After giving it your all in performance, class or auditions, your muscles need some love. Gentle stretching after physical exertion helps to avoid painful lactic acid build-up (and therefore that morning-after soreness). It can also help you to stretch when you can gain the most flexibility without risking injury, because your muscles are already warm and “open”. Stretching while being aware of your breath, which yoga specifically focuses on, can also help you to calm jittery nerves or come down from that adrenaline-fueled, post-performance “high”.
The following yoga postures, when executed mindfully and with awareness to your body’s important messages, can help you to meet any and all of those goals. Throughout the sequence, keep breathing deeply (into your chest and belly) and see where these poses can take you – in body and mind. Enjoy!
Before you begin the following sequence, make sure that your muscles are warm. That shouldn’t be an issue if you’ve just been working hard performing, auditioning or taking class – but be wary of common challenges to staying warm, such as waiting for entrances in chilly wings or sometimes long periods of time in between barre exercises.
To warm up, you could simply do a few pliés and tendus en croix, jog in place for a straight minute, do a Sun Salutations series – whatever you know works best for you.
*Note: Repeat postures #1-3 on the opposite side.
#1: Runner’s Lunge
Place your hands on your hips to make sure they are facing squarely forward, and lengthen up through your spine (just like in classical dance technique). Step your right foot back into a lunge, making sure that your hips stay square and your torso tall. Check that your left knee (in front) is aligned right over your ankle – you should be able to see your big toe. When you feel stable here, raise your arms to the sky – your fingers energized upward and your pinkies spinning forward (so that your palms face each other). Ground through all parts of both of your feet, while also seeing if you can find a bit more vertical lift in your torso. Take in the feeling of being grounded, yet tall and energized toward the sky – just like pulling up, but pushing down in turns.
#2. Dancer’s Pose
Shift slightly forward to bring your weight onto your front foot, to come to stand with your feet together (à la jazz first position). Kick your right foot up to your buttocks, so that your knees are together. Gently grab the instep of your right foot with your right hand and extend your left arm upward. Like a seesaw, lean forward with your right knee staying aligned with your ear and outer neck. You can slightly bend your left (standing) knee. If your knee comes wider than your shoulder, rising to the side, come back to where you can keep it going squarely backward. Just like in the previous posture, enjoy feeling grounded in your standing foot but finding space and vertical energy through your working one.
#3. “Kite Flying” Standing Side Bend
Lower your working leg to again stand with your feet hips-distance apart (jazz second position). Raise your arms to the sky, with your fingers interlaced. Your shoulders and shoulder blades will have to raise, but imagine them spreading wide across your upper back (so that at least they’re not raising because of unnecessary effort and tension). Stretch up and over to one side, like the arc of a rainbow, so that you keep both sides of your body long and strong. Try to not let your hips move – if they’re involved in the stretch, there’s less stretch for the sides of your torso (which this posture aims to stretch). Breathe in – can you get a little longer in your spine? Breath out – can you keep that length, but also stretch a bit deeper and further to the side?
#4. “Star” Seated Stretch
Come to sit with the bottoms of your feet together, your knees falling out to the side (which you might know as the “butterfly” stretch). Feel wide and grounded in your sitting bones, as well as tall in your spine. Imagine that your torso is like the trunk of a tree growing tall and straight up out of roots in your pelvis. Stretch forward from your lower back first, and then let your spine fall forward in its natural curves. When you’re low enough, place your forearms underneath your lower legs, your hands coming in front of your shins. Spread your fingers wide on the floor. This is called “Star” Posture because there are five points – your toes (pointing out together), your two hands, and your two knees. Like in the other postures, see if you can get longer in your spine with your inhales and deeper into the stretch with your exhales. This pose can also be very playful, so see if it makes you feel a bit like a kid again. On the other hand, see if you can feel more grounded and calm with each long, deep breath here.
#5. Lying Diamond Pose
Release your arms from underneath your lower legs, and come to sit up tall again. Like applying tape to a package, slowly and carefully roll your spine onto the ground – vertebra-by-vertebra. Keep the bottoms of your feet together, and your knees falling to the side and down. With your back released into the floor, try to breathe out any remaining tension in your shoulders, arms, hands – or anywhere else. Let gravity do the work here of opening up your inner thighs. Keep breathing deeply, and savor the feeling of being physically energized – yet calm and cool. You’re ready to take on the rest of your day, with strength yet control.
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.
Photos: Yoga Journal’s yogajournal.com “Poses”. “Kite Flying” side bend from YogaBasics.com.