Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Yoga for Dancers

"In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well." - Romans 12:6a NLT

When my oldest was 3, she told me she wanted to be a ballerina. At the time I thought, "of course you do--you're a 3-year-old girl. Who doesn't want to be a ballerina when she's 3?" We signed up for a Creative Movement class at the nearest ballet studio, and it was love at first position.

She's 11 now. She dances five days a week for hours on end. When she's not at the studio, she's writing choreography, working on her splits, or reading POINTE magazine. She still wants to be a ballerina.

She's a lovely dancer. There's a light in her when she's on the studio floor/stage, like this is what she was made for. I believe she has a God-given gift. 

And yet, I wouldn't say she's a natural. Poor baby inherited some tight hips, hamstrings, and calves from her daddy and me. She has to work really hard to gain flexibility. Mama also contributed some scrawny arms, so there's that, too.

And that's where yoga comes in.

Yoga is a complimentary practice to her dancing. It helps in her physicality. It also helps ground her in the other aspects of her humanity. It teaches her patience, perseverance, self-acceptance, focus, and to connect to things outside of herself. She says yoga makes her feel refreshed. But I'll be honest. She loves it because it helps her dancing.

Here are some poses that can be helpful for dancers (and non-dancers, too). *

Reclined Big Toe Pose Supta Padangusthasana
Lying on your back, place a strap across the ball of one foot. (If you don't have a yoga strap, an old belt or tie works, too). Extend the belted foot leg and stack your ankle over your hip. Lengthen through the down leg and gently turn your toes toward your shin. Turn your down leg in a little so all five toes are pointed skyward. Feel long from the bottom of the down leg through the top of the head. With the extended leg, imagine the back of your knee opening gently, like the petals of a rose. Use the strap to guide your toes towards your shin. Avoid locking your knees to protect your joints. Stay here for 5-6 breath cycles. Repeat on the opposite side.

Crescent Lunge Pose Alanasana
Take a big step back with one leg, landing on the ball of the back foot. The front leg bends toward a 90-degree angle/L-shape. Give your back leg a slight internal rotation so that your kneecap is facing straight forward and slightly down toward your mat. Zip up through your belly muscles. Stack your shoulders over your hips. On an inhale, sweep your fingers up towards the sky and grow a little longer in your fingers. Then tuck your shoulder blades down a little...imagine you were putting them in your back pockets. Breathe softly in and out through your nose for 5-6 breaths, then repeat on the other side.

Downward Facing Dog Pose Adho Mukha Svanasana
Bring your hands towards the front of your mat and step your feet towards the back of your mat. Spread your fingers out nice and wide. Your hands should feel strong, but not rigid. Bend your knees a lot and take your tush high...feel your spine get really long here. Keep the length of your spine and the height of your sitting bones and start to drop your heels towards the mat, keeping all ten toes facing forward. Don't worry if your heels don't drop all the way. Keep lengthening the spine and backs of the legs so you look like an upside down "V." After 5-6 breath cycles, step both feet forward into our next pose, Forward Fold.

Standing Forward Fold Uttanasana
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bring your hands to your shins (or in line with your toes, if you're feeling super bendy). Lengthen through your spine and flatten your back. Gently draw the backs of your thighs back and get longer through the top of the head. Keep your shoulders soft...away from the ears, with the shoulder blades on the back side of the heart. On an exhale, fold forward, bringing your head towards your knees. Be gentle to yourself! Don't force this pose (or you'll risk hurting yourself!). Where you are today is just perfect. Three breath cycles here.

High to Low Plank Pose Chaturanga Dandasana
Start on your hands and knees, with your hands spread wide (like Down Dog), placed under your shoulders. Extend your legs and balance on your tip toes. Feel long from your heels through the top of your head. Keep your elbows hugged in to your sides, but feel a widening across the front and back of your heart space. Press the floor away from you. To move to Low Plank, roll even further on to your tippy toes and start to bend your elbows. Lower down no further than 90 degrees (L-shape) and keep your elbows in at the waist...no chicken wings! Stay here for 1-5 breaths (and be kind to yourself if this is hard for you--it's a super challenging pose!). Carefully lower all the way to the floor.

Cobra Pose Bhujangasana
Bring your hands underneath your shoulders. Remember how we hold our hands? (Fingers spread nice & wide). Press your big toes towards the back of your mat and slightly turn your inner thighs in towards each other. Imagine the arc of a rainbow. Begin at the base of your spine. With each vertebrae, continue to make the rainbow shape as you lift the spine and come into a backbend. Keep the hip points on your mat as you press the floor away with your hands. Open your heart on the front and back side. Hold the pose for 4 breaths, then make a pillow for your forehead with your hands and rest here for 4 breaths.

Bound Angle Pose Baddha Konasana
Sit on your bum and bring the soles of your feet together so that your legs make a diamond shape. The closer your feet come to your sitting bones, the more intense the stretch...but you want to make sure you can keep your spine nice and long, so if your back starts to round, take your feet out a little further. Breathe in and press your sitting bones into the floor and extend out the top of your head. On your next inhale, hinge forward with your hips and elbows until you feel a good stretch for you. Stay here for three breath cycles, then release.

Pigeon Pose (modified) Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
Start in Downward Facing Dog Pose. Bring your right knee behind your right wrist, then bring your right foot toward the left edge of your yoga mat. Lower your hips and stretch your left leg behind you with your knee cap pointed towards the mat. Keep your hips level with the floor, not dumping into one hip bone or the other. Walk your hands forward until your are folded forward over your bent knee. (If your knee hurts, bring your foot a little closer in). Breathe here for 7-8 breaths, then return to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat on the left side. Sometimes people feel a little emotional in this pose. If that happens for you, know it's totally normal!

We hope these poses help you as you dance through life, with joy and rhythm!

*this post is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice or treatment for anyone. Check with your doctor to make sure yoga is right for your body and always listen to what your body is telling you. If something doesn't feel right for you, it probably isn't. Participating in any exercise is done so at your own risk. The author of this blog assumes no responsibility for any injury related to what you've learned here, and recommends you practice yoga under the guidance of a trained yoga teacher. 

1 comment:

  1. love this sarah ~ what a wonderful mama you are to your sweet dancer girl! thanks for sharing your wisdom & best practices in yoga for dancers! <3

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