Wendy Whelan on Finding Joy After Injury and Trying Yoga for the First Time

Wendy Whelan Photo: Getty Images

A Kentucky-born, scoliosis-afflicted child doesn’t sound like an ordinary shoo-in for a 30-year career in the New York City Ballet, but Wendy Whelan isn’t exactly ordinary. That much is obvious in the new documentary Restless Creature, which chronicles her last year in the ballet company and her suffering from a hip injury that fostered four years of debilitating pain: “There were times when my husband had to carry me home from an event because I couldn’t walk,” she told the Cut.

Ahead of the film’s release this week, Whelan shared what life has looked like since her retirement from ballet. She tried yoga for the first time, and she can’t get enough of Birdbath cookies.

How I start my day: I get up sometime in between seven and eight. I generally take a ballet class from 10 to 12, and occasionally, before or after that class, I also do a yoga class at Equinox. I’m not an advanced yoga person by any means, but I’ve been doing it regularly for the past six months. I like to have eggs for breakfast and I drink a lot of green tea.

How I like to sweat: In addition to yoga and ballet class, I do gyrotonics, which is sort of like Pilates, but more of a circular motion of exercise. It’s built on spirals rather than symmetrical, linear exercises. I’ve been doing that off and on for about ten years. It depends on what my schedule looks like, but I try to do some form of exercise every day. My body always feels better and it improves my mood.

How I like to nourish myself: I like to go to farm-to-table salad places like Sweetgreen or Fresh and Co. I like places where I can create my own salad from what’s local and in-season. I don’t eat a ton. I like eggs, almond butter, and things like that. I don’t eat a lot of meat, mostly fish. I feel different when I take out dairy and gluten from my diet. It doesn’t mean I do it all the time, but when I have a regular system and I’m not traveling, I stick to a relatively consistent routine of eating that way. I love sugar, but I try to keep it at a minimum. I love gelato and a really good cookie from Birdbath.

How I pamper myself: I like to get manicures — it helps me keep my nails better because they can get dry and brittle. I really like to use an exfoliate cleanser from Acure. I also like Aveda lotions. I’ll exfoliate my face, use witch hazel to tone, and then the lotions, which make me feel pretty great. Fresh, clean skin is the ultimate good feeling.

What wellness means to me: It means peak energy; feeling like your best self and in balance. It also means having supportive surroundings.

How the idea of wellness has changed for me: When I finished dancing ballet and I dealt with a serious injury, my perspective changed on wellness. Rather than pushing my body to the extreme when I was dancing, I put a little extra weight on, got more sleep, and surrounded myself in a less stressful environment. In ballet, you’re always pushing yourself to the boundaries. To find a little more balance after that career has been great.

What I wish I’d known when I was younger: I wish I had started yoga earlier and trusted that I didn’t need to be so extreme all the time. I just wish I had found that counterbalance a little bit earlier.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Wendy Whelan on Her Injury & Trying Yoga for the First Time