Mindfulness on the Pole

Accessing inner strength in the most unconventional way.

AntonioDiaz/Dollar Photo Club

There’s perhaps no greater juxtaposition to the quiet, solitary meditator than the mindful pole dancer—they are, if you will, polar opposites. But the warrior princesses (and princes) of the pole fitness world have embraced mindfulness as a way of overcoming their fears and tapping into their power.

“You’re moving your body in a sensual way, and you can end up feeling a bit vulnerable,” says Kylee Sallak, owner of City Pole. “A lot of emotions can come up.”

Sallak, a former dancer, wanted an alternative to the competitive atmosphere she encountered while working at other pole fitness studios in Manhattan. So she opened City Pole, a wellness-focussed pole studio that encourages its members to exercise “from the inside out.”

Each class starts with slow, intentional movements choreographed to music. There’s even a “mindful sensuality” practice. Students learn a move called the body wave: you stand, facing the pole with feet shoulder-width apart and snake through the motions starting with the forehead, chest, tummy, and hips, moving toward the pole, one body part at a time. Once the hips meet the pole, you drop down with a bend in the knees and move your bottom backwards away from the pole and the motion starts over again. It’s an awkward movement when you’re doing it for the first time. “There’s lots of nervous laughter,” says Sallak.

To mentally prepare, students can visit the meditation room before or after class, take part in a guided written exercise where they write their fears on a special piece of paper that dissolves when placed into a fountain. There’s even some frustration-busting bubble wrap, and students have come up with their own “bubble wrap practice” where they breathe in, pop the wrap, breathe out, pop the wrap.

Beyond getting fit, Sallak wants students to notice whatever comes up on the pole. “Maybe there’s resentments, maybe there’s fears, maybe there’s insecurities,” says Sallak, “so we want to be able to give people the opportunity to acknowledge it and process it.”

And getting into tiny bicycle shorts—necessary to keep friction on the pole—while popping your hips before climbing and inverting into the splits? Not for the faint of heart.

“Half of the battle in pole fitness is really trusting yourself that you’re strong enough to do this. Half of the battle is in your head.”