No matter what kind of dancer you are--modern to hip hop, ballet to tango-- you can derive huge benefits in your dancing from taking regular yoga classes. Not sure what the skinny is? Check out these ways that yoga practice can give your dancing a leg up, both in class and on the stage.
There’s no such thing as a dancer that’s too flexible. The methods used in yoga can open your tight areas while maximizing the length in muscles that are already flexible. Pretty much every style of yoga has a stretching pose for every part of the body, so whether you have tight hips, an inflexible back, or hamstrings that refuse to give you higher extension, yoga will give you an outlet to safely and effectively increase your flexibility.
Every pose is designed deliberately to focus on a few areas at a time and allow them to open as much as possible. The muscles are pushed to stretch and lengthen slowly without sudden movements that can cause tears and pulled muscles.
Increased Strength & Stability
Most dancers envision yoga as useful only for increasing flexibility. But in reality, it is a unique balance of both stretching and strengthening poses.
Dancers lacking upper body power can turn to yoga for a safe, lean way to gradually build strength in both the larger and smaller muscles. Also, poses like Balancing Stick and other balance centric asanas are wonderful for increasing the stability of the standing leg. This in turn leads to stronger, more sustained, and better controlled adagio work. You may even recognize some of yoga’s poses from your most recent ballet class!
An estimated one in eight Americans currently practice yoga.
Healthy Joints & Alignment
Finding ways to cross-train safely can be difficult for the dancer, who must also place the health of their joints as the number one priority. Yoga is a wonderful way to cross-train as its moderated pace and sustained positions minimize joint damage, especially in comparison to other cross-training activities such as running and aerobics.
Yoga also promotes consistent, proper alignment through the spine and the entire body, which can be of critical importance to dancers. Those who find themselves uneven or “one sided” can safely and slowly correct their alignment in their practice, working towards a posture that that is both correct and natural.
Breath is something referenced frequently in dance (mostly in the context of either doing it or not doing it), but seldom is the proper way to breathe actually taught to dancers. Yoga teaches the student to breathe correctly, by utilizing the diaphragm to breathe in and out without disturbing the alignment of the spine and ribs. This technique, performed properly, increases core stability and strengthens the abdominal muscles—which may be all you need to fix those splayed ribs and crooked pirouettes.
While every dancer does what they can to avoid injuries, when they do happen, it’s best to rehabilitate the vulnerable area slowly and safely before jumping back into the fray.
Yoga is a wonderful way to transition from injury. The poses can be easily modified to protect and strengthen weakened areas, as well as stabilize the muscles so as to protect them from future injury and vulnerability. Also, strengthening the smaller “stabilizing” muscles such as the abdominals and hip flexors can prevent dancers from long term joint damage that often doesn’t show itself until later years.
Hot Tip: R.I.P. (Rehearse In Peace)
Easily stressed out in rehearsal? Combine the breathing techniques of yoga with its principle of a clear and present mind to find peace and the strength to dance on, in even the most overwhelming situations.
Between classes, rehearsals, and performances, it’s all too easy to become overworked and overwhelmed. Yoga is beneficial in its promotion not of building perfect technique, as is standard in the dance world, but on creating peace of mind and a stress free environment for the student. Working through the poses at your own pace gives you the time you need to unwind from the stress of the stage, while still providing immense physical benefits.
Despite being a challenging physical activity, yoga can act as a rejuvenator between long rehearsals or provide mental calm before a big performance. It also teaches the student to find their own place of tranquility and inner peace—a place that can be accessed during even the most challenging physical poses. This practice can come in real handy when turning those 32 fouettés or going into a monstrous lift.
All the knit cover ups in the world may help your muscles stay warm in between classes or rehearsals. However, the only real way to stay warm and maintain blood flow is to keep moving and working your muscles. Having a portable mental index of exercises from your latest Vinyasa class can be incredibly useful when you need to stay warm without exhausting yourself.
Once you get into the swing of yoga, you’ll have the poses that release certain areas ingrained in your mind and body. And since it requires no special equipment or facility to practice, you can keep those poses in a mental index and use them whenever you need to keep certain muscles warm or loose.
Doubtful as the hard working dancer may be of its calm and happy practice, yoga and its methods can give any dancer essential tools to help their performance. Give it a shot!