With the holiday season upon us, it can be a stressful time on and off the dance floor. For many dancers and studios, Nutcracker season is in full swing and with that comes many added responsibilities. The idea of taking time off from dance can bring a lot of anxiety for those who worry about missed opportunities or keeping up with competition. Believe it or not, taking a break isn’t necessarily about less movement but rather the “right” movement. While it can be challenging to think of rest and recuperation through movement when we are used to using our body for performance, I urge you to consider how your own body can help alleviate fears and anxieties, facilitate change and encourage self-acceptance and forgiveness this holiday season to be more present and mitigate stress. Here are some ways to prioritize movement to help you move through the holidays.
Flexibility in the body creates flexibility in the mind.
While it’s not necessary to master a perfect split or how to place your leg behind your head, flexibility in moderation does create greater mobility of the mind. Consider what being a flexible person means in terms of work, social life and family planning. This often correlates to an ability to “roll with the punches” or “go with the flow.” Rigidity in planning can lead to more uptight, tense individuals. Incorporating stretches into your daily life will quickly lead to greater physical flexibility and allow you to let go of things that you can’t control while leaving more time for the little things that really matter. This is why a stretch practice, even 10 minutes a day, can actually help get us through the stress of the holidays. This is not about pushing beyond limits or forcing that split, but rather working with your body to invite in ease and find comfort.
Breathing creates room for better decision-making.
Taking a moment to tune in to your breath can make the difference between a hasty decision and a logical, well thought-out plan. Stepping away from a situation and allowing for breathing room encourages perspective and evaluation. Incorporating three deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth) slows down your heart rate and quiets the mind, leaving room to make a sound, reasonable decision. This can also mean the difference between a quick “yes” and a slow “no.” During this time, there are often many demands and expectations from family and friends to get together, resume traditions, and reminisce. While that may be a welcome invitation, taking a pause through breath can help you reevaluate if you truly want to participate in something versus feel guilted into it. Breathing room gives us the opportunity to set boundaries.
Connection to our core correlates to greater sense of self.
Working on our connection to our core muscles strengthens emotional ties to our values, beliefs and identity. This doesn’t mean doing sit-ups or planks, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. Practice good posture and walking with a purpose. This will quickly engage your torso and core and cue the values that we look to embody during the holidays like gratitude, hope, resolution and love. Finding ways to connect to these feelings in your body can be helpful as well. Notice where in your core you feel these, and practice intentionally bringing awareness to them throughout the week.
Prioritize your mind-body connection.
Focusing on the mind-body connection can also have a great impact on creating and maintaining positive change as we move toward the New Year. Mindfulness facilitates self-compassion and empathy, which facilitates better relationships. Understanding what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes makes us less likely to compete with, resent or negatively respond to others.
In the New Year, take time to imagine the change you want to happen. Focusing a few minutes a day on positive outcomes has been shown to actually facilitate them. Most of all, don’t dwell on the past. Live in the moment, and make change a possibility every day.
Dance it out.
Never underestimate the power of a good dance party. Moving our body can actually help us move through challenging emotions. The holidays can be a time of stress, and that often contributes to more tension and rigidity in the body. If you notice tension creeping into your body, play your favorite tunes and start a dance party. It’s not about how it looks but rather how it feels. Dancing with others supports community, connection and empathy.
Despite the narrative of helping others during the holiday season, remember that it is just as much a time to support yourself. You cannot be there for others if you aren’t taking care of yourself — mind, body and soul. Take time throughout this season to ask what it is you need to be the healthiest version of yourself. Become curious about how you can support your own needs rather than dwelling on why you have difficulty seeing them through. Bring compassion to yourself, and you might just move through this season with peace, hope and love.
By Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, Dance/Movement Therapist, Chicago Dance Therapy.
Erica Hornthal, known as “The Therapist Who Moves You,” is a board-certified dance/movement therapist and licensed clinical professional counselor. She is the founder and CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy and the author of Body Aware: Rediscover Your Mind-Body Connection, Stop Feeling Stuck, and Improve Your Mental Health through Simple Movement Practices.