Yesterday, I needed to sit down for a few hours to write a take-home school exam. It wasn’t anything I couldn’t do; I had studied all of the material already. I knew what I was getting into and how much I was supposed to write, and the questions for the exam were not tricky. I was supposed to choose one of the three question options and write an essay response. But I couldn’t shake the nerves that had built up a bit of tension in my muscles in the time I had waited to get started.
Luckily, the exam was not timed. I decided to use that opportunity to destress by getting out of my mind and releasing some of the tension that had built up in my muscles through a workout. Focusing on exercise, especially movements that require control and mental focus, has been an effective way for me to change my train of thought and get out of my mind. When I am focused on keeping good form while performing different moves, it’s easier to let go of anything else that might be vying for my mental attention, and it becomes possible to just be in the present moment.
I normally choose Pilates when I need to focus and get into my body, and away from some of my thoughts and concerns. Pilates, which was initially called “Contrology,” by Joseph Pilates, is all about controlling your muscles and maintaining good form while going through a series of movements in different positions. I love mat Pilates, which is the only type I have tried.
However, yesterday, in addition to my tension I also felt unmotivated to exercise. Sometimes mental fatigue can get into our bodies and make our bodies feel tired. It seems so counterintuitive when people who sit at desks all day complain about feeling too tired to work out after their workday, but this is what happens.
Luckily, I don’t feel that way every day, but when I do, there are ways to work around that feeling and find compromises that can still help me get the benefits I am looking for. While the online mat Pilates classes that I take are challenging, there are some free workouts on the internet that are great alternatives to Pilates on days that I’m feeling like a little less exertion.
Ballet barre workouts use many of the same movements as pilates while standing, and floor barre, as you can guess, does also, but mostly lying down. The exercises are all about maintaining a good and graceful form while maintaining fluidity in one’s movements. Without keeping these principles of form and fluidity in mind, floor barre workouts can seem very easy. However, with these objectives in mind, they become much more mentally and physically challenging, requiring consistent focus and the use of seldom-used small muscles.
This is why I chose to go with a floor barre workout. There are several of these that I have tried from Youtube, and many have been great. My favourites are from the Scottish Ballet. They are very professionally filmed and the instructor’s tone of voice is very pleasant and calm: the videos themselves create an atmosphere of nurturing, relaxation and physical release wherever you are.
I began with the video I have linked here. It is about 18 minutes, so quite short. I didn’t have plans to do more because my plan was not to burn calories or get “fit” by breaking down my muscles. It was just to create some distance between the school work I had been thinking about throughout the day and find a space of quiet in my mind. Eighteen minutes would be more than enough to do that.
After a few minutes of getting started, my body was vibrating with pleasure. It feels so good to be in possession of a body to command into different movements, and the fluidity and dance-like quality of the progression of exercises made this workout so pleasant.
The routine ended before I knew it, and I wanted more. I considered repeating the same workout again because I loved it so much, but in the end, I decided on another one, also by the Scottish Ballet. This one, below, is 20 minutes long and it’s called “New Year, New You.”
This one is half floor barre and half standing barre. If you don’t have a ballet barre at home, like me, then you can use a chair or sofa to hold on to. The movements were gentle and fluid, and I felt my body and muscles releasing just a little more with each repetition.
The demonstration of the movements by the professional dancers in both videos is graceful and inspiring. Their movements are controlled, and it is clear to see that even the smallest movement can be performed with so much grace as to look regal.
I finished feeling so refreshed and ready to get back to my writing task. After my workout, I drank water infused with lemon to hydrate. I know I will be doing these workouts again in the future; they are great for doing something even on a day that I want a more gentle challenge. I feel so grateful for all of the work the ballet company has put into creating these videos, and for their willingness to share them.