Angst, anxiety, nervous, uptight, hyper…

I’m reminded of a blog post that I read from a well-respected dancer, who made the statement that students of dance often make the mistake that their teachers are also their career counselors, marriage and family counselors or life coaches. At the time I thought what a really healthy way to distinguish my boundaries as an instructor. I’m thinking of this post as I reflect on the many times that I’ve observed student’s anxiety interfering with their growth as a dancer. Whether it is the physical consequences of prolonged stress and anxiety that are displaying themselves in her body habits and posture which limit their ability to reap the sheer pleasure of movements in class, or it’s the emotional consequences that have robbed her of any joy, and have only fueled self despair or loathing at her inability to “get it”. So as the years go by, I’m finding this really isn’t working for me. It’s not a very organic or holistic approach to teaching. As some of my students are staying with me for years and yes some decades, I feel like I’m not being a good teacher, (and that gives me anxiety)! if it’s not addressed. Like the police officer whose empathy was captured on video this week giving the barefoot, homeless man a pair of boots. I can’t continue to stand by and witness so much struggle without offering a hand. Anxiety makes everything harder! Ever try to parallel park, when the car behind you is beeping their horn at you, radio’s a blaring, you’re late to an appointment…you get my drift. I’m not talking about that feeling of excitement pre performance that can fuel your dance, or the anticipation of an upcoming event…well maybe I am!! It’s essentially the same thing, except in a tiny way…..those feelings haven’t physically hijacked your body! You are able to use that experience to your advantage. When I say hijacked, I mean that the feelings you have, have stimulated an onslaught of body responses that can sabotage (physically and emotionally) any attempts you might make at engaging or completing a task that you set out to do. I think the problem might lie, that we are all coming from a place of low-level anxiety, that we never give “it”/ us an opportunity to shut down. So it is easily ignited into a state of “fight or flight” or “my emotions got the best of me” state. It’s well documented what anxiety can do initially and what happens to our bodies when it is a chronic state. Increased blood pressure, shallow respiration, increased muscle tension, increase in cortisol, poor concentration etc. occurs immediately, in the long-term it contributes to heart disease and cancer. This statement is so broad, it’s almost misleading and dismissive, I don’t want to list all the ways it can display itself…stress/anxiety can be observed in every cell of our beings. If you think of the science of it…every cell…yea it can be seen by a microscope…No wonder it can affect you so profoundly! In the dance studio, anxiety reveals itself in the frustration you might feel, because you are unable to release the muscle habits and body responses that are a result of a chronic anxiety or stress or of profound concentration. Those body responses and habituations that interfere with a centered, balanced, responsive dancer body. Unlikely, that the anxiety exists only in your head, left unchecked, it will reveal itself in some physical way. It’s the body’s way. So, if you haven’t developed a practice of mindfulness along with your other dance practices, consider it. A practice that combines a mindful breath to keep you centered emotionally can lead to a physical equanimity. A practice of self-examination and observation from the inside out, free from the burden of a critical judgment, can release you from your angst and quiet those inner voices. Taking this practice of observation, free from harshness, clearing out your emotional debris, can free you up for the physical challenges of dance. Starting you on the path of allowing your body to be more aligned with the forces of gravity. So start with your breath, keep yourself connected to your breath… Middendorf or holotropic breath work deeply explore the breath, and are intense studies of their own. Yoga integrates breath with movement. Simple mindful, deep abdominal breathing, is a practice you can put in your pocket and go! My ideal practice combines a lot of those elements. It connects me to my spine, my diaphragm, pelvic floor….my inner vessel. Where my movements originate from. A breath that elongates my spine with inhalation….an exhalation whose destination is my belly and pelvis, reminding me of my base of gravity, initiating the strength of my pelvic floor. A breath that allows me to expand my rib cage without disturbing my upper torso stability…unless I want it to….only if I want to send the pulse of the movement there…in all directions without excessive muscle tension and keep my connection to my inner vessel. A breath that allows my clavicles to broaden, and scapula to slide down to my waist, softening my neck muscles along with it. A breath that allows my sacrum to sink with heaviness towards my heels and the earth. A breath that releases excessive muscular activity in my legs, calves and feet. A breath that allows me to receive the force of the earth up through my arches into my leg bones, relying on their density to support my vessel as it transmits that energy into my pelvis and torso, where my strength emanates from. Here are a couple of links to get you started on the fundamentals of breathing.

http://anxieties.com/gad-step3a.php

 http://ezinearticles.com/?Anxiety-Relaxation-Techniques—An-Abdominal-Breathing-Technique-For-Relaxation&id=3331194

Don’t Try This at Home!

I’m a big believer in homeopathics and natural remedys , some days, I have to pull out the big guns!  When you’ve got a terrible bug and you have to, just have to be there…You know when the “show must go on”…..Well today and tonight is one of those days…1) Food 1st…whether I feel like it or not, can’t take all those pills on an empty stomach. 2) Lots of water...more than usual.  I have a head cold so I’m breathing through my mouth alot.  3) 2 Extra strength Tylenol, 2 Advil, I like the gel caps, they dissolve faster, 2 Sudafed PE, non stimulating, it still opens your sinuses , Zyrtec, this is my favored antihistamine….it slows down all that mucous production. Yea, I know that was 7 pills, but  a girls got to do what a  girls got to do.  Of course, I need a little caffeine, if you can’t deal with that…have something hot, it will melt all those pills.  A packet or 2 of Emergen C can’t hurt either.
Then I have to stretch, stretch all my major muscle groups, all my deep ones too.  The ones that shortened up  like a dried rubber bands on the way home from the last gig.  Not a very good image….but while I’m doing it…I try to visualize soft supple taffy..ooh! feels better already.  Of course, I’m rolling and releasing on my balls and noodle.
Next step, pick my self up, freshen up my makeup, hit the road and do another show.
This really is not for the faint of heart….I don’t recommend this unless there are large amounts of $ involved or excessive amounts of passion or dedication to your dance.
If you have existing health problems with your liver or kidneys….forget it!  If you are on a MAOI,  forget about it, if you have heart problems…just don’t.  I recommend hot broth and CSI New York reruns.
That’s exactly what I’m going to do when I get home tonight.

Got Boobs? Examine ‘Em!

Got boobs? Examine them!
October is national breast cancer awareness month
The best protection is early detection breast self exam (BSE).
Doing breast self exams (BSE) can   help you become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel so any changes can be detected and reported early.
Women should begin practicing BSE by the age of 20 and continue the practice throughout their lives even during pregnancy and after menopause.BSE should be performed every month.  If you menstruate, the best time to do BSE is about one week after your period ends. These are the days your breasts are least likely to be sore.  If you no longer menstruate, pick a certain day, like the first day of the month, to remind yourself to do BSE.
How to do BSE: In the mirror check each breast, nipple and surrounding areas for changes in the shape, contour, size, or skin changes. (dimpling, swelling, puckering, rash, redness or swelling.) Squeeze each nipple to check for discharge. Now clasp your hands behind your head and press your hands forward. Next, press your hands firmly on your hips, bend slightly at the hips toward the mirror as you bring your shoulders and elbows forward; all the while looking closely for any changes.
Laying down (laying on your back is the most effective way to feel your breast tissue, this position flattens the breast and makes it easier to check) to check the right breast put a pillow under your right shoulder, with your right arm behind your head.  Use the finger pads (not fingertips) of the middle fingers of your left hand to press firmly on your right breast. Examine your breasts in the same way each time, in either a circle, up and down or a wedge pattern. Examine the entire breast area including the armpit area. Check the area above the breast, up to the collarbone and all the way over to the shoulder.
In the shower some women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is in the shower when their skin is wet and slippery. Use the same hand movements covering the entire breast. Lines start in the underarm area and move your fingers down little by little until they are below the breast.
Then move your fingers slightly toward the middle and slowly move back up. Go up and down until you cover the whole area.
Circles beginning at the outer edge of your breast move your fingers slowly around the whole breast in a circle. Move around the breast in smaller and smaller circles, gradually working toward the nipple.
Wedges starting at the outer edge of the breast move your fingers toward the nipple and back to the edge.
Check your whole breast, covering one small wedge-shaped section at a time.There is research that now supports the line or vertical strip method significantly increases the chances of finding any breast masses.
Report any changes or irregularities to your health care professional immediately!
Get a clinical breast exam every year.
Examine your breasts every month.
Get a mammogram as directed by your physician.
Donate generously.
Support retailers who give to breast cancer research.
Pssst ladies, I know you’ll talk to your lady friends, sisters, Moms and daughters about it, don’t forget to tell your male friends about it too….they can get breast cancer too

Kegels

Some say that the cradle of civilization is somewhere in Iraq. I think as women we know right where it is!!!
The pelvic floor  is comprised of muscles and connective tissue around the vagina and anus. The pelvic floor controls both the anus and urethral sphincter- the latter being the muscle that controls the flow of urine and contracts during orgasm. The pelvic floor is the supporting structure for all organs between the pubic bone and tailbone. There is also a fascial connection between the lower abdominals and the pelvic floor. Daily activity, utilizing a full range of movements through the hip joints, pelvis and torso are essential in keeping your floor healthy and functioning well.

Contract your sphincter muscles, which surround the urethra ,vagina and rectum. Do not tighten your but, or abdominal wall. You want to keep up a feeling and sense of expansion in the pelvic floor at all times.  You may feel a response in your lower abdominals, because of the fascial connection that is shared. Hold for 6 seconds and release slowly. Hold this sense of contraction for 6 seconds and release slowly. Repeat 6-10 times.  You can use the visualization of a flower opening with your inhale and it returning to a bud on your exhale to aid in this movement.
Sense your sphincter muscles again between the rectum and vagina.  Lift as far as you can and use the patterns of holding and repetition as above.  You can use a visualization of an elevator going up one floor at a time, and on release the elevator going down. Remember, don’t use any accessory muscles, buttocks, or tighten your jaw or face in concentration!  We want to gain some control in isolating the pelvic floor while it is supported, from the abdominal wall, despite them being so intrinsically enmeshed, for some of our more forceful, staccato type movements.

Ideally, you need to do this while you are breathing.  It doesn’t help us to innervate our pelvic floor while we are  holding our breath. You want to start to feel the relationship between a normal breath where the diaphragm mobilizes normally and a responsive pelvic floor.. With repetition, connecting the breath to an organic response in your pelvic floor is ideal.  What’s better, is to also connect it to every day movements and challenging movements in dance class, where the possibility of compressing is possible with out your focused intent to do otherwise.  What’s best, is to retrain the body so you don’t have to think about it, it becomes as natural as your breath.

All of this is just a nut shell, a little piece of the puzzle that makes up a dynamic dancing body.

 

Taking Care

Remember to stay hydrated, our body is made up of over 70% water. It is essential to all body functions. If your lips are dry, you’re dehydrated.
Stretch frequently, if you sit or stand for long periods of time during the day it is a great stress reliever.
Do strengthening and cardiovascular exercises. While regular dances classes are great at some point in your life it will not be enough to maintain the same level of fitness or endurance (or weight!)  Good case in point: even with ten shows a week I was ten pounds heavier!!!!
Eat well and wisely, take essential nutrients and vitamins.
Remember get regular health check ups: Mammograms, sonograms, thermographs. EKGs, blood tests, pap smears etc. Crystal balls don’t detect cancer or heart disease, these tests do!!
Remember to honor and respect yourself and those around you.
Remember to feel you beauty.Remember to feel your strength.

Body Lessons

Body Lessons and Self Massage for Dancers

I have danced for close to 35 years and many of those years dancing hard!! For well over a decade of that time I was performing over a dozen 35-40 minute shows a week. Often those shows were accompanied by pulsing live music and enthusiastic audiences with finales ending in turkish drops and head tossing zars. Fortunately I’ve essentially been injury free, never having canceled a show or missing a day of my regular day jobs. In 1994, in the midst and height of my performing career I was involved in 4 car accident. I was rear-ended, then broadsided (on the driver’s side) and then I proceeded to rear end the car in front of me. Needless to say my car was totaled, however, I was pretty much unscathed. I was able to crawl out of the passenger side window…none of the doors opened. That was a Sunday night coming home from performing at a wedding, by Thursday I was back to my full function!
I’ve always been interested in the body and its function. So much so that it has fueled my choice in avocation and vocation. Well, after that accident, it ignited in me a desire for more information beyond my clinical hours of cadaver exploration and clinical anatomy. I had explored methods like Feldenkrais, Alexander, Rosen, Rolfing and many other paths to better function not only for myself but for my students.
My methods are culled from my own experiences and explorations as well as a results of hundreds of books , articles and thousands of hours of intensive clinical study.
These exercises are essentially for self-care for any body, whether it’s a dancer’s body or you are sedentary. They are especially helpful for an aging body….middle age..when the movement patterns of our youth start to show themselves as dysfunctional  and as our muscle memory is imprinted with these responses. Where sporadic aches and pains in youth that were often dismissed as a nuisance or often ignored, start to become a daily occurrence or interfere with our enjoyment of daily life and our normal activities. These lessons are potent tools for any body, however, (and I know this is true from experience)!! It’s hard to entice or convince a body that can do anything it wants…that she needs fixing…the message is more enticing or becomes more urgent when there is pain.
They are therapeutic for their “feel good” benefit and with regular practice used for an anecdote to a stressful life..with enough time, use and examination of these methods, they  prove to be a powerful tool for identifying any muscular patterns that are problematic.
When I was younger, these tools were for when my body was in crisis, so to speak…wake up with a sore neck, hip etc. As I age, I’m finding them even more beneficial and essential for my day-to-day function.  They serve me in my day gig, where I’m on my feet all day, they serve for when I’m sitting at the computer.  For me they prepare me for a “ready” body, a free body, so I can dance!
Join me in an afternoon of Body Lessons and Self Massage for Dancers
Saturday June 16, 2012 at Suzie’s Studio in San Rafael, Ca.