Bourne 1 Katie Bourne Cathy Black Dance History 20 March 2012 Adding Yoga Postures to Dance Technique in the Schools In recent years, dance has seen an increase in popularity due to television shows like Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew. Because of the caliber of dance on these shows, young dancers are pressured to push their physical limits, oftentimes resulting in physical and mental damage. The physical damage comes from pushing their bodies further than they have the energy, strength, or flexibility for. The mental damage comes from the pressures of the media to be thin, and ultimately, the best dancer. Dance teachers can also push students to unsafe limits in technique class before the student is physically and mentally ready. Because dancers often wear their bodies down by doing repetitive, one-‐sided, and high stress techniques, they can be at risk for long-‐term damage. Dancers need something to help build strength, flexibility, and emotional stability in their technique classes. Secondary education dance teachers should incorporate concepts of Bikram yoga into their dance technique classes to produce healthier, more technical, focused, and protected dancers. The history of yoga has led to the development of specific poses that, if used correctly, can benefit dancers both physically and mentally. 4, 700 years ago, Patanjali, the father of yoga,
Bourne 2 researched yogis who came before him and created 84 original poses, also known as asanas. These asanas were created to prepare the body to sit in meditation for a significant amount of time. Through meditation, one is able to journey toward self-‐actualization because of the deep concentration required for the process. One of the first asanas, the lotus pose, was created to stop blood from reaching below the waistline acting as an anesthetic by dulling the pain receptors and creating a calm body, allowing for the one meditating to have a clear and focused mind. When you have a “calm body, you have a calm mind” (Choudhury, 33). The other 83 postures were developed to better prepare the rest of the body to be still and calm during meditation. This physical yoga is also known as Hatha yoga. The purpose of Hatha yoga is to heal the body. A man by the name of Bikram Choudhury, who studied Hatha yoga at a young age, helped many people heal mentally and physically through yoga. After shattering his knee, he experienced the healing of yoga and soon developed a sequence of 26 asanas and two breathing exercises, which he pulled from the 84 asanas he had studied with his Guru. These 26 postures “systematically work every part of the body giving all the internal organs, veins, ligaments, and muscles all they need to maintain optimum health and maximum function” (72). Most of Bikram’s poses are compression poses. Compression poses extend or stretch one half of the body while the other half is compressed. Bikram yoga takes place in a room of 105 degrees to warm up the body, lasts 90 minutes, and practices each pose twice. This type of Hatha, or physical yoga, is meant to revitalize, reenergize, and strengthen the body, which are all things that will benefit the young dancers who constantly push themselves past their physical and mental limits. I do not think that teachers should require students to become yogis
Bourne 3 who master in Bikram yoga. However, I do think that teachers should recognize the positive benefits of Bikram yoga and implement the concepts in their classes. By incorporating developed concepts of Bikram yoga, such as full-‐lung breathing and compression asanas, dancers will have more energy and increase their strength and flexibility. Improving the function of the lungs is usually the first repair on the body since most people rarely use more than 50 percent of their total lung capacity. Bikram compares lungs to balloons, saying that we need to properly inflate and stretch our lungs to become “more flexible and capable of holding and processing more oxygen with greater efficiency” (80). Bikram believes that through breath you control prana, or vital life energy (34). By controlling and taking in more prana you will, in a sense, have more energy. Yoga breathing (also known as pranayama) is designed to bring more oxygen to the blood and to the brain. Dancers need as much oxygen as they can get because they work their bodies hard for hours holding their legs in the air, jumping high, spinning, and balancing for long periods of time. All of these movements exert a lot of energy from muscles. The more the muscles are active, the harder it is for oxygen to be supplied to the muscle fibers causing lactic acid build up. When enough oxygen is provided, the lactic acid is broken down. By learning to control intake of oxygen and use it to support muscles, dancers will be able to move more effectively and have more energy. Even though breathing is an automatic function of the body that everyone does, dancers especially need to practice full lung breathing to expand their lungs and take in more oxygen so they can increase their energy and muscle activity without increasing their lactic acid production (Brianmac).
Bourne 4 Unlike Bikram, who had whole exercises fully dedicated to breathing, dance teachers should practice and push their dancers to breathe as deep and controlled as they can through their whole dance class, emphasizing full lung breathing in their warm up. A good way to begin dance class would be to practice deep breathing, which wakes up the muscles as well as the entire body (Choudhury, 102). By practicing full-‐lung breathing, dancers will increase their supply of oxygen to the body and learn how to be in control of their breathing. Now, instead of gasping for air in class or in a performance, dancers can calmly take in long energizing breaths that support their movement. Dancers need the benefits that come from Bikram poses to rejuvenate their muscles, circulatory system, strength, and flexibility. Blood transports the oxygen, along with nutrients, in the form of glucose to all of the body. The difference in the circulatory system when running and doing a compression pose is that even though running elevates the heart rate, there is still a small steady flow of blood to all parts of the body instead of having a rush of oxygenated blood to one specific area providing nutrients. Bikram’s poses use compression and extension to increase the flow of oxygenated blood to every part of the body, which Bikram calls the Hoover Dam effect (84). The Hoover Dam effect is when blood is squeezed out of a certain area by compressing one part of the body with another, blocking blood flow like the Hoover Dam. After 20 seconds of tight compression, the body releases the posture and allows all the fresh oxygenated blood that has built up to flow into that area. The blood brings in oxygen and glucose to prevent lactic acid from building up and to deplete any existing lactic acid, leaving the muscles energized and ready to dance rather than fatigued like after traditional exercises. “The purpose of what Americans think of as
Bourne 5 exercise is to reach a sports or fitness goal, regardless of cost to the body”(45-‐49). When exercising one may gain a small benefit (i.e. legs will get stronger), but the majority of what you do is harm to the body, especially for young people whose bodies are changing at different rates. “For young adults, a yoga program can improve balance substantially, produce improvements in leg strength, and improve leg muscle control for less-‐steady subjects” (Hart and Tracy). The authors experience in secondary education dance classes caused a lot of injuries that limited her physical capability today because her teachers did not help her build the strength or flexibility needed for the movement being done. After running a few miles class members would run through drills where they had to drop into the splits in one count from a standing position countless times, perform extremely one-‐sided repetitive routines, and never warm up or cool down properly. “The proof can be seen in the people who pursue these things the most intensely: look at professional athletes and dancers; after just a few years, they end up crippled with broken bodies that can’t play or perform anymore” (Choudhury, 45-‐49). Incorporating compression poses from Bikram’s asanas into a secondary education dance class will help build muscular strength and flexibility better than traditional exercise. While building strength and flexibility, yoga creates a muscular connection through the entire body. Unlike site-‐specific muscle building exercises like situps, pushups, and squats, Bikram’s poses require the muscles from head to toe to hold and control the asanas. “The balancing poses especially helped me stabilize and find a nice center string to work from in my body alignment. I dont just jump and kick and turn anymore. My movement has more fluidity (Samuels).
Bourne 6 No human is born with strength and flexibility balanced correctly. “The best ballerina in the world cannot hold a Hatha yoga balancing posture longer than three seconds, because like most flexible peoples’ muscles, hers don’t have enough strength”(79). “When I was younger I danced, but I didnt know where the movement was coming from or what muscles I was using. With yoga you feel every little thing in your body. ‘Its very personal, very internal’” (Samuels). Through asanas you are able to see and feel which parts of your body are weak or not functioning correctly. You are able to check up on yourself and see where you can improve and where you need more flexibility or strength. “Real exercise means stretching, the simultaneous contraction and elongation of the muscles, which builds strength and flexibility. There is no jarring, repetitive impact, or unnatural motions” (Choudhury, 48). This author does not believe that people should stop playing sports or dancing all together, but should give their bodies and student’s bodies what they need; creating balanced strength and flexibility by incorporating elements of Bikram’s asanas into dance technique classes. By incorporating meditation and concentration in secondary education dance classes, the dancers will learn how to discipline their bodies and minds and have less stress and anxiety. Although dance teachers do not have time to have long meditating sessions with their students to help their minds, Bikram believes that meditation can involve movement. While some do not believe that something physically demanding can be called meditation, Bikram knows that it can because that is the purpose of Hatha yoga. Many westerners, including dance teachers, believe that meditation must be done in complete stillness. However, meditation is the practice of focusing and calming the mind in order to communicate with oneself. It involves
Bourne 7 concentrating the mind on one thing for a long time while keeping it free from all the countless distractions of the world (76) When practicing Bikram yoga there is an incredible amount of pressure exerted on the body from heat and challenging positions. This forces one to break their attachment to external things and go within. “The focus needed to hold postures develops internal strength and willpower” (Thompson). There is no escape from reality; meditation demands ones abilities and attention. One learns to discipline their body and mind under intolerable conditions, one will truly be able to concentrate, and nothing external will be able to break that. This is one of the many reasons why meditation should be practiced in dance technique classes. “Yoga helps kids get their young bodies and minds more under control so that they can learn” (247). Through meditation the students will become intrinsically motivated to improve. With this new focus and understanding of themselves, they will put in more time and effort to do challenging things. Incorporating mental yoga techniques into dance classes will lower levels of stress and teach dancers to gain control over their thoughts through meditation and concentration. Adolescence is a wonderful time of life, but it is also full of stressors. A young dancer’s body, as well as his or her mind, is developing and changing rapidly, which can put a lot of pressure on secondary education students. When that kind of stress is put on the body, it is thrown into emergency overdrive known as “fight-‐or-‐flight”, and the chemicals, adrenaline, and cortisol, are released to help us cope. Over time those stressful conditions can lead to the body becoming overwhelmed. Through Bikram’s full-‐lung breathing and meditation, the body taps into its self-‐
Bourne 8 healing system that calms the mind, body, and emotions. We gain control and can turn off the fight-‐or-‐flight response. When people feel out of control because of stress they do what they can to try to create order, and the quickest way dancers find control over themselves is through their mouths. A huge stressor on dancers is the expectations for what their bodies should look like. Many dancers fall into the trap of eating disorders. They can have complete control over what they put into their bodies and have control over what they physically look like. Bikram believes that when one’s mind is weak it will “constantly feed on your fears and negative habits” (216). When dancers practice meditation and strengthen their minds they will begin to control their thoughts and they will have control over themselves. When you have control over yourself your confidence, determination, and self-‐control are strengthened. You begin to have higher self-‐esteem and you feel happiness and strength not to cower at the negative thoughts coming your way. “Once the body and mind are trained and joined in harmony, they form a perfect union and a complete human being” (7). By gaining the mental strength and willpower through yoga, dancers will have higher self-‐esteem that will limit their need to compare themselves to other dancers, reducing the number of dancers falling victim to eating disorders. The stress and pressure from the outside world will melt away and they will begin to accept their powerful bodies. Dancers bodies are being pushed to new limits, which can have a negative impact on their bodies as well as their minds. There are certain concepts taught by Bikram in his style of Hatha yoga that can easily be incorporated into dance technique classes such as full-‐lung breathing, compression asanas, and meditation. By doing so secondary education dance teachers will help
Bourne 9 improve the dancers muscular strength and flexibility, which in turn will connect the body preventing further injuries from occurring. “It makes me very conscious of my body and that can translate into preventing injuries”(Samuels). Through meditation and concentration, dancers will be able to have control over their minds and have a strong mind body connection, increasing their self-‐esteem and self-‐control. With higher self-‐esteem, dancers will not fall as easily into the trap of eating disorders that plague so many dancers today because of the stresses put on them to look a certain way. Overall yoga concepts will benefit secondary education dancers both physically and mentally and will help to create healthier, stronger, more technical, and well-‐minded dancers.
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