By: Stefanie De Castro
While recently on tour in a new city, I decided it was time to try something new to complement my dance performance schedule. Something that would challenge me, but also wouldn’t tire me so much that I wouldn’t be capable of performing to my full ability. I wanted an outlet that was enjoyable and relaxing as well as beneficial my fitness, flexibility and that would help to prevent injuries. It was this that prompted me to try something new. The one form of exercise which ticked all the boxes for me was Yoga.
Originating in ancient India, Yoga gained popularity in the western world in the 1980’s, and is now, much like the practice of Pilates, an essential training and body conditioning method in dance companies around the world.
The postures and sequences in Yoga warm up the body before deep stretching to allow deeper and safer stretching leading to enhanced flexibility. Stamina is also challenged, beneficial to overall performance endurance. Personally, by practicing yoga two to three times a week in a heated room, I found it to not only increase my overall strength, balance, and flexibility, but also helped to regenerate my body by reducing the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles, something invaluable to me around my performance and rehearsal schedule. In particular, my upper body strength was greatly challenged and improved; an often neglected area of strength generally among many female dancers. Other known benefits of regular Yoga practice include (but are not limited to); clarity of the mind, increased confidence, improved circulation, increases in hip mobility, gains in lung capacity, corrections to posture, detoxification of the body, increased muscle tone and improved stress relief.
There are many forms of Yoga, which can be confusing to a new Yoga student, but put simply, “Hatha” Yoga focuses on the health and purity of the body. Hatha Yoga utilises the practice of physical poses called “Asanas” and breathing exercises called “Pranayama”. The styles Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga or Power Yoga are referred to in Western society as forms of Hatha Yoga. “Hot” Yoga has also come into trend, and basically this is Yoga practiced in a heated room. There are many styles of Hot Yoga including “Bikram Yoga” and “Hot Power Flow” styles, being a couple of the most popular. The heated room acts to increase the heart rate, adding more of a cardiovascular element to the workout, and in turn the increased blood flow to the muscles allows for even deeper stretching. A word of warning though, before you attend a Hot Yoga class it is important to ensure that you are very well hydrated as you will sweat in high amounts. It is recommended to follow up the class by replenishing minerals and electrolytes lost in the intense sweating process by consuming more water or a fortified drink such a sports drink or natural coconut water.
Yoga is not only beneficial to dancers because of the physical challenges it presents, but also because it is a discipline of the mind. Many performers deal with mental and emotional stress, most of which generates from anxiety and nerves surrounding auditions, performances and finding the often difficult work / life balance. The role of breathing and mediation within the yoga practice is perhaps the key to yoga’s ability to merge physical, spiritual and mental fitness. Personally, I always depart from Yoga class with a calmer and happier mind compared to when I arrived. This, in my opinion, is the number one benefit of Yoga practice.