The Injured Dancer: The Benefits of Yoga

Posted by on 07.26.2015

Over the course of my injury journey my motto towards healing has been: “I will try anything.” A few weeks ago, when I had some down time from teaching, I decided that I wanted to take a yoga class. When you are injured it is easy to give all of your time and energy to one part of your body, while neglecting the rest. And the rest of my body was working tirelessly to compensate for my injury as I started back to dancing again. So it felt right to treat myself.

I have taken yoga many times before, but only practiced regularly when I was in high school. I think this is partly because I have never really been able to find a studio/teacher that made me feel like it was something that would be beneficial for me to continue. I was also usually so sore after class that I felt like it wasn’t something that I could do along side ballet.

I don’t know if it’s because I found a wonderful environment to take class, or because yoga has been beneficial to my recovery from injury, but I found myself going back for more. I still have work to do in terms of my recovery, but I have found that having yoga as a part of the process has been beneficial in many ways.

For dancers, yoga usually comes quite easily for the obvious reason: flexibility. Yoga is great for us because we don’t always spend enough time stretching during our workday. We spend a lot of time building strength and it is essential that we counter that by stretching.

yoga, ballet, dancer, yoga ballet, ballerina, dancing, yogi, namaste, dance yoga,A common misconception about yoga is that it is just stretching. For those of you who are familiar with the practice, strength to hold poses is as, if not more, important. My challenge is my upper body/core strength and leg strength, which has suffered alongside my injury. By practicing yoga on a regular basis I am seeing how increased upper body and core strength really helps my stability in ballet and allows me to support my body more easily. As my legs have gotten more powerful, I feel more confident as I return to jumping after three months.

Working on balance is an essential part to strengthening an injured ankle. As much as I work on this in physical therapy, yoga truly challenges my balance. Feeling my ankle stability continue to improve has been a very important part of allowing me to feel more confident as I work to return to moving more quickly in ballet class.

My teachers at Miami City Ballet School always emphasized how important breath is to dancing. This is a concept that took me awhile to understand and to be able to apply. Taking time to think more about my breath in yoga is encouraging me to continue to explore the link between breathing and dancing. In yoga, instructors will illustrate how an inhalation can help ease movement from one pose to another. This is a concept that all dancers can easily apply to any step. It is truly amazing how much power you can draw from your breath.

For dancers and athletes alike, it is essential to have great focus and control over your thoughts. When a game is not going well, an athlete needs to be able to think positively and not allow themselves to be distracted by negative thoughts. Similarly, if a dancer falls on stage, they cannot allow anything like that to pull their focus. I am finding that this is another element to yoga that is beneficial to dancers. In class, the teacher functions as a guide for your mind as well as your body. It is a perfect opportunity to take what the instructor is saying to heart, embody the positivity in the room, and work on focusing your mind.

Overall, regularly practicing yoga has been a wonderful experience for me. As I am teaching ballet this summer, I find myself realizing how especially beneficial yoga can be for young dancers. Working on strength, stability, focus, and body awareness can be a wonderful way to supplement ballet training. Ballet class simply does not build enough strength for the demands put on today’s dancers. We need to strengthen like athletes… and focus like yogis. Namaste.

2 Comments

  1. I love taking the yoga classes my sister teaches. I really enjoy using my breath as I move through each movement. I feel that taking my sister’s yoga classes has improved my flexibility. I am happy that I can now do a scorpion! Before taking my sister’s yoga class I couldn’t get my legs to stretch into a scorpion. I’m glad that you have found the benefits of doing yoga both for injury recovery and as a dancer!

    • Thanks Beth! I am glad you are seeing the benefits as well.

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