a pin I’ve mentally returned to in times like these: if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
I relaxed my shoulders and concentrated on rotation, from the hip, easing as much turn out as possible in the extension. Even if I only achieved a fraction of a centimeter more, it was still better than accepting exactly where I was in the moment. It was progress. And eventually, all of those fractions add up to a much more impressive whole.
After class, I thought more about what Ms. Whitney was saying to us. She could give us the exercise, her feedback and encouragement…but it was up to us to do something with it. She described it as having that fire in our belly, but I also recognized it as a mental toughness I had learned before.
I remembered the first time that lesson really sunk in for me. I was in a strength training class, where one full song was devoted to military (shoulder) presses. We used light weights (4-6 pounds), but after 2 minutes, those suckers feel like lead! We made it through the song (barely!), and our instructor stopped us to give the following feedback: “I can see you giving up. Yes, it’s hard and it hurts. But your arm is not going to literally fall out of the socket if you do one more. Your mind is making the decision on when to quit. Is it ok to take a break? Absolutely. But do it at muscle exhaustion, when your form suffers because you’re compensating to make the rep. If you’re still pressing in perfect form, it’s your mind, not your body, that decided to quit. And you have the power to stop that. Decide to not quit.”
I found that to be really simple, but really profound. I was giving up. I’d convinced myself that my body had had enough – but my body was just fine! My form was not suffering. My mind was wimping out on telling my body what to do. Once I realized that, I’ve never worked out the same since, in the gym, at the barre or otherwise. I get more out of my workouts/class, with better results and it feels better! Because I know I’m working hard, I’m pushing myself and I’m getting better, even if I can’t see it in the mirror…yet.
It was a true “aha” moment for me and it’s helped me to be a better dancer. It reminds me to stay resolute – when I’m tempted to settle in at 90 degrees, I shoot for 91. And maybe even a little more rotated. Before every class, I look at my Fitspiration board and my mantra pin: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. And I’m better for it.
What’s your pre-class inspiration? How do you challenge yourself? Tell me in the Comments section.