Dance Health

A yoga sequence to calm pre-performance jitters

Yoga for anxiety

It’s here — your big performance. You’ve rehearsed for weeks, months, maybe even years. You have laughs and special memories, and maybe even bruises and tears, to show for it. You’re thinking that you’re ready, but you’re also suddenly starting to feel butterflies in your stomach and (because you’re a dancer and attuned to your body) tension emerging in your muscles and fascia. Your breathing gets choppier. You start having anxious thoughts. What if you blank on your choreography in the middle of performing? What if you fall out of that triple turn or can’t manage that quick change? 

What your entire system is experiencing — body, mind and spirit — is a fight-or-flight response. This response arises when your system perceives a threat — in this case, a big performance on the horizon. Millenia ago, these mental, emotional and physical reactions might have saved your life, but now — in 2019 — they’re not going to help you perform at your best (to say in the least). Thankfully, nowadays humans also have somatic (body-based) and holistic practices that help us to get closer to determining how we react to stressors — rather than us feeling like our reactions are out of our control. 

Yoga, growing more and more popular amongst dancers and people at large, is such a practice. Yoga practitioners — young and old, limber and on the tighter side, from all different cultures and races — have found that the practice can calm breathing, reduce physical tension and ease anxious thoughts. The following yoga sequence can help you to relax and release pre-performance jitters. Bonus: it can also help you to warm up and stretch. Practicing on a yoga mat is ideal, but any non-slip surface will do. Happy practicing, merde and — as yogis say — namaste!  

#1. Cat-Cow flow

Set up in Table Top pose, on all fours with shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. Take a “Cat and Cow” flow: let your belly dip down and look up to the sky as you breathe in, and then arch your spine up while you let your head dip down as you breathe out. Repeat that 10-15 times, until your spine begins to feel warm. 

Make circles with your rib cage, look back at your feet from side to side, or do any other movements that feel natural and good to you. Feel your breath flowing naturally. Notice any tension you are holding anywhere in your body, and try to let it dissolve away.  

#2. Planks

Keep your shoulders over your wrists, but step your feet back until your legs are straight, so that you’re in a Plank. Imagine that you’re pushing the floor away from you, while your stomach pulls away from it into your spine. Feel your strength here — you are a force! Hold for five to 10 breaths.  

Stack your feet and your hips, and take your left hand to the sky as you face the left. Now you’re in Side Plank. Smile — maybe you’re even having fun! Did that make you laugh? Great! Hold for three to five breaths, and then practice your Side Plank to the other side — switching your body to face the right side of the room, right foot and hip stacked on top of left, and right hand to the sky. You’re strong, but also graceful enough to make it all look easy! 

#3. Down Dog and Forward Folding

Shift back to your Plank, and then lift your hips up to the sky to take Downward-Facing Dog. Feel your forearms and your hips lift even higher. Remember, you’re strong and also graceful! If it feels good for you, pedal your heels — lifting one up while you push the other down even more. When you’re ready, hop your feet to your hands. Maybe you are having fun! Maybe you did just laugh! 

Next, take “Ragdoll” Pose, the left hand just above the right elbow and the right hand just above the left elbow — such that your arms make a half square. Find a gentle “mini-bend” in your knees. Imagine that your torso is hanging from your hips. Take any little sways or other movements that feel good as you hang here. Check in with your breathing — is it full and fluid? If not, can you make it more like that? 

#4. Lunges and Twists

When you feel ready, feel your belly scoop inward, and raise your torso up (with a flat back), keeping that “Half Square” with your arms. Feel the stretch. Feel the rooting in your feet but also energy rising up through the top of your head. 

Let that shape with your arms release, and shake out anything that feels good to shake out (or move in any other way that feels good to you). Reach up to the sky, arms wide apart as your shoulders and your palms facing in. Feel expansive and tall. Feel energy coming all the way out through your fingertips, like they’re electrified. Then step your right foot back into a lunge, your left knee bending. 

Keep reaching up tall. You have the grace and strength to make this transition smoothly! Face your torso toward your front leg, so that you’re twisting to the right. Let your arms come to a “T” shape. Breathe easy here, into this twist, for a few breaths. Reach back up to the sky and then twist to your left, arms again coming to a “T” shape. Reach back up to the sky, feeling your power and spaciousness. Check in with your breathing again. If you find yourself thinking about your performance, try to let those thoughts go. 

Repeat the lunge on your left side by stepping your right foot forward and left foot back, still reaching up, and twist to each side again.  

#5. Cooling down 

Step your left foot forward to join your right, keeping your arms reaching up high. You know that you can do this transition! Then make sure that your feet are as close together as possible, inner thighs squeezing. Still reaching tall, sit your hips back like you’re sitting in a chair — Chair Pose. This is a challenging pose, but you’re strong and capable! Are you thinking about performing again? Try to let it go! 

After holding this Chair Pose for a few breaths, keep sitting deeper and deeper until you’re sitting. Try not to “plunk” down! — keep your abdominals engaged! Once seated, take the bottoms of your knees together and let your knees fall out to the side (Butterfly Pose). Ground into your seat, but also feel your spine growing up tall. Hold here for a few breaths. 

Then let your spine rest behind you, engaging your abdominals to come all the way down to the ground with control and softness. Check in with your breath. To find a bit more calm, try making your exhalations longer than your inhalations. 

#6. Closing Meditation

Stay with the bottoms of your feet together, or lengthen your legs long if that’s more comfortable for you. Breathe easy, more fluidly and fully if you can. 

With your eyes closed, visualize yourself performing at your best — hitting every count and every turn, leaping high and far, your musicality and expression striking. You know that this can be you. You know that you can do that! 

When you feel ready, sit up and open your eyes. Go on to the rest of your day when you’re ready, believing that you will perform at your best.  

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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