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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

Splits training

There was a comment on the Splits entry that I’d like to use as this week’s post. Heidi writes

Do you recommend a particular approach for beginning training for splits. Are there other stretches that should be done first. Should a student demonstrate flexibility in other ways (e.g. be able to touch her toes) before trying to do the splits? I’ve seen many students who are far from being “all the way down” in the splits bend one or both knees. Should this be discouraged?

My reply:
Heidi, The reason they bend one of the knees is to try and get down a little farther – a totally natural response. I would separate the elements of the splits in my training. Meaning… work to increase the flexibility of the hamstrings – which allow the front leg to go lower – and also work the flexibility of the hip flexors, which allow the back leg to slide farther back without tipping the pelvis forward.

For the hip flexors doing daily lunge stretches is key. You can do them on the ground, standing or sitting in a chair (my favorite) I have a youtube video demonstrating 3 ways, including a passive hanging stretch. The chair lunge is not on their but simply imagine sitting on a chair in a lunge position and lifting up the front of your pelvis to increase the stretch along the front of the back leg that is extended.

As far as hamstring flexibility a quick and dirty way to check for tight hamstrings is to have the dancer sitting on the floor with both legs straight and together in front of them. Are they easily able to sit all the way up on their pelvis? If they are rolled onto the back of their pelvis you can suspect their hamstrings are tight.

My favorite way of stretching the hamstrings is in standing and putting one leg on a low enough surface to keep the pelvis in neutral and upright. If they have tight hamstrings to begin with and put their leg on the barre – they are going to be tucked under (rolled back like they did on the floor) and won’t get a good stretch out of it.

Once they have their leg on a surface, let’s say a kitchen chair, they would flex easily forward keeping their pelvis and spine in alignment. Don’t round forward with your back, just tilt at the hips. This should give a good stretch to the hamstring area. Don’t forget to keep the pelvis facing forward as you are tilting, as many dancers cheat slightly by letting the pelvis rotate towards their standing leg as they are stretching – which is exactly the problem they are trying to overcome in their splits.

Consistency in their stretching is key – especially in the growing years. If your students aren’t getting the results they want from their stretching you might need to investigate whether they have tight fascia somewhere else in the body that is influencing their efforts. Reread the post on flexibility where I talk about this.

Finally – I want to let you know that I now have Anatomy Coloring Pages for the young dancer available in the store. They are in a pdf format that you do multiple copies of for your younger students.

The muscles that are included in the coloring pages are:
1. rotators (turnout muscles)
2. Quadriceps
3. Hamstrings
4. Iliopsoas
5. Adductor (inner thigh)
6. Abductor (lateral hip)
7. Abdominals
8. Soleus (deeper calf muscle that determines depth of demi plié)
9. Gastrocnemius
10. Deltoid (that lifts the arm)

Each page demonstrates the action of the muscle, has an insert of what the actual muscle looks like, and at the bottom of each page is a sentence describing the action in simple terms. Perfect for the youngest (6 – 8 yrs) to begin learning about their body!

The price is right – only $9.95 – so check them out!

Warm regards,
Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Improving focus

Today’s Q&A post includes an excerpt from Train Your Brain: A Teen’s Guide to Well Being. Enjoy!

I just found your web site and blog and it is really interesting.

I have an almost 7 years old ballerina at home, and I have some concerns.
She’s very lean, but she’s not so flexible and I don’t want her to get hurt while trying to improve her flexibility.

Another concern of mine is if she’s I’m the right age range to be at the RAD primary level. Unfortunately I don’t have the syllabus dvd available for her to practice at home (she goes to ballet and jazz classes twice a week). I’m asking this, because even though the teacher has told me that she has improved a lot in the 3 years of ballet class, I see that she has trouble following her older classmates, and gets distracted and looses motivation because she’s always at the back of the class.

My daughter loves ballet and dance I general, and I would love to see her blossom in what she loves, any tips for me so I can help her?

Best regards and congratulations on your wonderful work

Diana

Hi Diana,
You are asking some good questions, Diana! First, I want to say that her sometimes lack of focus and motivation is absolutely normal for an almost 7 year old. Has she tried any other type of movement classes besides ballet? It’s possible that trying a gymnastic class or creative movement, etc. might help her come into her body in a different way which then will help her ballet. How does she do in her jazz class?

There are some studios that don’t start their student in a ballet class until 7 or 8. I know students who didn’t start in ballet until 9 or 10 years old – and became beautiful ballerinas!

My personal bias might be coming out here which is dance classes for the youngest of our students should have a goal of making a student more comfortable in his or her body as well as improving their physical health and abilities.

Every young student will go through periods of being less flexible. That’s because whenever they go through a growth spurt their bones grow faster than muscles and that can be a very awkward stage.

My initial thoughts on how to help her blossom into a confident, beautiful woman would be to teach her to focus on what she wants. When you talk to her why does she like ballet class? Does she dream of dancing on stage? Does she like how dancing makes her feel? Does she feel good when she’s dancing? That’s so important!

Wanting to help our young children gain confidence in their abilities is why I wrote the Train your Brain book for the 8 – 12 year old. It has exercises in it to help the young child learn how to follow their own guidance and become confident – following the same guidelines that I have for my own life.

I’m going to do something that I haven’t done before and that is share one of the chapters with you. Each chapter follows a child’s challenge – and while the book is not just for dance students – I will share the chapter that talks about Chelsea, a young dancer.

Train Your Brain: A Teen’s Guide to Well Being
Chapter 3

If you saw Chelsea playing with her brothers or talking in class, you’d think she was always happy and carefree. But, if you saw Chelsea walk into her ballet class, you’d see a whole new girl.

For some reason, Chelsea got nervous when dance class rolled around. She didn’t know why and didn’t want to quit because she loved dancing…and had been doing it since she was three. But for the last few months she’d become so nervous-everyone was improving it seemed, except for her. Chelsea’s body started feeling stiff and her feet felt like lead. She was clumsy and her dancing wasn’t smooth at all. Even stretching was hard for her…she felt as if her muscles were too short for her body.

Chelsea wasn’t sure what to do but she knew that she didn’t want to keep going to class if it was going to be like this. Was it time to quit doing something she loved?

This may sound confusing but it’s really easy. Before I tell you how to do, let me share a little brain secret. Your brain if full of little paths, like roads, that are formed whenever you do something or think something. So, let’s say you eat 10 hot dogs and then you throw up. Well, you created a path. So then, the next time you eat a hot dog, your brain will return to the path that goes with hot dogs. Along that path is also throwing up. So, now, when you think hot dogs you also think throwing up. And when you think throwing up, you think hot dogs. And each time you think those thoughts, the path becomes stronger…kind of like putting new cement on the road so it’s stronger.

The cool thing about these paths is that we can purposely create paths that help us. That is what Create a Feeling is all about. We’re going to connect a simple action (like making a fist or curling your toes) with positive, confident thoughts. That way, you’ve created a path. And you know that positive, confident thoughts create positive, confident feelings. So, when you need those positive, confident feelings, you’ll be able to do a simple action that is connected to those good thoughts and BAM, positive, confident feelings come along.

Let’s Rewind and Replay Chelsea’s dance problem and see if Create a Feeling can help her out…

If you saw Chelsea playing with her brothers or talking in class, you’d think she was always happy and carefree. But, if you saw Chelsea walk into her ballet class, you’d see a whole new girl.

For some reason, Chelsea got nervous when dance class rolled around. She didn’t know why and didn’t want to quit because she loved dancing…and had been doing it since she was three. But for the last few months she’d become so nervous in class that she could barely move.

Chelsea wasn’t sure what to do but she knew that she didn’t want to keep going to class if it was going to be like this. She needed to find a way to start enjoying dance class again.

She decided to get her brain to help her find a way to get her confidence and joy back. She decided to create a path. First, she came up with a small action. She decided she would take a deep breath in and slowly let it out. At the same time she thought of her past dance recitals. She remembered how comfortable her body felt dancing, how loud the clapping was when she bowed, how her legs moved to the music.

She practiced taking a deep breath in and slowly exhaling while thinking these positive thoughts a few times everyday.

By the time dance class rolled around, Chelsea was ready. When she felt her body start to freeze up at the dance studio doors, Chelsea took a deep breath. Automatically, her body relaxed and the confident, positive feelings of past recitals flooded her body. Chelsea smiled; she’d created a path that would help her look forward to dancing again!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The doors will close on the Inner Dance of Success 3 – month coaching program to create a healthier you…. through changing your body/brain connection to diet and exercise.

Email me at Deborah@thebodyseries.com if you’d like more information. I only sent information to the people who took the survey and left their email address for me to contact them – but if you want to learn more about it – and didn’t fill out the survey– act fast and email me – because the program will close on midnight, Monday, February 1st. That’s tomorrow!!

Warmest regards,
Deborah Vogel

Training for splits

Training For Splits

#1: I have my splits, but they aren’t straight (my hips aren’t straight). I’m wondering; is it necessary for your hips to be straight in the splits to be able to do good kicks and stuff? Or is it okay to not have straight hips in ballet?
Thanks!!! Talya

#2: I am a professional ballroom dancer and teacher who primarily competes in West Coast Swing. I have been working for over a year now to be able to do a split. The type of split I’m referring to is either left leg in front with right leg going back or vice versa. I find that I can get down quite far but there is still about two inches between the floor and me. Can you suggest exercises or stretches that will enable me to do a full split? I maintain a daily Pilates and yoga practice so I’m quite flexible.
I’ve been reading your newsletter for quite some time now and really enjoy it. Thank you, Ellany

#3: What are some good stretches for a good or high extension and leaps? My splits are fine but my extensions and leaps (jete) need some work.
Please help! La Precious

Deb’s Answer:
These three questions are speaking to the same issue of flexibility versus strength, and so I put them together. For Ellany, she is missing the last few inches of her splits, and for La Precious she has her splits, but needs work on her leaps and extensions. Talya’s question fits right in because of the misconception that you can keep your hips square doing the splits – which you can’t.

Let’s start first talk about square hips. Keeping your pelvis facing forward while going into the splits is a focus. The picture of a flexible gymnast in the splits has the back leg more parallel than what a dancer has in arabesque or a split leap. The dancer is working towards a turned out (and high) back leg which requires good front of the hip flexibility to allow the leg to go behind. The more you can keep the pelvis square – or facing forward – the easier it is to determine the path for the two legs when they open into the splits – certainly important if you are working on a balance beam, but slightly less so in the dance class. So Talya, the short answer to your question is it okay not to have square hips in ballet is yes – and – when you are doing battements or splits leaps focus your efforts on keep the pelvis facing forward – don’t get discouraged if you can’t maintain a perfectly square pelvis – and continue your stretching.

Now let’s talk some about flexibility. Since Ellany does yoga and Pilates on a regular basis I know that she is stretching regularly. The most basic analysis of the splits are that the front let have a strong stretch happening in the hamstrings and buttock muscles, while the back leg is stretching the front of the hip. The front leg should have the knee facing the ceiling and the back leg will either have the knee facing down to the ground, which stretches the hip flexors more or the knee facing to the side, which stretches the inner thigh muscles more.

I would have you first see what the natural inclination of your back leg is as you go down into the splits. Do you want to turn your leg out? Then focus on increasing and deepening your hip flexor stretches. Does your leg stay nicely behind and facing the floor? In which case, focus for a while on increasing the flexibility of your adductor, or inner thigh muscles.

The more pitched forward your pelvis is when you are going down in the splits, the more likely the hip flexors are keeping you off the ground. That may also give you a clue whether it is the hip flexors (usually the iliopsoas) or inner thigh muscles.

The last question I would ask of you is where do you feel the resistance to deepening the splits? If you don’t feel much muscular resistance to the lowering in the splits, then you might look at having some myofascial massage work done to release tightness in other areas along the front or back line that may be getting in your way.

With LaPrecious feeling that she has her flexibility and splits down, but unable to make her leaps more spectacular, that may be a deficiency in strength. More often I see weakness in the hip extensors (hamstrings) over the hip flexors (quads). Try lifting your back leg up more quickly sometimes makes a difference. Dancers are often overly focused on the front leg and lifting it u p high. The back leg is doing a very fast battement as soon as it pushes off (as in a grand jeté).

If your back leg doesn’t get as high as you’d like in your leaps, then focus on strengthening the extensors of the hip, the hamstrings and gluteal muscles.
You can do that by placing a small weight on one leg and doing back tendus or dégagés. You could also use a theraband and do the same thing by looping it around your foot and a support such as a heavy chair or sturdy pole or column.

Increasing your strength or your flexibility doesn’t happen overnight and consistency is key.

Increasing Flexibility

Greetings!
Hope everyone is keeping warm! One quick announcement before we get into the newsletter.

I have created two hip flexibility assessment forms. One is a form that you can duplicate (in case you want to test your students) and mark your results down, and the second document explains how to test for your turnout, hamstring flexibility as well as iliopsoas, quadriceps and ITB flexibility.

I will send you these 2 forms in exchange for a product testimonial. I would like to post on my website more specific testimonials about how you have used any of my products – or a specific aha or insight that was gained through a piece of information. (Which could include information you have received from the Dancing Smart Newsletter) For example, writing your story of how your arabesque improved with doing an exercise you learned from me – or how you put the anatomical pieces together on an issue that you were struggling with.

Send your testimonial to Deborah@thebodyseries.com, and I will send you the 2 forms as a thank you. I will be posting the testimonials on my website and will identify you by your first name only – or initials, whatever you feel most comfortable with. If you would like to identify your city and state or studio (if you are a teacher) that’s fine too, just let me know.

Thank you! And now to the newsletter…

Increasing Flexibility

In this newsletter I want to talk about flexibility in general and then specifically stretching your hamstrings.

Most dancers think of flexibility as the length of muscles and the range of motion they can create at a joint. This is what gives the dancer that beautiful line of an arabesque or the height of a développé.

Flexibility needs to be balanced with strength in order to be able to execute all those beautiful dance moves – so ultimately dancers are working towards the best muscle tone they can have – which is a muscle that is both flexible and strong.

I have dancers tell me they are stretching consistently and still not feeling like they are gaining flexibility. What else can influence your flexibility?

One answer is fascia. I’ve talked about in many previous newsletters how fascia is connective tissue. There are different layers of fascia but the anyone who has bought chicken breasts at the grocery store and then trimmed it has seen the whitish sheet of tissue covering the meat (which is the chicken’s muscle) This fascia helps to keep the muscles divided and protected. Sometimes this fascia can get knotted or adhere to other tissue which influences the whole fascial band and can create pain or challenges to your flexibility. This is where myofascial massage is useful. Myofascial means fascia related to the muscles and it is a different type of massage than just deep tissue. The focus is on releasing pulls and tensions specifically in the fascia.

There are sheets of fascia throughout your body. Tom Meyers has written a fantastic book called Anatomy Trains that goes into great detail about all the different lines of fascia. The fascial line I’d like you to look at today is the posterior back line. You can look at a picture of the muscles that are connected by this one fascial line by going to (cut and paste into a new tab or page of your browser – so you can keep reading!)

http://www.structuralwisdom.com/Anatomy_Train_Lines.html

When you look at the second image, which is the superficial back line you can see that the muscles at the bottom of the feet are connected to the calf muscles, then hamstrings, then up the back all the way onto the head!

Now it may make more sense that if you have a dancer who perhaps is a teenager, awkward about their posture, slumping slightly with a forward head – that the tightness in the fascia of her neck might influence her hamstring flexibility! Conversely, I’ve had dancers who work SO hard at standing up straight that they give themselves a stiffened spine – tightening the fascia in that area – which can influence their hamstring or calf flexibility! We aren’t trained to think of these other areas away from our intended stretching as impediments to our flexibility – but they might be.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we all go out and find a qualified myofascial massage therapist (although that wouldn’t be a bad idea☺), what I am suggesting is that if you aren’t getting the results that you want from your stretching you need to look at other areas of the body that are tight that may be influencing your muscles.

For example, let’s talk about hamstrings. For years now I have been introducing pinkie ball work to my students. Before I let them put the pinkie ball under their hamstrings to loosen them up I ask them to stand up, roll all the way over easily and compare how the two hamstrings feel. If one feels tighter, then they put the pinkie ball underneath their foot as they are standing and roll their foot on the pinkie ball. They are releasing the plantar fascia and massage the muscles of the feet. We do this only for a minute or two and then I have them roll back over to see how their hamstrings feel.

Typically, 75% of the students say that they felt the hamstring loosen up on the side they used the pinkie ball on! That’s pretty exciting! Then I go into talking about how they have a fascial band that goes from the bottom of their foot up to their head. (Remember the diagram?)

You could also try releasing the fascia closer to the top of the line. Round forward again so you can sense the difference in tension between your 2 legs. Let’s say your right hamstrings or calf felt tighter. Stand back up and take your left hand and place your fingers on the right side of your neck and massage gently where the muscles meet the base of the head as well as along the right side of the neck down to your right shoulder. Spend 30 seconds to a minute gently massaging this area. It should feel good – if it doesn’t you’re probably massage too hard! Now round back over again and see if you feel a difference in your legs.

If you do – then it is worth making time for either pinkie ball work or some other form of self-massage and then evaluating how your flexibility is improving with this additional focus. I’m not saying to stop doing more traditional hamstring or calf stretching – but if your stretching isn’t giving you the results you want, it’s useful to try a few other ways to see if your results change.

After all – you are smart dancers….

Signing off from another Dancing Smart Newsletter!

Warm regards,

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”