I can always, without fail, tell when I have a dancer in one of my yoga classes. How? Maybe it’s the fluidity of their movement, the openness of the chest and shoulders, or the grace and presence of a natural performer. Or, it could be because most dancers hit their yoga postures with a turn out, just like I did when I started my personal yoga journey. It’s a dead giveaway.
Yoga and dance complement each other well. Both are an exploration of movement, stretching the ability of the body, the mind, and the spirit. Coming from a background in dance, I’ve always struggled with finding a type of exercise I actually enjoy. I grew up exercising with choreography to remember. Now, running on a treadmill, doing repetitive sets lifting weights, or pumping out miles on a stationary bike is almost unbearably boring. There are no moves to remember, no variety, no challenge beyond raising your heart rate. This is exactly why I came to love yoga so much. Each class is choreographed with a wide variety of asanas (postures), one moving into the next. I never get bored.
So, in what ways does a consistent yoga practice help dancers? To name just a few:
Balance of Flexibility and Strength - It is important for dancers – or anyone really – to maintain a balance between strength and flexibility. Being overly muscular can hinder flexibility and vice versa. In particular, dancers tend to be more flexible than the average person, and this can easily lead to injury if you don’t have the strength to back it up. Yoga focuses on bringing this dichotomy into balance, stretching your body and backing it up with core strength, focusing on large muscle groups, and improving endurance. Classes such as Yin will provide a deep stretch and help with flexibility. Classes such as Hot Hatha and Power with help with strength and endurance.
Body Awareness/Proprioception – Over time, practicing yoga promotes an increased sense of body awareness/proprioception. This can be especially useful for dancers, helping with clean lines, the ability to make beautiful shapes with your body, and transition more fluidly from one move to the next. Body awareness allows you to sense where you are in space, where your limbs are in relation to the body, and to do this intuitively. Increased body awareness also helps you detect illness or injury, sensing that you may be dehydrated, may be coming down with a cold, have a minor sprain, or have any body part that needs to be handled gently. All yoga classes from easy to very challenging will help with body awareness.
Pranayama/Breath – Pranayama – which literally translated from Sanskrit means “life energy” – is one of the 8 Limbs of traditional yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras. It is the practice of breathing. When you are in control of your breath, you can use that breath. Let your breath guide your movement; don’t let your movement guide your breath. Practicing pranayama – full yogic breath, ujjayi breath, lion’s breath, etc. – improves breath control, lung capacity, and can create energy or create a sense of calm. This is definitely something you will want to incorporate into dance. This practice should be incorporated into any yoga class you take.
Manage Stress and Recover – Dancer’s lives can be demanding and stressful for the body, mind, and spirit. Long rehearsals, unusual schedules, and taxing performances can all build stress. Using a physical yoga practice (asanas), breathing (pranayama), and meditation you will be better equipped to handle the stressful situations that arise in your day to day life. We stress on a regular basis, so it is important then to de-stress on a regular basis. Incorporate a Gentle Hatha or Yin class into your schedule once a week. These types of classes put an emphasis on relaxation, meditation, breathing, and healing.
If you are looking for a class I guarantee all dancers will enjoy (I know I sure do), I recommend checking out a Vinyasa class or Aerial Yoga as your jumping off point into your own personal yoga journey. Vinyasa (sometimes known as flow yoga) is a sequence of flowing postures synchronized with the breath. The postures smoothly run together and become almost like a dance. Aerial Yoga is a more recent style of yoga practiced with silk fabric hanging from the ceiling. It is the lovechild of Iyengar Yoga and Aerial Arts/Circus Performance. You will use that silk hammock to deepen stretches, achieve postures that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, and just have a whole lot of fun pretending you ran away with the circus.
My name is Christina Bassani. I am Certified Yoga Teacher. All training was completed through the Yoga Education Institute. I am Registered with Yoga Alliance. I have been teaching for about two and a half years at Core Balance Yoga & Wellness, founded by Aliage Mason-Perry. I teach Yin, Vinyasa, Hot Hatha, Gentle Hatha, Power, and Aerial Yoga.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
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