Arthritis and Dance

Just finished 3 workshops in October and had such wonderful interactions with amazing teachers! So many great questions were asked and today’s newsletter was inspired by one of them (Thanks, Donna!)

We were discussing stiffness, fascia and came around to arthritis when I made a comment about how doctors throw out that diagnosis way too often for people over the age of 50 – and how I considered it a garbage pail diagnosis. Meaning… it doesn’t really tell you much about what to do – why you might have it and can it be reversed.

There are over 100 different types of arthritis, but the most common form is osteoarthritis and probably followed by rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease where the immune system begins attacking the joint lining, causing pain and swelling that eventually results in bone and joint deformity. My mother and maternal grandmother had severe RA – and to be honest – they both strongly influenced my desire to be healthy with full mobility. Both of these strong women became totally bedridden. Some of the things I will mention in this article could be helpful with someone with RA or one of the many other types of arthritis – but what I want to address is the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the wear and tear degeneration of joint cartilage and bones. It causes pain and stiffness and is often first diagnosed in middle age. I’ve talked with numerous… a LOT… of dance teachers who were given the diagnosis of osteoarthritis even without the benefit of x-ray or MRI confirmations. The teacher goes in with complaints of stiffness or pain at the hip or knee, and comes out with a prescription for an anti-inflammatory medication and told to keep moving until the pain is too much at which time a joint replacement can be considered.

I want to address suggestions for this type of arthritis from a voice of reason. It’s how I like to approach working with someone’s chronic injury. How many different ways can health be positively influenced?

Dancing along with many other sport forms asks a lot of the body! What we know is that when the body is anatomically aligned the weight is appropriately transferred through the centers of the joints. This is why it is uber important that our students learn how to work their turnout accurately in the hip joint rather than pushing rotation, tucking under, shifting the head of the femur up against the cartilage of the joint where joint disfiguration will occur.

But it isn’t just how they are working their rotation in class it’s even more about their daily standing, walking, sitting and sleeping patterns that can plant the seeds (or not) towards future osteoarthritis. Alignment matters… and even more so outside of class! (note the image on the right is not well-aligned, lots of people typically stand on one leg and unknowingly influence their fascia, their muscles and joints!)

All types of arthritis have an inflammatory factor. What are ways to decrease inflammation in the joint? We just talked about having good structural alignment as the first focus. Secondly, I would look to food to try and decrease inflammation. I have never been an advocate as a one-size-fits-all approach to food. We have different chemistries and respond differently to food. Some people can eat bread – and others are better off being gluten free, which then can decrease inflammation.

Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are definitely high up on the inflammatory food charts along with artificial trans fats, refined carbohydrates, excessive alcohol, processed meat. There is a reason that when I worked at the Center for Dance Medicine we would see a spike in achey bodies and joints in January after holiday food splurging.

It’s all about balance, right? For most people it doesn’t mean you can’t ever have chocolate, but it shouldn’t be the top food group you take in to fuel your body. Inflammation doesn’t just happen at your joints, but also in your gut. I recently did a gut test (viome.com) to look at what good and bad bacteria was in my gut and found out one of my inflammatory foods is coffee. (imagine a very sad face:) Now I have a cup of coffee maybe once a month, rather than my one cup a day… and yes… I notice a difference in my gut health. The test also encouraged me towards certain foods to get a better balance and population of certain probiotics, so it wasn’t quite as simple as taking one food out of my daily diet.

It takes time for inflammation to decrease. Besides becoming aware of the food (fuel) you are ingesting, getting good exercise for yourself (beyond teaching class) losing weight if need be, and managing stress (which means getting an appropriate amount of sleep too!) all will influence inflammation.

I want to add one more suggestion and that is to keep your fascia in good condition, elastic and responsive. To that end, proper alignment is key, but we also need to maintain the resiliency of our fascia, so that we don’t start feeling stiff and sore.

When I get the occasional bloodwork done I ask if I can add testing my C-Reactive protein level. This protein increases as inflammation increases. If you find that you are on the high side, even without physical ailments, it would be a good choice to lower the silent increase of inflammation before it shows up in some physical or physiological disorder or disease. Inflammation is connected with many diseases, not just arthritis.

And all inflammation isn’t bad… the inflammation that occurs after an injury is a good thing and a part of the healing process. But chronic inflammation is NOT helpful or useful.

So there you go… I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one… but thought it might be interesting to look at arthritis from a broader perspective of how to change the health of our joints.

To your success!

Deborah

Extreme Stretching

Hi Deb!I have been following your work for some time. I have a 13 year old daughter who has always been very flexible. She has been dancing since she was 3. Last October, a teacher pulled on her leg while she was in an extreme position. She was lying on her belly and the teacher brought her leg over her head and pulled it to the floor in front of her head. She suffered an acute injury to her hip flexor. The MRI was negative for a labral tear and he also noted that she has a nice, deep hip socket. It took many months of physical therapy to recover from the injury and she was out of dance for 5 months. She is now back to dance, but still experiences some tightness in her hamstrings and snapping hip syndrome. Her doctor said it is the iliopsoas tendon snapping over the bone and she should continue to work on strengthening. With her being back in dance, I am worried about overstretching and some of the extreme positions that are prevalent in dance today such as, oversplits, scorpions and needles. I have told my daughter that she should not participate in oversplits with her legs up on blocks or other extreme positions. I believe the risks outweigh the benefits and I want her to be able to have longevity in dance. Yet, these things are being taught and encouraged at her dance school. My questions are, should I be concerned about the extreme poses? Are they even necessary for a career in dance? Am I wrong to tell her to not participate in overstretching and extreme hyper-extended positions?

Long post alert! And yay! for being a concerned parent! Onto your questions…

Should I be concerned about the extreme poses? Yes! You should. There is more more scientific and medical research these days that we can base our dance training on. The last few posts I’ve talked about fascia and a few tips to training and conditioning your fascia. Our children’s fascia is much more resilient than an adult’s. This is good because it also means it is more adaptable to change when done in an anatomically responsible way.

Having an outside force (such as a teacher) pull or put strain on a muscle that is not prepared for that force can easily injure a dancer. You daughter was lucky that she didn’t also end up with a lower back injury along with the hip flexor injury. A story that will always stick with me is working with a gorgeous dancer who while dancing professionally in Europe went to a yoga class where the yoga teacher firmly pressed her folded knees into her chest trying to deepen hip flexion and ‘release’ tension. What he did was to injure the bursa and gave her hip flexor bursitis, which took over a year to heal – which meant no dancing.

Oversplits – pros and cons. Warning… way more cons than pros. First, research, and more research, have shown that oversplits can change the angle of the thigh bone in the joint potentially tearing cartilage. We hear about torn labrums, which is cartilage that deepens the ‘bowl’ of the joint. So good that your daughter’s labrum was not damaged – and the hip flexor muscles took the force of the movement and tore first. If you had a very very flexible young dancer, the force may have gone straight into the joint area.

Teachers need to remember that the growth plates of their younger students may still be open. It has been stated that soccer players and gymnasts suffer the most amount of ischial apophysis which is a very bad hamstring tear where it attaches to the sits bone and fractures the growth plate. Hmm… I wonder if dance was considered a sport if it would have been on that list too?

We also know that if you maintain the muscles on such an extreme passive stretch for longer than 30 seconds you are decreasing its strength. (in other words, don’t passively stretch before class – do it after class when you can then rest and recover) You may also be putting strain on the ligaments which may loosen them and decrease their effectiveness at keeping stability at the joint. Ligaments tie bones together and are considered inelastic. This means if you sprain the ligaments around your ankle, for example, they will never be able to stabilize the joint in the same way and the muscles will have to take over stabilizing as well as moving.

Hormonal challenges. I reached out to my colleague, Anneliese Burns Wilson to ask about the influence of hormones on adolescent stretching. She wrote “The general consensus is that the injury rates are the highest when the hormones are in the transitional periods.” (Deb’s note… Going into adolescence would certainly be a hormonal transitional period)

Anneliese: “Exposure to estrogen structurally changes the structure of collagen based connective tissue (make up, fiber diameter and production / absorption ratios).  This would include tendons, ligaments, fascia. Estrogen receptors are found in skeletal muscles, tendons and ligaments. Pelvic floor muscles are affected by estrogen levels.  Since these muscles help to stabilize the pelvis and SI joints from the inside, it is generally accepted that there is some loss of stabilization throughout the menstrual cycle in this area.  It is also important to note that pelvic floor muscles have an attachment to the the fascia of some of the external rotators of the hip.” (FYI, Anneliese is working on a series of books on strategies to optimize training for dancers from childhood through adolescence. (abcfordance.com)

I did not know until I had a conversation with Anneliese that the stabilization influence of the pelvic floor muscles may vary during the menstrual cycle. That doesn’t mean that we can’t stretch, train, dance, etc. etc. throughout the month, but when it comes to those extreme stretch positions why not err on the side of caution and not ask our preteen students to work in extreme stretch positions. There are ways to increase flexibility without the potential of joint/muscle injury.

It appears that I’m on a fascial kick lately… but frankly… when you want to increase flexibility and can effectively figure out where restrictions may be coming from that are keeping you from the desired goal… That just seems like the smarter way to train! And also… faster… since you won’t keep stretching the same muscle over and over again in the same way even when you are aren’t seeing improvement. That is the very definition of insanity.

As teachers we need to stay open to the fact that the science of dance training, of medicine, physical therapy, etc. is constantly changing. I know that my stretching protocols have changed significantly over the years. That’s real – doesn’t mean that if I’m a RAD or Cecchetti or Limon teacher that I’m going to throw away my teachers manual – of course not! I’m simply going to continue to deepen and integrate knowledge about anatomy and movement into the multitude of ways to train technique. There is no right way for everyone. Different bodies… different methods and processes… let’s expand our tool kits for supporting our students.

Are extreme positions even necessary for a career in dance? I’ll let Baryshikov answer that:)

pintaram post on instagram

‘Fuzz’ Fascia

In the last newsletter I encouraged dancers to spend some time yawning and stretching into stiff areas on a daily basis.  This week’s newsletter explains why that is so important.  Gil Hedley, Phd. is known for his ‘fuzz’ talk. (embedded below)  Before you watch it let me help explain a few concepts.  When he is talking about ‘fuzz’, he’s talking about the fascia that surrounds muscles and other tissues.  This wet membranous fascia allows tissues to slide and glide over one another. Elasticity is a very important component to fascia and that certainly influences our flexibility.  

Last week we talked about sore muscles that were all of a sudden moved in ways they hadn’t over the summer break, and creating soreness.  When this ‘fuzz’ isn’t mobilized and hydrated (more through movement, although water intake is important) – it begins to adhere and stiffen.  It ‘ages’ the fascia so to speak, similar to how many people stop moving and start sitting more in their middle years and then believe that the stiffness is an accepted side effect of aging.  NOT TRUE! If you continue to keep your fascia in good shape, elastic, toned, responsive – your body will not move like an older person – and I have to believe it makes a big difference in how you feel too! 

Please send in your questions about fascia, technique, training and recovery – or share your comments below.  Upcoming workshops are open for registration! Canada, Seattle, and Costa Rica.  

note: there are a few cadaver images within the short 5 minute clip to show you what this ‘fuzz’ looks like.  I find it very helpful to see how immersed and connected fascia is to the muscles.  

To your success!
Deborah 

 

Classes started… and I’m sore!

Dancers LOVE to stretch… it feels good… we need flexible and strong bodies… and everybody thinks of stretching in terms of muscles. Most know that each muscle is wrapped in fascia, which is also called connective tissue. Did you know that each muscle bundle and each muscle fiber is also enveloped by fascia?

Yup! That’s a lot of fascia!

Dancers are returning to classes after summer break and there are many of them that are going to be sore after the first class or two back.

That soreness is often called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS for short. You feel great in class, but the next day or even two days later your muscles ACHE! It used to be said that it was caused by an increase of lactic acid but lactic acid is reduced fairly quickly in the body while muscle aches can last for days.

This soreness is coming from doing an activity that your body isn’t ready for – like being out of shape or away from class and then jumping back in full tilt boogie:) It can involve eccentric contractions which is contracting a muscle while it is being lengthened. It can also come after trying a new movement pattern that that the body isn’t trained for (yet). DOMS goes away typically within a few days, and the next time you go to do the activity it feels better. You are conditioning your muscles AND fascia:)

Research suggests that it’s the fascia that has been strained rather than the muscle fibers. In fact – the number of pain sensors is far greater in fascia than in muscle. Fascia can be inflamed, stiffen up, dry up and wreck havoc with our movement. Remember the post about the lumbar fascia, which is a key player in lower back pain, stiffens up and looses mobility? You can rewatch the 2 clips of healthy lumbar fascia vs lumbar fascia from someone with lower back pain.

Fascia likes being stretched across multiple joints, as fascia connects and weaves long lines of muscles through the body. This is why when you roll a ball under your foot, your hamstrings might feel looser on that side. The hamstrings and the bottom of your feet are connected through the fascia. Often a solution to a flexibility problem may be far away from the targeted challenge area.

Fascia also responds to dynamic stretching. An example of a dynamic hamstring stretch I love is placing my foot on a chair in front of me. I then contract my quads on the leg that is being stretched and shift my sits bone backwards as if I was sticking my pelvis out. Keeping the quads contracted you can slowly and gently flex at the hip until you have a strong yet not painful stretching sensation. If you let go of the quad contraction you will lose the effectiveness of this stretch.



A nice way to get ready for class is to do a few jumping jacks, or brisk walk around the studio and then take a few minutes to roll on the pinkie ball or foam roller followed by lying on the floor and stretching your body as if you were just getting out of bed and yawning and stretching. Twist and bend your body in as many ways as possible and wake up those long lines of fascial connections.

If you live in Canada you might consider coming one of the workshops I’ll be offering on Anatomy of Technique: A Fascial Perspective where we will dive deep into looking at technique through the lens of fascia. Space is limited and they are happening in October!

To your success!

Deborah

Pigeon Toed

Hello, my five year old daughter is pigeon toed. Do you have any suggestions to help her correct this as a dancer? I know there is a chance that she may grow out of this and she also may not. Thank you so much! 

Great question as many young children are pigeon toed. You see it most commonly in a child under 2 years of age and that can occur from how the baby was positioned in utero with the foot and/or shinbone being turned inward. I have talked about external tibial torsion where a child’s foot and shinbone (tibia) is more turned out than their thigh bone (femur) is. This is the opposite called internal tibial torsion. It often starts to self-correct itself after the child becomes more mobile. I saw this recently in one of my grandsons, who now by the age of 3 1/2 is running and walking with much less toeing in than I previously saw.

The other main reason for being pigeon toed is how the thigh is placed in the hip joint. Being five years old now, this might be where your daughter’s pigeon toed gait may be coming from. The medical term is femoral anteversion and when your daughter is standing without thinking about it both her knees and her feet would turn in rather than having the knees and feet facing forward.

A child with femoral anteversion can easily W-sit as in picture on the right – and – teachers and parents should gently change their position when we see this.

Being in dance class can often help develop the rotator muscles at the hip which will help turn out the whole leg. This isn’t going to happen over night, and the child with a turned in hip has to be extra careful they are creating their turnout from the hip rather than turning out just the feet to make it look right. I’ve seen a LOT of early pronation problems in young children due to their desire to make their positions look more turned out than what they actually can create at the hip. That’s my main concern with a young dancer who comes into dance class being pigeon toed. He/she needs to work primarily in parallel (over toeing in) and not worry too much about a small first position.

My suggestions for you is to see if you can see where the toeing in is coming from and then encourage running, kicking a ball, regular outdoor play… along with taking dance classes.

I’ve read the majority of children self-correct this toeing in by the age of 8 – so she still has some time to repattern as she is going through various growth spurts and muscle patterning.

To your success,

Deborah

Are my legs straight?

Hi, I’m 12 and I just started ballet around 1 and half years ago. I know my technique needs a lot of improvement, but I am most concerned about my knees. Whenever I pull my knees up in my exercises, the teacher says they’re not pulled up enough and I have to pull them up more, but they’re already as pulled up as they can be. She tells me to sit on the floor in pike and flex my feet to get the skin under my knee to touch the floor. She gave me some exercises to do to help me fix it but I don’t think they’re working because whenever I do the exercise it just feels like she wants me to have hyperextended knees. What other exercises can I do to get my knee to touch the floor?

Earlier this year I wrote a post on fascial plasticity that had a picture of a young man who significantly straightened his legs over the course of a semester by working on releasing fascial tightness in his upper back and neck. The body is an amazing, complex set of relationships! For that young man he needed to focus on releasing and stretching his whole back, not just the hamstrings. (Which were mighty tight when he began)

Not having a picture of your alignment and not knowing what muscles might be weak or tight, it is hard to say definitively… do this… and your legs will straighten more. I’m trying to make a point that dance is not a one size fits all program, because we all have different bodies and strengths!

I recently participated in an online discussion about this very problem, and quickly became discouraged by the misinformation and suggestions to work through the pain of stretching and/or strengthening. NO! Pain is an indicator from the body that something is not right and please please please listen to the messages that your body gives you.

Okay… ’nuff said… I’ll get back on track with your question.

Your teacher is correct that the quadriceps contract to straighten the knee. There are 4 (quad) muscles that come together to form the tendon that the kneecap is encased in. You want even pull from all of them to keep the kneecap correctly in its track on the thigh bone. It’s not unusual to find the lateral or outer quadricep pulling a little bit harder than the medial or inner one. Just focusing on ‘pulling up’ the knees won’t press the back of your knees to the ground if the boney structure of your leg won’t allow for hyperextension.

It could be that the muscles at the back of your legs are tight, and you could focus on some extra calf and hamstring stretching. Include the back and neck too just in case you are like my student with the extra tight upper back.

I have seen the shape of a dancer’s legs change as they gained strength and muscle tone. It wasn’t because their knees changed how much they could straighten, but the change in muscle shape made the whole leg look different. A overall improvement in alignment always helps.

My best advice is to go to a physical therapist who understands dancers and have an evaluation so that you can target your efforts and work smart, instead of just harder.

I appreciate your desire to understand your body and how to work with it! With commitment and hard work I have no doubt that you will see great improvements in your technique over time. Don’t get discouraged with starting dance at age 12… I’ve seen college students get bitten by the dance bug and make a career out of it – it’s never too late.

To your success,

Deborah

Returning to Pointe after Injury

I’m a professional freelance dancer (I’m 30, if it matters), and over the past two years, have suffered a number of injuries that have kept me out of my pointe shoes. 

First off, I suffered a 2nd metatarsal stress fracture (which I kept dancing on… misdiagnosed for several months because it was in the joint. Due to dancing corporate gigs in heels on concrete), followed by a really resilient ankle impingement (again, not pointe related, but just coming to the end of healing that). Shortly prior to this series of injuries, I had a shoe fitting and was mostly pleased with what I walked out with (should it make a difference, I was originally in Blochs, shortly in Freeds (hated them), and now in GMs). 

My question is this: after these foot injuries and the time off, is it reasonable to go back to those most recent pointe shoes, or should I be refit again with these injuries in mind? I’m not sure how much of a change this would create (aside from loss of strength/flexibility), and whether it’s safer to start from square one. Since I’m not with a company, I’m truly on my own and just looking for another opinion. It might be a valid question for others as well- should a dancer always be refit after a foot injury?

Thanks for any insight you might have! 

Good question! Reassessing pointe shoes after an injury is not a bad idea, or even periodically throughout one’s career. What I’m more interested in is to make sure your foot has come back fully after the injury – so the fitter will be evaluating a strong yet flexible foot.

Begin by sitting legs in front of you and simply pointe the two feet. How do they compare? What about when you flex the toes? And then flex at the ankle?

Now stand up in a parallel first and releve on both feet – then again in turnout. Now do the same with a single leg rise. You are looking for differences that may indicate any weakness or tightness.

Next, I want you to mobilize the foot… Here is a short (2 1/2 min) Youtube video that does a good job of demonstrating that. I think of ‘wringing’ the foot out like wringing a washcloth when he is demonstrating the last mobilization. I also like to gently hold the big toe and the 2nd toe and separate them in opposite directions… and then move to separating the 2nd & 3rd toes, and so on… down the line.


Your feet should feel nicely warmed up and mobile now as you redo all of your releves and rises on both feet, then single leg. Hopefully, the foot that sustained the fracture and injury is moving a bit better. Now after mobilizing the foot you can go into your stretches and strengtheners that you were given by your physical therapist – and back to be fitted for point shoes.

Good luck on your return to pointe!

To your success,

Deborah

Fascia and Brain Functioning

Exploring fascia is fascinating and I keep learning more relationships between the health of our fascia and the health of our bodies.

This post will summarize some ways it influences our brains. If these posts are interesting to you please consider attending the Texas June 21-23 workshop – where the exploration of fascia will be woven into many of the classes.

Understanding the intellectual properties of fascia is the first step – but how do we actually weave that information into technique is even more valuable – and that will be covered in this intimate workshop among other topics.

Now onto fascia and brain health. I watched Dr. Mark Hyman’s Broken Brain 2 episode on Optimizing Brain Health (no longer available for free, but series can be bought) In that episode Dr. Shalini Bhat talked about fascia’s influence on brain health.

One of the main take-aways was how poor posture (visualize sitting in front of the computer slightly slumped) can negatively influence the circulation to the brain. There is an artery that runs through the vertebra and it is compressed when there is a forward head posture which compromises the blood flow to the brain.

What’s important and yet challenging about this information is that often we don’t know that the circulation to our brain may be slightly compromised. How many people will admit to having a little brain fog – or feeling more tired than usual – but simply chalk it up to less than optimal sleep. Perhaps optimizing our spinal alignment may help. (I am much more aware of lengthening my spine and looking forward instead of down as I write this on my desktop computer)

The other way that chronically poor posture will influence the fascia is with the Golgi tendon organs. These are connected between the muscle fibers and tendons and senses changes of muscle tendons. (This is different from the Golgi tendon reflex, which is when swelling or pressure on the tendon will cause the muscle to release to prevent further damage)

When we change our posture and alignment the Golgi tendon organ tells the joint where it is in space. But… When poor posture becomes habitual – think about kids always looking down at their phone – the Golgi tendon resets where ‘normal’ is and that person’s proprioception is being influenced.

Posture can shift slowly over time. Looking at the image to the left most people would way his posture is pretty good but unfortunately, if you are a people watcher as I am, you’ll see a LOT of people standing in a forward head posture such as this.

We have to encourage our students, and ourselves, to be more self aware of our alignment – outside of dance class! (alignment assessment is another topic in the June workshop!)

One other key suggestion for healthy fascia offered in the program was stretching and moving our body in all directions and keeping it hydrated. Dancing does a good job with the first suggestion and I see lots of water bottles these days instead of soda, yay!

Take care of your fascia!

To your success,

Deborah

Hip Flexor Bounce

Here’s a quick 3 minute clip on a hip flexor bounce… and you’ll get to see my pup, too!

Hip Flexor Bounce

How Quickly Can Change Happen?

The secret of CHANGE is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Socrates

We are at that familiar time where many of us are reflecting upon the past year and pondering how we’d like 2019 to be. It started me thinking about how quickly can change really happen?

Generally, science says a mildly sprained ankle takes 5 days to 2 weeks to heal, and a moderate one from will take 4-6 weeks. A hip flexor strain takes between 1-8 weeks to fully recover. Changing an unwanted habit? Some say 21 days, a research study by Lally said anywhere between 2-8 months to adopt a new habit.

Is it possible to change a chronic injury or unwanted habit even faster than normal?

Science is starting to back up the above Socrates quote. We know that where you place your attention your energy goes. When you or your child is sick at home in bed a wonderful distraction is to pop a favorite movie in to watch. It’s pretty remarkable that for short periods of time they forget they’re sick and get wrapped up in the movie. This concept of where your attention goes your energy flows has been around for a while and is pretty straight-forward but often hard to use deliberately when we are trying to change our flexibility or results or negative patterns.

The major challenge to changing quickly is how our past habits and patterns of thinking, feeling and doing are hardwired in the brain. This is how learning happens. We do something over and over again until we don’t need to even think about it – our bodies automatically get ourselves ready for the day in the same way, we drive to work in the same predictable routes, and generally have the same thoughts and emotional responses to certain people in our life. These hard-wired patterns are not bad – they allow us to get a lot done without much conscious decision-making. Being such creatures of habit does have a downside, though, when it comes to wanting to change something about our life or body.

Awareness and knowledge is key to creating deliberate changes. The first step is to define what it is that you want. The second step is to become familiar with the patterns that are keeping you stuck in the current situation.

For example, let’s imagine a dancer who wants to increase their flexibility. They learn the appropriate stretches necessary to address their stiffness. That’s a good knowledge step for sure. They need to spend time becoming aware of all the negative statements they make about their body and flexibility and catch themselves when they start that self-sabotage loop. This goes beyond deciding on a positive affirmation to say to themselves. It might be a good mantra to say to oneself, “my flexibility gets a little bit better every day” but if immediately after saying that you feel discouragement or add a silent and sarcastic yea… right…, then chances are flexibility isn’t going to change as quickly as they’d like.

There is a concept in neuroscience called neuroplasticity which explains how the brain can hardwire new habits and create change. This short 2-minute video explains it beautifully.

Now getting back to our example of a dancer wanting to improve their flexibility. They need to catch their sabotaging thoughts and behaviors. Thoughts are pretty easy to define but let’s say they become aware that after eating a lot of sugar they feel achey and stiff. Once they become aware of that pattern they have a choice point when contemplating another serving of dessert. No judgment if they choose the extra dessert, but they are simply demonstrating that the sugar habit is stronger than their new flexibility patterns.

Being aware and knowledgeable of their flexibility patterns will streamline the change process. In other words, they need to ‘act as if’ they are already the flexible dancer they want to be… saying the things to themselves a flexible dancer would say, feeling emotionally how grateful they are to be flexible and acting and having the patterns of a person who honors their body’s flexibility. This seems pretty straightforward and simple – but challenging to put into practice.

Dancers are really good on the ‘doing’ part of the equation – but often not so good on the becoming aware of their thought and emotional patterns in response to their doing. There are strategies to help our students learn to become more aware of the complicated interplay between their body/brain and their results and it doesn’t require diving deep into their psyche or analysis.

Exploring the body/brain connection is the missing link in our training of dancers and one that I will be delving into this summer in both the Texas and France workshops. Understanding and exploring anatomy is still the foundation of these workshops with integrating the body/brain knowledge into your teaching.

Happy New Year, everyone! Now… back to journaling about who I want to be in 2019!

To your success,

Deborah