As a professional or pre-professional dancer, it can be hard to make time and find the energy for yourself with a schedule packed full of classes, rehearsals, and school work. When my yoga students have similarly jam-packed schedules, I encourage them to set aside some time each day, even for just 5 minutes, to get onto their yoga mat and connect with themselves. I would encourage dancers to do the same. Whether it be through movement, breathing practice, or seated meditation, setting some uninterrupted time aside each day just for yourself can make a significant difference in your mental health and physical wellbeing. A home yoga practice can mean anything you want it to mean, as long as you are kind and gentle to your body. Below, I have detailed 3 ways that establishing a home yoga practice can benefit dancers. Of course, this doesn’t have to be done at home! It can be done anywhere that you feel happy and can be alone for a bit, as long as you make the time to get on your yoga mat!
1) Learn your body’s natural rhythms.
When I was a ballet student, I found that I knew very little about how my body wanted to move naturally outside of the structure of ballet choreography. I never had a time in my life where I studied improvisation or free movement, so moving on my own, outside of the confines of structure was, and still is a struggle for me. I find that getting onto my yoga mat each day and allowing myself to move in a way that feels natural to my body before I enter into a structured yoga practice has allowed me to connect with myself and my body in a deeper way. It has helped me learn to listen to what what my body is asking for. In yoga, there is never a “goal” to achieve when it comes to the postures, because the yoga practice is just a tool which we can use to observe our minds. When we move freely on our yoga mat, we can listen to our bodies without feeling like there is a specific way our movements should look, and we can begin to let go of forcing the postures. This can be hard in ballet class or rehearsal where we tend to be harsh on ourselves as dancers in the pursuit of perfection. On your yoga mat, it is just you and the movements that feel right and natural.
2) Extend your dance career.
There are endless research studies about the physical and mental benefits of a regular yoga practice. If you haven’t read any, google it and find an article that interests you! The yoga practice encourages us to listen to what our body needs. It encourages us to be kind to ourselves and others. It softens and breaks down our ego (we all have one!) When we learn our physical limits, when we learn the signals our body is giving us to say when enough is enough, and when we can learn to listen to those signals, we can prevent injury. When we do get injured, the yoga practice teaches us patience. With patience, we can wait until the time is right to go back to our daily dance routine. It takes mental work to hear and listen to our body’s signals, and getting on your yoga mat each day provides the perfect classroom to hone this skill. It takes time for us to learn to let go of force when we often feel we need to push ourselves in dance classes. When the mind learns to hear the body’s signals, and the ego is softened enough to say “it’s time to stop,” we can keep our body healthy and injury free well into our later years.
3) Clear your mind.
Whether or not you choose to make yoga a regular spiritual practice, getting on your mat everyday can have a positive impact on your mental health. You might choose just to gently stretch or try out a few breathing techniques instead of taking yoga postures if you have had a grueling day. The dance life can be rough, and we see the same small group of people every day. We get tired, frustrated, sad, and even angry at fellow dancers. Taking a few minutes of uninterrupted time for yourself allows you to reflect on your day, process any strong emotions you might have experienced, and cool down physically, mentally, and emotionally. Giving yourself time to reflect outside of the dance studio can allow you to come back the next day with a fresh perspective, free from anger or reactivity that an emotional experience can cause.
There are lots of ways we can take time for ourselves and practice self-care, yoga is just one of many! What is your favorite way to take time for yourself? Let me know in the comments! Lots of love!