Expert advice on how best to cope with the lock-down as a result of the global Corona pandemic, has not been scarce, but most agree that keeping a healthy routine of exercise, something to help you destress and of course a good diet is essential.
I have taken the last few weeks out to engross myself in various health projects that I’m part of alongside my dance career and I’ve been astounded [yet again!] that everything points towards dancing as being the best ever exercise and mental medicine.
Read on to find out why, but also to discover what other practises you can use to give both your body and mind the right fuel to see you through…
Mindfulness: The ‘grounded feeling’ you apply when taking your belly dance stance and basic dance posture, and not least when feeling the weight shifting on your feet when your dance, has a calming effect on the mind and nervous system. It can help us reconnect with our body and create a feeling of safety and calm, that is essential when trying to lower stress levels. It sounds simple, but connecting with your feet is a powerful and valuable mindfulness technique which many dancers may take for granted and some perhaps even miss.
Releasing stress and improving health: Moving the hips helps loosen the tension that many carry in their belly, gut and psoas muscle, especially if we are sitting down more. Any moves like shifting or broken hip circles, figures of 8 and pelvic tucks and releases can help undo lymphatic stagnation in this area of the body. Creating twisting movements in your midriff and up into your diaphragm will also help boost digestion, which is key for our immune defence and general wellbeing.
I always include a spinal twist with lose arms swinging in my warm ups, because it has so many benefits for the body. It’s also a Qigong exercise called ‘Beating the Temple Drum’ [more Qigong stuff from this Master Teacher below].
Any movements that undulate through the spine – forwards and back, as well as side ways [think sideway sways os arms, ribcage or hips] all help get vital movement through our torso. Most people have quite stiff bodies due to desk-bound work, and if the only exercise taken is running, where we need to keep our hips from moving too much, or cycling, which also limited sideway motion, the lovely gentle oscillating movements of hips and chest are lost.
Any movement that will free up the diaphragm and not least our vital psoas muscle, that does so much more than simply help us flex our hip joint and lift our legs up, is key, because we often hold so much tension and stress there. Once we loosen up these areas we can reach out in to our limbs to get those movements more fluid and graceful. In other words, releasing the flow in your core will also help you become a better dancer.
Find and strengthen your bubble: Moving your arms expressively, such as snake arms, is an incredibly strong and effective way to feel the connection between your inner and outer body. It helps feel into the boundaries of your space, the bubble that surrounds you if you like, and it can be very meditative and soothing for the soul and very calming too. We all have this space around us, and as dancers we often explore this, as do people practising Tai Chi and martial arts. It helps extend the awareness of the body, and you could even take this a step further if you like into a visualisation, and strengthen your metaphorical bubble by sweeping your arms in a circular motion down to the floor and up over your head, as if you were creating a shield around you [this is partly why techniques like this are used in some martial arts]. It may sound a bit woo-woo but visualisations work, so whether you’re a Ninja warrior trying to protect yourself from harm, or someone trying to create an invisible shield against Corona virus – it really doesn’t matter…
Support your lymphatic system: Any movements, as well as good dance posture, will allow you to open up through your collarbones, which are closely linked to our lymphatic drainage. Any movements through the shoulders and the upper torso, such as chest circles and stretches, either as part of your dancing or afterwards, will also help support this. In addition, opening your chest will also make you feel and move better, so what’s not to like!
As great as dancing is, we also need to include other practises in order to keep our bodies and minds strong.
Cross training: Every professional dancer will top up their training with other exercise especially cardio and strength training. It really doesn’t need to be as scary as that may sound, but you are not likely to get enough cardio exercise when dancing, even if you do lots of shimmies. Anything that makes you slightly out of breath, like taking the stairs or power walking, is great if you don’t like exercises with too much impact such as running.
Strength exercise is also essential, especially as dancers tend to be quite flexible and therefore need the muscle tone to keep all the joints safe, or visa versa, as well as support the dance technique. Yoga and Pilates both strengthen and increase flexibility so if you like ‘two birds with one stone’ then make sure to include them into your routine. My yoga teacher has, as like the rest of the world, started teaching online, so contact her for access or find your own qualified and not least experienced teacher to guide you. You will need feedback and correction to start with to ensure you practise safely.
Breathing: I have mentioned this before on my blog, but it’s key, even if it may sound basic. I’m talking about applying the correct breath technique when dancing, as well as in every day life. How we breath can affect the stress levels in our body and our stress can affect how we breath. So make sure you practise that diaphragmatic breath to keep you centred as well as calm.
Mental strength training: Meditation or Qigong may also be useful. Please stay with me if you feel this is about to get too ‘deep’ for you! Many martial arts include slow mindful sequences, such as those found in Qigong, to help prepare the body so it can perform better during stress/combat. In dance we don’t tend to use this, but as many of the movements are performed fast or in a kind of flow, it is very important to have a ‘counter-practise’ [in lack of a better word] to help you mentally ground yourself.
I came across a UK based Master Teacher Jeremy Colledge, who put the video below together showing a few simple exercises that can help you boost your immune system, as well as calm your nerves. I find myself skipping through some of his videos, which is probably not in the spirit of real Qigong, but there are some real gems of information in many videos like this. Find out more at Quantum Qigong.co.uk.
Finally, if you want to take some supplements to support your body and immunity, then make it vitamin C. It sounds basic, but medical trials have shown that vitamin C is key in keeping your body and not least lungs healthy and patients with Corona virus have recovered over 20% quicker on high doses of the vitamin, which undoubtedly is bad news for many pharmaceutical companies [Read more at wddty.com].
No supplement will help you avoid catching a bug, but there are some interesting theories out there supporting the use of vitamin C, and as it’s water-soluble it’s not likely to cause any harm should you take too much, as it will simply be passed in your urine [diarrhoea is likely to be worst side effect should you happen to take too much].
I am not a qualified dietician, but I have spent many years studying the science of foods and how it can both harm and heal our bodies, which is why I have included this as a ‘personal recommendation’, but please do conduct your own research before taking any supplements to support your health.
I hope you found this article helpful and insightful. Please let me know how you are getting on during this lock-down and if any of the aspects mentioned above have resonated with you.
Have you changed the way you dance during the lock-down? Or included other practises and routines to help you physically as well as mentally? Do leave a comment below so we can keep the knowledge sharing going.
Happy and healthy dancing – always 🙂
Did you miss my last post? Read it here: And breath…. How to quickly recenter, refocus and destress