An audition doesn’t go well. You blank out during a performance. It’s quite an off-day in class. We’ve all been there. Those things happen, and it doesn’t mean we’re worth any less as dance artists, or as people. Thankfully, there are tools to help us not get stuck in these difficult times, but to keep going no matter what happens. As one, mantras, or simple repeated phrases (out loud or in your mind), can help to raise our spirits when class, auditions or performances don’t go well.
Mantras can be a form of meditation. Maybe you’re picturing someone with legs tied up in a pretzel, eyes closed and humming in a strange way – but meditation doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be esoteric or complicated. Nowadays, researchers and other experts in psychology and neuroscience are reframing meditation to the concept of mindfulness – being more present in your current experience, so that you can more easily let go of the regrets of the past and anxiety over the uncertainties of the future. For a comprehensive, yet brief and accessible explanation of these benefits, see nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm. When we can re-frame our mindsets in these ways, we can let go off unhelpful patterns such as the tendency to overly criticize ourselves, to worry about things in the future that we can’t control, and to get stuck in what we can’t change about what happened in the past.
Mantras can lead to this through filling our mind with something peaceful, perhaps familiar, perhaps comforting, and – at minimum – something predictable. Our mind can fill with the mantra, rather than the thoughts that make us sad or anxious. When it comes to those rough days when things don’t go all that well, mantras can keep our mind focused on what is going right and what we still have to be grateful for. If specifically framed in positivity, they can help us to remember that even after we supposedly “fail”, we’re still the same people – with all that we’ve always had to offer.
With all of these, try to be in a position where you’re comfortable, so that physical sensations don’t distract you from your mantra. Then, take a moment to notice your breath. Is it full and deep, or shallow and perhaps choppy? Is it fast or slow? See if you can deepen your breath, taking your inhales into all of the space that you have to breathe – from the bottom of your belly to the top of your chest. See if you can lengthen your inhales and your exhales as you come into this fuller, deeper breath. That established, repeat the simple phrases – in your mind or out loud – over and over.
Ideally, continue that for at least a few minutes, but 15-20 seconds is better than not doing it at all. On that note, some of you readers might be wondering when you can find the time to do a mantra practice. I’d say everyone has 15 seconds, here and there – perhaps in line at the grocery store, perhaps before you’re waiting to get off at your bus stop. It’s also about priorities. Maybe you can take a moment for mindfulness instead of checking Facebook again (and I say that in no sense of judgement – I’m the first to confess to Facebook addiction!). If you might be concerned about getting into a spiritual realm that you want to avoid, I’ll say that mantras can be spiritual, but they in no way have to be. It’s all about how we create them. There’s no right or wrong way, only what works for you.
Try these simple mantras for re-boosting confidence and avoiding getting down on yourself:
“I am me. I am enough.”
“I’m strong. I’m fierce. I can-do.”
“I have hope. I have love. I’m grateful.”
“I’m beautiful. I’m bold. I won’t hold back.”
Try these if you feel like things are spiraling out of your control, for gaining a greater sense of command over your situation yet being able to let go of things you can’t control:
“Create this day/morning/afternoon.”
“Let be, let go.”
“People love me, and all is well.”
“Why worry? Why complain?”
If none of these resonate with you, you can certainly create your own mantra(s). Maybe you have a favorite quote, verse or song lyric that you can use. If a longer one, you can abbreviate it, take a section of it, or boil it down to its essence. Maybe someone you look up to – a parent, sibling, other relative, teacher or mentor – has a saying that inspires you. You can certainly use that. The possibilities are endless.
Look into your heart, your soul and your mind (what’s there beneath all your everyday racing thoughts), and find what it is that you need to hear to help you, today. No matter what happens, no matter how badly you think that you “bombed” that audition or performance, you’re still the same awesome you. Mantras can help keep you away from the thoughts that might make you feel otherwise and bring you back to that important truth. Go get ’em!
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Dancer Maggie Ellington. Photography by Richard Calmes.