Just Breathe

Shelby Elsbree on finding stillness in a sleepless city

3 Shelby Elsbree. Photograph by Karolina Kuras

Just over a year ago, I made an early decision to retire from my career as a professional dancer. Leaving behind the glory of the stage, the grind of endless hours in the studio . . . the past 16 years of my life dedicated to performing art. I know for certain that not one day has gone by that I haven’t considered my decision, contemplated my timing . . . wondered what ballet I might be rehearsing or injury I might be nursing if I was still “in the game.” I go to the theater frequently to get my fix of live art, and each time I sit there on the other side of the curtain, a cocktail of mixed emotions swirls in my soul, a bittersweet taste of a life I knew so well, combined with an urge to be up on stage with the rest of them. Needless to say, it’s hard for me to sit still.

After seven years of dancing professionally, I moved back to Manhattan to pursue my education.

Living in a sleepless city rarely encourages stillness—but healthily sustaining a life here demands it. This is why I’ve found yoga to be the most powerful antidote to getting lost in the rush. These days, if I’m not buried in books on campus, I can mostly likely be found on my mat, caught somewhere within a vinyasa flow, tuning out sirens and city sounds and tuning in to my breath, indulging passive streams of consciousness and lingering on the in-between.

At the end of a recent class, my teacher left us with some wise words of Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. . .the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”

In practice, I find this to be as charming and challenging as any other artistic pursuit. Rather than worrying about my past choices or stressing about my next step, this reminds me to hone the art of living presently, of living everything. This invites nostalgia as an empowering vehicle to drive forward, it slows the pace of the present, it stills the stress of the future.

Let’s live the questions on our journey to the answers. Let’s live everything.

Illustration by Alice Williamson

 

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