The benefits of Yoga for Irish dancers
I’ve been an Irish dancer for 25 years and like so many other dancers I grew up searching for the best ways to improve my physical fitness and technical ability, to be able to remain injury free and, ultimately, to become the best Irish dancing athlete I could be.
I discovered yoga just a few years ago. My ego used to trick me into believing that yoga wasn’t enough of a workout, “It’s too slow paced for me”, I’d say. I’d also write it off because I thought you had to be super flexible and be able to do handstands, etc. As for meditation - I quite honestly thought it was for monks wearing orange robes!
I can say, wholeheartedly, that by practicing yoga and meditation consistently over the last few years that it has changed my life in many, many wonderful ways. It was the piece of wellness that I had been missing. I’m now a certified yoga teacher and love every minute of educating dancers on the many benefits.
I was able to go into my twelfth year as a professional dancer with a stronger, more flexible body and a calmer, more peaceful mind - which allowed me to enjoy every performance, stress free and without any negative thought patterns.
Below, I’ve listed a few reasons why I encourage you to start practicing also:
• Meditation for Self – Awareness.
The purpose of yoga goes far beyond just the physical practice.
We have thousands of thoughts going on all day long as the mind swings back-and-forth from thinking about the past to the future. Yoga allows you to be present, to slow down and check in with yourself and to learn a little more about who you are. Through meditation you can shine some light on your thoughts and feelings, without judgement.
Personally, I am now able to be the witness of my thoughts and no longer identify with them, because of this I also no longer believe everything I tell myself. I’m able to look at my thoughts with love and kindness and then just let them go.
A tip is to see your mind as a blue sky and your thoughts like clouds – you can use meditation to watch those thoughts float on by.
This has taken practice, through daily meditation and has had the most profound effect on my mindset.
Many performers deal with mental and emotional stress, most of which generates from anxiety and nerves surrounding competitions and performances, whilst often finding school, practice, home study and other aspects of life a challenge to balance.
Proper breathing is often an overlooked component of training. By learning various ‘Pranayama’ (control of breath) techniques to slow your breath, you can decrease your demand for oxygen, allowing you to use less effort and energy to breathe.
Quite often when nerves and anxiety show up, our breath will be shallow and restricted - activating our bodys’ stress response, which can cause fatigue if not controlled & leave you feeling exhausted before you’ve even performed. Since the mind and body are connected your muscles will also become tense!
Studies have shown that breathing properly can decrease stress and muscle tension, calm your nerves, sharpen your focus, minimize negative thoughts and promote stamina.
• A Balance of Mobility/Flexibility, Strength and Stability
We all admire those dancers who have that gorgeous balance of effortless front clicks, each move executed with sharpness, speed and precision.
The various Yoga ‘asanas’ (body postures) will help to make your dancing look and feel more relaxed and effortless by improving both the range of motion around your joints and overall body strength, creating that perfect balance of flexibility, strength and control.
As you can see, yoga is not only beneficial to Irish dancers because of the physical challenges it presents, but also because it is a discipline of the mind. Personally, I always leave my yoga practice with a calmer, peaceful mind and a relaxed body with less tension.
As with anything, you’ll get the most benefit if you practice yoga consistently. Overtime, I promise you’ll reap the benefits!