Yoga began as an ancient practice in India circa 3,000 BCE and has since evolved into various styles, including but not limited to vinyasa, restorative, bikram, kundalini, ashtanga, hatha, and yin. Most dancers have been exposed to yoga at some point or another, but what you may not realize (or maybe even underestimate) is that yoga can be vastly beneficial for your technique, athleticism, and artistry.
Mind Body Connection
How many times have you received a correction about remembering to breathe in the middle of a petite allegro combination? If you’re anything like me, it’s more often that you’d like… Our mind and body are constantly interacting with each other at all times, but often it can feel as though they’re fighting against each other. In yoga, the mind and body are treated as a single, united entity. The very foundation of yoga practice is uniting the mind and body by connecting breath with movement. Whether you’re participating in a vinyasa or slow flow yoga class, each transition and pose is linked to an inhale or exhale. You may notice that as the breath stills, the mind also stills.
Many yoga classes also begin with pranayama, the practice of controlling breath. In yogic philosophy, pranayama is considered the root of our life source, or prana. Regular practice of pranayama can drastically improve lung capacity, and can be a useful tool for dancers looking to improve their stamina. You might be surprised to learn that many gurus consider pranayama even more important to a yoga practice than the asanas, or poses. Breathing techniques typically focus on different aspects of breath, including inhalation, internal retention, exhalation, and external retention. Some helpful practices for dancers are dirgha pranayama to promote full and complete breathes, nadi shodhana to stimulate the brain and warm up the body, and brahmari to ease performance jitters.
Strength & Flexibility
As a dancer, cross-training is a vital part of becoming stronger and more flexible. Most dancers consider their forte to either be flexibility or strength, and are actively working to balance out these qualities. If this sounds familiar, you may want to consider incorporating a regular yoga practice into your cross-training routine. Yoga poses are designed to build space between joints, leading to increased flexibility and mobility. While yoga can be a much more static practice than dance, it isn’t passive. A great deal of strength is required to maintain poses for multiple breaths, and you’ll find that sequences often focus on strengthening muscles that aren’t typically addressed in typical dance classes. Experienced yoga teachers will be able to guide you in deepening poses, finding your edge, and building strength.
Like dance, yoga is a discipline of the mind that comes with its own set of challenges. However, as a whole, the culture of yoga heavily contrasts with dance. It isn’t anywhere near as competitive as dance–instead, students are encouraged to tune into their bodies and meet themselves where they are. Yoga studios are welcoming of students at any and all levels, and classes are treated as a judgment free zone–a refreshing change of pace from the dance studio. Regular yoga practice can help with achieving relaxation, remaining present in the here and now, becoming more meditative, and coping with anxiety. Yoga also helps shift the balance from your sympathetic nervous system (which we default to when we’re stressed) to the parasympathetic nervous system, effectively calming and relaxing the body. Even one yoga class a week can make significant improvements in your overall demeanor and well-being. It’s an easy way to give your body and mind a little self-care without taking away from your dance training.
Yoga as a Side Hustle
Perhaps one of the most appealing benefits of practicing yoga is that it can easily become a lucrative side hustle to supplement your income. Although a certification isn’t technically required to teach yoga, many studios require teachers to have completed a 200 hour training affiliated with Yoga Alliance before they will hire you. I recently returned from participating in a 200 hour RYT training in Peru that definitively changed my life, my yoga practice, and my overall perspective as a human being. If teaching yoga is something you’re interested in, do your research. Many yoga studios offer intensive one month or long-format weekend trainings in locations all over the world. While a training may seem like a daunting investment at first, think of it as an investment in your future and a bonus skill to add to your resume.
Do you already have a regular yoga practice? After reading this article, are you more likely to start incorporating yoga into your life? How has yoga positively changed your life? Let us know and sound off in the comments!