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Questionnaire: Can working out help your mind?

Ballerina-turned-celebrity trainer Andie Hecker believes it does.

Andie Hecker joined the New York City Ballet at age 17.

You might not recognize Andie Hecker’s name, but you probably know the names of people whose bodies she’s sculpted with her personal training. Her client list reads like a Hollywood and fashion industry who’s who, including Orlando Bloom, Julia Roberts, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ginnifer Goodwin and Victoria’s Secret models Miranda Kerr and Rosie Huntington-Whitely. Natalie Portman tapped Hecker to train her for her Oscar-winning performance as a mentally unbalanced ballerina in the film “Black Swan.”

At 17, the OC-raised Hecker began a career as a professional ballerina with New York City Ballet (she started dancing at the former West Coast Conservatory of Ballet, now part of the CAAST School of Dance in Orange). But that career was cut short when an increasingly debilitating case of scoliosis required her to have spinal fusion surgery. At the same time, she was suffering mental health challenges and was diagnosed with an often-misunderstood psychiatric condition, borderline personality disorder.

Medical and psychiatric professionals helped her recover, but Hecker found that working on her body was also a way to restore her spirit. She turned to personal training, creating the L.A.-based Ballet Bodies, which she sold last year to focus on one-on-one training. You won’t see any ads for her new studio, No Name Workout, because, she says, it’s reserved for “people who know people who know people.”

Coast: What’s the most overused workout trend? Don’t say Zumba, please.
Andie Hecker: Jazzercise. While it’s fun and a great cardiovascular workout, it seems like many up-and-coming – and even established – fitness gurus use Jazzercise as their go-to get-fit method and just slap their names on it, like they made it up. I wish they’d just call it what it is: Jazzercise. I’d respect that and probably take one of their classes.

Coast: What does it mean if you can manage to get to the gym only for some kind of group class, and can’t stand to work out on your own? Asking for a friend.
Hecker: That usually means you’re out of shape. Nothing’s fun when it’s super laborious. Fitness begets fitness. But if you consistently get to those group classes you like, you’ll get stronger, and moving your body will become more satisfying. Do whatever will inspire you to get moving. If it’s boring, do not force yourself to do it. You won’t put forward the right kind of energy to garner results if you’re bored with what you’re doing.

Coast: You train some of Hollywood’s most comely stars, whose very career depends on them being at their best. But how do you keep your “normal” clients motivated?
Hecker: Seventy percent of my client base consists of mere mortals. I’m good at reminding people that they feel better when they’re not busy letting themselves be lazy. My non-celebrity clients are as unique as the famous people are. I get down to what the client most needs in order to improve both their bodies and their mindsets. Then, I train from there. Feeling important and distinctive is motivating. Maybe that’s why my clients come to me instead of going to Equinox … or Jazzercise.

Coast: You became a ballerina at the top of her game at a very young age ...
Hecker: My first ballet class at age 9 showed me that I could express myself through my body, but I only gained true command over it at 14 when I went to the Joffrey Ballet School’s eight-week summer intensive and came home a polished baby ballerina. The lesson I took away: Bodies became powerful through repetition, consistency, focus and drive. Physical fitness and aesthetic beauty come from the power of the mind. Duh.

Coast: Physical training has also been a way for you to cope with mental health challenges. Can you talk about that?
Hecker: I’ve been diagnosed with and hospitalized three times for an extreme case of borderline personality disorder. This is a mental illness that is defined largely by an inability to contain and manage emotions, which leads to self-damaging behaviors; borderlines have a 10 percent suicide rate. My experience with BPD is so all-consuming that every day is a fight to feel safe in the world. This irrational need to consistently protect myself from what feels like immediate harm makes it hard to navigate daily tasks and interactions.

I know without doubt that I owe much of my triumph over this mental disorder to my early life as a ballerina. Ballet allowed me to put my overwhelming emotions out into the world through beauty and art, using my body as my instrument. This complete command over my body created a container for, and then an expulsion portal, for my mental illness.
I use my knowledge of how powerful physical expression is in order to make change in other people’s, coaching them to find beauty and importance in their bodies. Something of my “method” must be working. People keep paying me to do it. Oh, yeah, and I’m writing a book about the whole thing.

Coast: Do you still dance?
Hecker: Only recently have I been sneaking into ballet classes here and there. I’m very all-or-nothing, so when I retired at the age of 22, I decided that if I couldn’t dance at the level I had worked for so many years to attain, then I wouldn’t dance at all.
I’ve been taking great pains to be less extreme in my thoughts and actions, so at 10 pounds heavier than my professional ballerina weight, with 13 levels of vertebrae fused together, and with two rods alongside said vertebrae, I sometimes shove some ballet shoes on my feet and do what I can in a room of professional, and non-professional, dancers. I am always reminded that ballet is, and always has been, the absolute best workout for my body.

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