Yoga: Mind Body Breath Connection

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Yoga: Mind Body Breath Connection

-UDA Keely

As we move into the summer, this is a perfect time for dancers to take on yoga classes to enhance the mind, body, and breath connection.  There are often free yoga classes online that you can take, whether this is via Zoom, Facebook, or Youtube.  You can even take classes that were once live at a later date, which gives you the flexibility of time, making it accessible to take the class at your own time.  Yoga incorporates a fusion of the mind, body, and breath, making us more knowledgeable humans who can better understand ourselves.

Yoga

Popular for promoting physical and mental well-being, yoga can also be a spiritual practice.  Yoga is a practice; it is something that should be repeated.  Yoga helps with:

  • Alignment
  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Balance
  • Focus

All of these elements are essential to dancers.  In addition to critical dance fundamentals, yoga helps the following:

  • Relieving stress
  • Relieving low-back and neck pain
  • Managing anxiety and depressive symptoms
  • People who are overweight/obese to lose weight
  • Improving mental/emotional health and wellbeing
  • Bettering the quality of life for people with chronic diseases (NIH).

Many people who are injured come to yoga to help strengthen themselves.  It is a healing process that allows for recovery and pain management.  Now is the time to become stronger, both physically and mentally.

 Mind

 Yoga allows us to turn inwardly, truly focusing on our inner self, and finding our inner peace.  Today’s current situation may cause anxiousness or stress, so doing yoga can settle our minds.  The further we turn inward, the more we can notice and understand our bodies.  The more we can understand our bodies and know our limits, the less likely we are to injure ourselves.  We need to be smart dancers and yogis, listening to our bodies to prevent injury.

Mindfulness: the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique (Google).

Yoga helps us practice this idea of mindfulness, as it encourages us to accept our emotions and thoughts without judgment or expectation.  As a dancer myself, I have experienced one side of my body is more flexible than the other side.  For example, my right splits were better than my left splits.  One hip might feel more open than the other hip.  We are asymmetrical beings, so this is normal to sense this asymmetry throughout our bodies.  We tend to be hard on ourselves… Comments might have crossed dancers’ minds like: “I wish I was more even!” or “I wish I was more flexible!”  It is imperative to not bring ourselves down by thinking these negative thoughts.  Notice where you’re at, and be okay with that level.  Mindfulness allows us to not only notice these differences, but to be okay with, and accept those differences.

Body

 The practice of yoga has immense benefits on the physical body.  With practice comes a greater range of flexibility, more strength, and it helps us become more stable and balanced.  While performing postures/poses, it’s is crucial to never go beyond your maximum – you know what your body can handle, so listen to your body.  Pain or much discomfort is a sign telling you to stop!  Don’t ignore what your body may be telling you.  Listening helps us learn our bodies better.

By practicing yoga regularly, you can change your body.  Becoming more flexible does not happen overnight – it times time.  Patience is required in order to see these results.   Something to keep in mind: the more flexible you are, the less stable you are; and the more stable, the less flexible.  It is extremely important to work on both.  Once you stretch, you must condition and strengthen those muscles, and vis versa.  Yoga does both, making an individual well-rounded!

Below is a sequence that warms up the spine and hips (it is great to do before dancing):

Breath

Are you stressed out?  If so, breathe, as it will relax you.  Breath brings you back to the present moment.  It is so important to each human body.  Without breath, we’ve got nothing.  One of the great things about yoga is that it really focuses on the breath.  As dancers, we often feel the endorphins before a performance, and our adrenaline is pumping.  It can be difficult to keep our mind focused and our body calm.  By remembering deep calming breaths, we can keep our composure and perform at our very best.  Sometimes we forget to breathe, or we don’t perform the big breaths that we should we taking more often.  In yoga, we take one breath per movement, which challenges us to this body-breath connection.  It makes us smarter in the sense that we learn to move our bodies according to our breath.  Holding in a breath while transitioning to the next posture creates discomfort.  This makes me think about breathing in dance.  I sometimes forget to breathe while I dance, and a lot of other dancers may feel that way too.  Breathe truly does great things.  As we exhale our leg can actually go higher than when we are holding our breath (for example, battement).  Deep breaths while stretching in splits allows us to get further down to the ground.  Not only is breathing a huge part of yoga practice or dancing, but it can use to think more about breath in our daily lives.

Here is one breathing technique that you can practice on your own:

Three-Part Breathing

This slow, smooth breathing process is super relaxing and wonderful for insomnia, anxiety, stress, and frustrating situations.  Three-Part Breathing calms the mind and soothes the muscles.  This is a wonderful way to end a late evening practice or begin a practice (DOYOUYOGA).

Start by placing one hand on your upper chest and the other on your navel.  Inhale through your nose, filling your belly completely with air.  Then begin to bring that air up to your rib cage, continuing all the way to your chest, maybe even to your collar bone.  Pause at the top of your breath.  Finally, exhale through your nose, reversing the order.  Let the air escape your chest, then ribs, then belly.  Visual a balloon (your torso) filling up with air and then emptying all the way.

All Together

Overall, yoga reinforces the connection of mind, body, and breath, which allows us to change, grow, and heal.  The mind, body, and breath are one altogether.  Instead of feeling discouraged by what we have or don’t have, yoga allows us to be mindful of how we are, which then allows us to grow deeper into practice.  With this positive mindset and understanding of our bodies better, we are able to become more flexible, stronger, more balanced, and more focused.

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