When you live and breathe pirouettes and passé, should you still hold space for an Utkatasana? Well, it turns out, you should. A dancer’s range of motion is more significant than your average Joe. But the wide range of benefits yoga can give to dancers is as wide as the dancer floor.
This article will explore how yoga can help dancers become better in their chosen art and how to teach yoga to dancers.
How Yoga Can Help Dancers
Prevent Injury and Recovery
According to a study, eight out of ten professional dancers get an injury each year — 60% more than rugby players. While dancers may look beautiful, graceful, and light as they move around the stage, they must have a lot of strength, stamina, and flexibility. It’s a physically demanding job that requires them to do repetitive motions and movements several times a day.
In return, their bodies become more susceptible to injuries. Furthermore, professional dancers don’t get much time to rest between training and performance. They also don’t have an off-season. So, their bodies don’t get much time to recover from the physical stress it has gone through.
The most common injury among dancers occurs in the ankles. Dancers perform intense jumping on hard floors, mostly barefoot. Another common injury dancers suffer from is hip impingement.
They are vulnerable to hip injuries because of splits and other dancing techniques that require a high range of motion in the hip joints. Other times, it’s not even the overusing of the hip that’s causing the impingement but the hyperextending of the lumbar spine.
Yoga can help prevent and recover from injuries. Keith Mitchell, an All-pro NFL linebacker, can attest to that. While in the hospital for an injury, one of the nurses incorporated breathing exercises and poses in his recovery program.
“It was a life-altering situation,” Mitchell says.
For dancers, yoga is an excellent cross-training program. They are already flexible and strong. But they need to develop flexibility and strength in other parts of the body to counter the stress of repetitive motions and movements.
Yoga asanas will provide dancers with new ways to explore their bodies that they don’t usually use in dancing.
Yoga also helps dancers improve their proprioception and body awareness, which helps in being more mindful of their movement. Injuries usually happen when our form is not correct. In yoga, we focus on the present moment.
Dancers can apply this to become more mindful of any movement they do on the stage and ensure that their alignment is correct.
Most people think that yoga is just stretching or handstands and Downward-facing Dogs, which dancers can mostly do. While that’s true, there are many styles of yoga that can be good for active recovery. Restorative yoga is a form of yoga that will complement well with physically exhausting dance training and performances.
It’s more of meditative practice. Instead of moving up and down the yoga mat, you will be using many props and holding postures for a few minutes. It’s an excellent way for dancers to relax while still actively moving, which helps in increasing their range of motion.
Improve Body Image
Dancers are prone to perfectionism. Luca Sbrizzi, or Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, the top reason why he retired from his career was the incredible pressure to be perfect. Perfectionism is linked to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and suicide. It is an epidemic that affects the career of many dancers by influencing how they look at themselves.
Perfectionism is also the cause why many dancers suffer from eating disorders and body image issues. Study shows that dancers are three times more likely to suffer from an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa.
When dancers think of themselves as not perfect, which is usually unattainable, that’s when they start suffering. According to another study, 31.9% of dancers are not satisfied with their body image, even when they have an ideal body mass index.
Yoga can help dancers have a positive body image. Researchers at Ohio State University and Washington State University came up with a concept called the Embodiment Model of Positive Body Image. The test shows that participants who practice yoga following the idea scored higher on positive body embodiment and positivity.
They tend to be more aware of their bodies ’ desires. They also have more compassion and less negative judgment for their bodies. Further, they nurture their bodies by doing exercises that feel good for them.
The dance industry is highly competitive and stressful. Competitions like these are very stressful on their own, but it gets worse. Perfectionism and injury are the top two significant causes of stress amongst dancers. By practicing yoga, dancers can learn how to control their stress levels.
In an industry that is very competitive and physically exhausting, dancers need to relax more. Yoga promotes relaxation. It decreases the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol while also increasing endorphins or the happy hormone.
Tips on How to Teach Yoga for Dancers
When teaching yoga for dancers, it’s essential to keep in mind that they have different needs from yogis who are not dancers. Given that dancers are more susceptible to injuries, body image issues, and stress, here are some tips on how to teach them yoga that will cater to their needs.
Always Incorporate Meditation
Dancers flock to yoga studios to practice yoga as cross-training. They think of it as something that will make them more flexible and strong. While that is true, another aspect of yoga that can help them is meditation.
Meditation is a great tool to help dancers improve their body image and be less judgmental of themselves. It can help you find inner peace by teaching you to focus on the present moment and avoid negative self-talk. Meditation can help dancers develop self-compassion, which is a cost-effective and valuable tool for improving body image.
Guide the students to a meditation that will help them become less judgmental and more accepting of who they are as a person.
You can also use meditation to help dancers increase their sensory awareness on and off the mat and the stage. You can guide them to visualize doing something to evoke spatial awareness.
For example, guide them to imagine walking barefoot on cobblestones, how the cobblestones feel in their barefoot, or the most dominant scent they can smell as they are walking. Doing this allows them to become more in tune with their bodies and their characters on the dancefloor.
It would help if you also incorporated meditation to help dancers relax. A body-scan meditation is a great example. Dancing is physically demanding and exhausting.
They need to let their bodies relax so that they can recuperate and recover. Doing this will also help them improve their sleeping habits, which can help further in recovery.
Focus on Stability
Most dancers desire to improve the mastery of their craft. They were trained to do that and constantly push, extend, and go way above their limit, especially in their range of motion. That’s why you see many dancers hyperextending their joints easily, which can lead to injuries.
Rather than pushing them to their limits or going beyond them, a yoga teacher focuses on stability and safety. Instead of encouraging the dancers to go deeper in the pose, encourage them to find their neutral position.
Let them build strength from the foundation of the posture first, instead of letting them do the full expression of the posture right away.
Dancers are agile because they are used to physically moving. To counter their dance training and practice, which is usually fast-paced, let them slow down in yoga. Slowing down helps them become more aware of their alignment, which helps in preventing injury. Also, slowing down is better in improving their muscle endurance and strength as there is more resistance.
Let Them Be Beginners
Just because dancers can do many poses easily doesn’t mean you should make them do advanced poses in your yoga class. Kathleen Hunt, a yoga teacher for dancers and owner of Samadhi Yoga in Seattle, suggests dancers should come to a yoga class with a beginner’s mindset.
Start from the ground up of the poses. Focus on alignment instead of sinking into a pose so they are more stable. If they find that it’s too easy, let them hold poses longer, as long as they are in perfect alignment.
Teach Them Ahimsa and Brahmacharya
Ahimsa (non-violence) and Brahmacharya (right use of energy) are two of the yamas in the 8 Limbs of Yoga in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Yamas are moral values that guide us on how to treat ourselves and the world. These moral values can help dancers treat themselves better.
Ahimsa, which means non-violence, can help them to become non-judgmental of themselves. Dancers are more prone to perfectionism that causes body image issues and eating disorders. When they can learn not to be violent with their bodies, they will learn how to nurture it instead of judging it for what it can’t do. They will learn to appreciate their body and feed it with good food.
Brahmacharya can help dancers control their energy. They will recognize when to take a break from their physically demanding job. When they do this, their recovery will be better.
Yoga Poses for Dancers
Let’s take a look at some asanas that will help dancers gain strength, loosen their bodies, and prevent injuries.
Navasa or Boat Pose is an excellent asana for strengthening the core and teaching dancers when to contract or relax their core, especially their pelvic floor. Many dancers suffer from hip pain, sacroiliac sensitivities, and hamstring injuries because of the overactive pelvic floor. In Navasana, dancers need to contract the core muscles and release them to get out of the pose.
Here’s how to do Navasana:
- Begin in a seated position with your knees bent and hip-width apart.
- Keep your spine straight and your chin parallel to the floor. Inhale and lead back a little.
- As you exhale, contract the core muscles, gently lift one foot off the mat and then the other.
- As you inhale, let the core relax and bring the feet down. Exhale and repeat step 3.
Dancers usually have a hyperextended low back and hypermobile hips. To counter these, let them practice Utkatasana or Chair Pose. It’s an excellent asana to strengthen the glutes and the hips.
Here’s how to do Utkatasana:
- Begin in Tadanasa. Allow the dancers to stand tall with their feet firmly on the mat.
- Inhale and bring your arms overhead.
- Exhale and hinge from your hips as you bend your knees. Bring the thighs as parallel to the ground as you can.
- Stay in this position for three or more cycles of breath.
Ardha Pincha Mayurasana
Ardha Pincha Mayurasana or Dolphin Plank is good for strengthening the core and the upper shoulders of dancers.
Here’s how to do Ardha Pincha Mayurasana:
- Start on hands and knees or Tabletop Pose.
- Bring your forearms down. Your elbows should be directly under the shoulders. You have the option to bring your palms down on the mat or bring your palms together.
- Then, slowly bring your hips up. Keep your spine straight and your core engaged. Make sure that you push the ground away with your forearms.
- Stay in this pose for three or more rounds of breath.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana or Bridge Pose is another asana that strengthens the glutes. It also supports the hamstrings and the core, which helps protect the hips and low back of dancers. For dancers who have low back pain, this pose will give them some relief.
Here’s how to do Setu Bandha Sarvangasana:
- Lie down on your back. Bend your knees, keeping them at hip-width distance.
- Inhale and exhale. By the end of your exhale, engage your core and your glutes, then slowly lift the hips off the mat.
- Do this for five to ten rounds.
Salabhasana or Locust Pose can help dancers strengthen their back muscles, which helps in doing backbends. This asana also improves the flexibility of their front body.
Here’s how to do Salabhasana:
- Lie on your belly with your hands to your side, palms facing down. Make sure your legs are straight.
- Inhale and slowly roll your shoulders to the back.
- Exhale and lift your forehead and your chest off the mat, making sure you are engaging your back muscles.
- To advance in this pose, you can lift the arms and legs off the mat.
- Do this pose for five to ten rounds.
Dancers are more prone to injuries, body image issues, and stress because of their profession. When you teach yoga to dancers, emphasize the essence of proper alignment, listening to their bodies, and acceptance. Doing this will develop a more mindful approach to whatever physical activity they do and help them become more compassionate and appreciative of their bodies.