Wellness via Dance

 A year ago AD4L was launched as a mode of promoting the connection between the science behind the movement (from the studies of sport & dance science) and dance teachers, students, and parents.    To further broaden the scope of health & wellness in relationship to dance the ‘tagline’ for AD4L is being updated to the following:

“Promoting health & wellness in, and through, dance.”

 

 Why the change?

Health & Wellness is no longer solely related to nutrition and how often one works out at the gym.  With the current health trends we, as educators (classroom & studio alike), need to (must) rethink how and what we promote as physical activity.

Presenting at a recent arts in education conference health & wellness panel I concluded my presentation feeling that I hadn’t shared my views specifically on how and why dance can be a method of promoting physical activity in today’s youth.

 

(this is me, getting up on my soapbox…bear with me)

 

In this teachers view, dance is one of the most malleable, flexible teaching tools available.  We have more dance classes and performing arts programs in our schools now than ever before; Preparing performances and assemblies, we also have more of these groups participating in competitions & festivals.  More provinces also have specific dance curriculum within both arts and physical education.  Isn’t that enough?

Perhaps we are limiting ourselves, and the discipline of dance.  We tend to hold dance within the boundaries of the discipline and the starkness of the studio & space setting, ultimately excluding those with less movement experience and natural ability for dance.

Everyone can connect to dance in its most basic form and structure – space, body, effort, & relationship awareness.  The beauty of approaching dance from this perspective is that it can be applied to virtually any subject– math, history, science, english/literacy, geography, physical education, music, etc.   Most importantly – this perspective of dance is also extremely adaptable to individual needs and abilities.

The recent addition of programming to AD4L (Dance-Ability programs) is based on this notion.  Taking these concepts of movement and wrapping them around more formal dance disciplines to create a dance environment which can be molded to the needs of the individual and the group.

What I wanted to say to the educators at the arts conference (gotta love hindsight)…

Let’s step away from the notion of [the joy of] dance being held captive within the boundaries and limits of the formal dance disciplines, stark studios and spaces, and bring dance [movement] into our everyday teaching.  take a moment to explore lessons through movement and encourage students to incorporate music & movement in their presentations.   Avoid leaving the task entirely up to the music & dance teachers.  Dance (& creativity) teaches students how to take a risk, to put all of your effort, creativity, and thought into a movement/performance.   Challenging ourselves as educators to bring a movement perspective to our teaching will not only bring a new dimension of learning to students, but will also provide our youth with a new lens to view the benefits of physical activity for daily life.

 

Here are some example of how using movement  more actively in our classroom teaching can affect a child’s health and perspective on wellness.

Let’s look at the dimensions of health:

 Physical:  On a physiological level, movement = increase in endorphins (which make us feel good & gives an energy boost).  When we move we take in more oxygen (energizing our blood and therefore the brain as well).  For youngsters, often this activity reinforces and creates more opportunity to develop the crucial psychomotor skills necessary to participate in all forms of physical activity (for life!).

 Emotional:   See point regarding endorphins above… increasing our energy puts us in a more positive mindset.  Dance & movement in a less formal setting reinforces positive, healthy, respectful ways to express our emotions.   Confidence and self-worth increase when we repeat this activity.

 Spiritual:  Regardless of your belief system, when we feel better about ourselves we see our world in a more positive light.  When we make this action part of our daily lives we instill this positive perspective throughout the whole of our lives – at home and at school.

 Intellectual:  Fostering active learning through the creative arts provides problem-solving (critical thinking!) challenges for students (& teachers).    Challenging our cognitive skills and encouraging the development of critical thinking.

 Social:  Children & youth of all abilities moving together, learning together, presents a myriad of social learning opportunities.  Learning to work together as a team,  being respectful of everyone’s ideas & stories, giving each participant the opportunity to contribute to the final product – all worthwhile and important social skills.

 Occupational:   Essentially being a student (at every age) is a form of occupation.  We prepare for it and spend a large part of our day doing work that is delegated to us by our teachers.  Making it an active experience makes the process much more enjoyable, and therefore going to ‘work’ is a more pleasant and enjoyable part of our day.

Book Review: Autism Everyday

Alyson Beytien is an Autism Consultant and the mother of 3 boys who are all on the autism spectrum. In other words, she is not only an ‘expert’, but a superwoman!  An autism specialist, Ms. Beytien’s collection of essays (originally published in Autism Spectrum Quarterly magazine) give parents and teachers practical strategies for living with, and teaching, children with autism.

As with all diagnoses, those diagnosed with autism range from low to high functioning levels, and absolutely every variation in between. An informative and insightful read, Ms. Beytien broaches the subject with humour and anecdotes from her family’s daily routines and challenges.  From her son’s obsession with trains to the decision to send one of their sons away to school, she shares the emotional roller coaster that she and her husband ride daily.

A fairly quick read (thank you!), Beytien avoids unending medical jargon and includes short lists of practical strategies at the end of each chapter.   Broaching the subject from the perspective of the parent, Beytien  shares her families daily life challenges with the reader, giving us not only her professional insight but (more importantly) her insight as  parent of 3 boys living on the spectrum.

Whether you have a child diagnosed with Autism, or you work with children who live with autism, this book is essential for your personal reference library.   For this teacher, Beytien has passed on some golden strategies that I am excited to try in my classes and has given me a deeper insight into the daily challenges of families experiencing Autism alongside their children.

Author:   Jacqui Davidson

Happy Anniversary!

In celebration of the one year anniversary of AD4L, the September Newsletter is here!   The format has been changed slightly – the ISSUU format is very slick and allows for easy viewing and sharing.

An archive of past newsletters has been posted on our Facebook page – have a look HERE.

And, here is a sample of what is in the September 2012 newsletter – SAMPLE.

If you would like to receive our bi-monthly newsletter, follow this LINK to sign up today!

 

 

 

 

Parents and the first day of Dance class

Health and Wellness in dance encompasses a myriad of subjects, today let’s look at ways to make that first day of dance class a positive experience for your child.   In my experience, often times how a parent handles that first day (particularly with young students or when starting at a new school) has a great impact on how the child copes within a new environment, or with a new teacher.

 

The first day of dance class is filled with much excitement, particularly for the youngest students coming into our studios.  Many nerves often accompany the young dancers, and their parents as well!   In some areas it is common to have a ‘viewing window’ for parents so they can sit and observe the class from outside the studio.   And, in others it is common that the studio/teacher asks the parents to wait outside during the class.

Having taught in both situations experience has demonstrated that students are much better off if they come into the class on their own starting from the beginning of the very first class.   Parents, on the other hand, are sometimes not so happy with this decision.

To the Teachers:

It is helpful to provide a time at the END of class (the last 10-15 min.) for the parents to come into the studio and sit with their child (ages 3-8yrs).   This allows you time to get to know your students and set the ground rules/boundaries for your class, AND (perhaps most importantly) gives you the time to address the parents and explain the ground rules and boundaries to them as well.   If you want parents to back you up when it comes to discipline or issues that arise in class,  taking the time to address the parents directly is incredibly helpful.  This also allows you to properly introduce yourself (assistants & accompanists) to the parents and give them a bit of insight into your experience  (aka…building trust between teacher and parent).

To the Parents:

More often than not, you are much more nervous about your child’s first dance class than your child is themselves.   Here are a few general guidelines to follow on that exciting, first day which will help to ease anxiety for all involved:

1.  Ensure that you have the appropriate attire for your child.  Every dance school usually has specific requirements – the last thing you want is for your child to feel left out on the first day because they do not have the correct attire.   Dress code is the same as a uniform that would be worn for sports – if your child is dressed in the wrong uniform they will feel it when they go onto the ice being the only one dressed differently.   This is part of the tradition and history of dance, creates a uniform look amongst the students, and fosters a feeling of unity within the group.

Here is a great blog post from The Healthy Dancer blog about why dress code is so important:  Dress Code

2.   Ensure that your child’s hair is secure.   Again, every school has their requirements when it comes to hair.   Is a bun required?  Ponytail?  Some general guidelines –  hair should always be secured off of the face so that it does not fall out during class (distracting your child).   Boys with long hair should also pull hair back into a ponytail.  All of these options lengthen the line of the neck and allow the teacher to be able to see the alignment of the spine from the lumbar region (lower back) through to the cervical region (neck)

Here is a link to an easy to follow bun making lesson on YouTube:   Bun-making Tutorial

 3.  ARRIVE EARLY.  Especially on day one, whether you are going to a new dance school or not.  Rushing adds stress to both your experience and, most importantly, your child’s experience.

4.  The Pre-Class Bathroom Stop.   Whether they need to or not, take a moment to take care of this need beforehand.  Yes, some will need to go during class, but we do want to try to work towards not having to go during class time.  And on day one, particularly with 3-6 yr olds, if one has to go during class there is sure to be a revolving door between the studio and bathroom that day as every student in the class suddenly has to go.

5.  Viewing Windows.  Please, please, please, avoid being the parent that waves constantly at their child or tries to scold them via miming gestures during the class.   First, this is very distracting for the entire class.  Second, this is completely embarrassing for your child ( My apologies if anyone is offended…but its true!).

6.  If the teacher asks you to wait outside the studio, please do so.  Again, making your way into the class (barging in) right off the hop, in my experience,  is not going to help ease your child into the studio environment – it actually makes the process much more difficult.   Generally the child will then expect the parent to be in the class with them the following week (and weeks to come).

7. EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.  If your child has any behavioural or attention issues, injuries or surgeries they are recovering from, or physical impairments of any kind – take a moment at the end of the class to SHARE THIS WITH THE TEACHER.   Too many times have teachers been left ‘out of the loop’ by well-meaning parents who do not want their child to be ‘labeled’ by the teacher.  This is understandable, but the teacher cannot provide the best environment for your child’s experience if they do not know your child’s story.

8.  If there is a place for you to sit and relax at the studio, take the time to do this on day one.  You will have a chance to meet a few parents, check out the surroundings, and ensure that you are there precisely when your child comes out of class ready to tell you what they learned!

Wishing you a wonderful start to the dance season!

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

 

Teaching Tip: The Inclusive Dance Class

Life can go on now, the 2012 Olympics have come to a close!

One young man stood out during these games.  Though he didn’t win any medals for his country, he garnered something much more valuable – the respect of his fellow athletes, and a roar of support from the packed athletic stadium.   He will always be known as the young man who had the courage to step up and break down the barriers created within the International Olympic Committee, becoming the first Paralympic Athlete to compete in both the Olympics and the Paralympics.

Oscar Pistorius.

 Today’s post is a continuation of a post from early July on the inclusive dance setting, so it seems appropriate to include a quote from Mr. Pistorius (or rather, his mom).

 

“You are not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”    

 — Oscar Pistorius, 2012 Olympian and Paralympian, double amputee since childhood.

Here are a few tips for working with the child/teen/adult students who live with different abilities…but then, we all have different, unique abilities!

  • Get to know your student.    Know that the diagnoses given by doctors does not give you much insight into the behavior of the individual or the persistence and patience of the individual with themselves and within the label.
  • Observe and try a few different approaches.  Just like you would with any other student!  You may very well be blown away by how able your student truly is!
  • Communication is key.   With the family/parents, with the student, and your class.   Children are smart – they are aware of the differences between themselves and others, often times they don’t understand why the student acts differently or has different needs than themselves.   Talk to the class and explain it in a way that is age appropriate.  [TEACHABLE MOMENT!  Here we can teach our students compassion and understanding in dance…].  NOTE:   Ask the parents if they would like to be involved in this process – often they have very effective ways of explaining their childs’ differences to other children.
  • Modify your expectations (if needed).   Teaching a child who has different abilities can be frustrating if you expect them to learn in the same way or at the same speed as the rest of your class.  By modifying your expectations you can alleviate your frustration as well as the frustrations of the student and the class.
  • Talk to the student.   Regardless of the age of the individual – when issues arise in class (as you would with any other student) talk to them directly and in the presence of the parent (so they can support your decisions and approach).
  • Follow the students’ lead –  let them guide you as to whether or not a concept/movement is too much for them.    Again, take the time to observe.
  • Research.   Do your research.   Local organizations have access to current research as well as contacts within the community that can give you insight into specific disabilities.  Many structured forms of activity are offered for people with different abilities –  call, ask questions, find out how they adapt movement and activity.    The world of sport is light years ahead of the dance world in this area – contact your local sporting organizations to see if there are any paralympic events happening in your area.  Check out this excellent resource as well – Alphabet Kids!
  • Patience.   Patience.  Patience.   It may take you awhile to figure out how  best to work with the student – be patient with both yourself and the student.  The learning process might take longer, and/or the changes may be subtle to everyone but you and the parent.  But when you get there,  to that moment of achievement — its awesome!
  • Acknowledge the baby steps along the way (as with any student).  Acknowledgement builds confidence and self-esteem, which in turn motivates the student to continue with positive behavior/focus/etc.  It can be something as simple as a subtle behaviour change, or a subtle change in a range of motion — acknowledge acknowledge acknowledge!

Remember that  disabilities are as unique as the person that has been diagnosed.   There is no one cut and dry way to teach an individual living with a disability – whether the diagnosis is intellectual/cognitive, physical, or neurological.   You can count on one thing for sure – it will surely be a teaching adventure!  That said, this list is a good place to begin the journey.

Bravo Mr Pistorius, Bravo!

 

 

Author:   Jacqui Davidson 

Why Dance Matters…

Have you joined the movement?   Why Dance Matters…is an exciting, brilliant movement happening on the internet.   Take a moment to check it out and share your thought and feelings on why dance matters to you.

First, how much do we love that Nichelle from Dance Advantage has taken this initiative? Brilliant!

So, here we go!

Why Dance Matters…

1.  Dance was the one thing above all else that truly spoke to me.   I finally felt that I had ‘found the words’ and was understood.

2.  When I have the rare occasion to be  a student today I find that dance guides me back into living in the moment, in tandem with the music and the movement.

3.  Dance, and teaching dance, gives me absolute joy!

4.  There is an unspeakable beauty in giving my students the tools they need to achieve in dance, and then watching them use those tools and make connections to their physical self that they had never experienced before.

5.  Living a life in dance means that you are a life long learner.  Whether than means exploring new avenues in academics, learning from new teachers, or experiencing new perspectives through performance – we are learning and absorbing constantly.

6.  Dance quickly became part of who I was as a teenager, and is has remained part of me throughout this life.  My career has blossomed in ways that I had never imagined – because of dance.

7.  Hearing my students, of all ages, express how much they love dance is the best gift I could ever receive!  Best moments, ever.

8.  Finally, Dance matters because it is a celebration of the human spirit.  Regardless of age, whether in a studio, stage, backyard, living room, club or in a classroom – it is an expression of joy and will lift us up into joy!

 

I hope that you’ll take a moment to check out the movement – on Facebook, twitter, and on the Dance Advantage Blog.

Wishing you wellness in dance, and life!

Every-body’s got the Ability!

Ellie
[see note below to find out more!]

 

This writer would like to believe that we live in a time where inclusion and accessibility is part of our normal, everyday existence.    Wouldn’t that be wonderful?   The reality, unfortunately, is that those who live with disability still face a lack of awareness, accessibility, and even a lack of willingness include, throughout our society.

 

Thankfully the dance world has been breaking some of those barriers!

(can I hear a go team go?!)

 

Today is specifically about the inclusive dance studio setting.   Over the duration of my career  there are more and more children diagnosed disabilities coming into our dance classes every year.   Diagnoses have  included Down’s syndrome, developmental delays, hearing impairments, ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Asperger Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy and other neurological disorders as well.

Since working with this exceptional population of dancers, colleagues have asked me what the best teaching practices are for these students.

The short answer?  Adapt.  Be willing to adapt both movement and expectation, if needed.

The long answer?  Teaching is teaching.  Whether a student lives with our without disability, regardless of physical facility of the individual,  it comes down to this – we are all human whether we walk, roll, speak, or use a keyboard to speak (or whatever!).  We all need encouragement and support, and we all can move within our own physical ability, therefore every-body can participate in and benefit from experiencing dance.

Teaching is a process, learning is a process.

It is key to BELIEVE  that all students are able to ACHIEVE, in dance!   In my opinion it is only the limits (stereotypes, assumptions, and fear) that the non-disabled world places on those with different abilities that prevents them from exploring the world of dance.   The notion of modifying expectations is key;  it may take longer for a differently abled student to learn a movement or to catch the subtleties in the music, but that only means that it may be a longer process.   And after all, at the core of dance training is the process of learning ~ which then takes us to the performance!

Stay tuned for more posts focusing on dance and disability ~ teaching tips, teaching challenges, and more!

 

Many thanks to Ellie’s mom and dad for letting providing this photo of her at her dance recital.   Can you tell what label Ellie has been given?   Ellie has Cerebral Palsy – she uses a walker on a daily basis and her parents have a special wheel chair for her as well, there are so many challenges that they face together – and do it with tremendous grace.    You can see one of Ellie’s teachers there behind her, giving her a helping hand.  The best part of this photo?   The smile on this child’s face – tapping alongside her dance friends, as excited as any other little girl to wear that polka dot costume and bows in her hair, dancing for her family and friends.   Joy. Joy . Joy.

 

Looking for more information on the different diagnoses of disabilities?   Have a read through our  book review of Alphabet Dance – an excellent resource for teachers!

 

Seeking a Healthy Dance Environment for Your Child

As summer unfolds many parents, children, and teens are looking into dance schools for next years study. Maybe dance is a new adventure for your child, or maybe you are looking for a new place for daughter/son to continue the adventure.

In this age of reality television we’ve seen an increase in the number of dance related television shows. Its concerning to see the parents portrayed on these shows as being accepting of negative teaching situations, and creates some pretty negative stereotypes of dance schools and teachers. Seek a positive environment for your child’s dance training, trust your instincts, and be a proactive consumer!

In an effort to step beyond the stereotypes, let’s look at some proactive steps in selecting the best dance school for your child’s/your training.

Before anything else, consider what type of schedule would work best for you/your child and how much time your child, and your family, is willing to commit to their dance training. Also consider how much of an investment you are willing to make in your time and finances.

  • Ask questions.
    • Once you have decided on your short list of schools, call or visit those schools and ask questions. Are your teachers trained? What is the maximum number of students in your classes? Are there assistants in larger classes (especially in preschool classes)?
  • Mission/mandate of the school.
    • Many businesses have a mandate or mission that is set forth by CEO’s or owners, the same hold true for dance schools. What is the mission or purpose of the school? To educate? To provide competitive performance opportunities? To nurture the love of dance? Most importantly, does the mission/purpose of the school fit your principles and expectations?
  • Trained teachers.
    • Remember that there are no requirements that dance teachers must have training to teach. That said, there are many ways that teachers can attain training and even certification in teaching dance. Look into whether or not the teachers at this new school are trained – through a dance organization, a formal syllabus, or even a university dance program. If the school trains their own teachers, how long is the training process? Do they go through an objective evaluation before taking on their own classes? When reading a teachers’ biography look for continued professional development specific to teaching (eg. taking courses in child development, anatomy, teachers workshops, etc.).
  • Ask about curriculum.
    • There are existing curricula/syllabus in most dance forms. Though a school may not follow a specific syllabus specifically, perhaps they have structured their programming on the foundations of a specific syllabus. In general terms a syllabus is a codified method of teaching – often accompanied by an exam or evaluation process of some form. Does it sound like the material is age appropriate? Do teachers work to gradually accelerate the material according to the developmental level of the group? Is the readiness of the individual taken into consideration?
  • Are students automatically moved on to the next level the following year?
    • Every parent wants his or her child to progress to the next level each year. But, if a school is willing to hold a child back in a level this shows that there is a standard expected at each level and that observation and assessment are happening on some level. If everyone moves on regardless of an individuals’ readiness (strengths/weaknesses/ability), does the child truly benefit?
  • Performances.
    • How many performances is your child required to participate in? Are there additional costume and rehearsal costs required for your child’s participation in these performances?  What is the time commitment expected when preparing for these performances?
  • Visit the school and observe the studio environment.
    •  Are the studios well-lit and incorporate some natural light? Temperature controlled? Are the floors ‘sprung floors’ (raised up off of cement) to avoid excessive impact to the joints and lower body? Is recorded music used for all classes? If so, do the ballet students have the opportunity to have an accompanist play for their class a few times a year?
  • Communication.
    • How does the school communicate with parents (eg. emailed newsletters/handouts, bulletin board, etc.)?   Can parents speak directly to the teachers after class or request a phone call?
  • Safety.
    • Are measures taken to ensure student safety in the building itself (eg. fire drills, emergency alarms,) and in the studio (eg. barres are sturdy/secure, floors are cleaned regularly, floors are free of debris, pianos are secure and on a stable surface)? Does the staff have first aid and CPR training? Are emergency procedures in place?
  • Student Contracts/Agreements.
    • Within any given dance community schools are becoming quite competitive, some schools have students and parents sign a contract which indicates that students enrolled in their programs are not ‘allowed’ to dance with other dance schools in the immediate area or within the city, must adhere to specific behaviour expectations, or participate in specific competitions or performances. Again, ask questions:  Is my child expected to participate in competitive performances? Are there fees that will be incurred later in the year? Can you withdraw your child and expect a refund of the remainder of tuition fees? Is there an expectation of student behavior and are there consequences to negative behaviours?  Be sure to read the fine print so you know the level of commitment expected of you/your child.

 

For more senior and advanced dance students (teens) seeking to build a career in dance: Find out if the school is able to guide you forward in an objective manner.
Do they encourage their students to stay at their school?
Do they support students who wish to go away to summer programs?
Does the staff/director have knowledge of secondary training programs available to graduating students (in both performing and teaching)?

Links to more information:

 

 

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Ahhhhh…soothe body and mind with Massage Therapy.

Need a boost during this hectic performance and competition season?  Book a massage with a registered massage therapist to help muscles recover from injury and performance, increase your feeling of well-being, and release tension.    Registered massage therapist Tracie Blair gives us an introduction into the benefits of massage and its influence on our nervous system.

 

We all know human touch is emotionally and physically healing.

While we’re quick to recognize this simple truth, most of us would be hard pressed to explain how or why touch can be so beneficial.  So, in the spirit of exploration, let’s take a few moments to learn what makes massage therapy so effective.

In general, when soft tissue is manipulated, beneficial effects occur both directly at the local area, and indirectly, throughout the entire body and its systems. These indirect effects are delivered through signals that are sent via the body’s nervous system.  These powerful signals help heal damaged muscle, stimulate circulation, clear waste products via the lymphatic system, boost the immune system and reduce pain and tension.

But we’re not done yet.

Reduction of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression have been shown to be among the most beneficial effects of massage therapy.  Not only is massage therapy beneficial in alleviating the physiological effects of these chronic conditions, but studies have shown it improves mental alertness and may enhance feelings of wellbeing by stimulating the release of endorphins (natural painkillers and mood elevators) and reducing levels of certain stress hormones.

The body’s nervous system has two main divisions — the Central Nervous System (the brain and spinal cord) and the Peripheral Nervous System. Winding its way throughout the body, the Peripheral Nervous System’s function is to carry messages to and from the Central Nervous System.  One key component of the Peripheral Nervous System is the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS governs the body’s reaction to stress through the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).

The Sympathetic Nervous System generates the “fight or flight” response, the body’s mechanism for coping with threat, danger or stress. When this response is mobilized, we can experience an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased respiratory rate and increased muscle tension as the body prepares to react.  Conversely, the Parasympathetic Nervous System settles the body, conserves energy and facilitates healing. It is our very own rest and repair system.

With this knowledge and an understanding of what ails you, a trained remedial massage therapist will apply specific massage techniques designed to either relax or stimulate the autonomic nervous system. These techniques will target either the parasympathetic nervous system (to produce relaxing effects) or the sympathetic nervous system (to produce stimulating effects).

Massage can decrease heart rate, decrease blood pressure, and decrease muscle tension. Massage decreases SNS activity. Massage therapy plays a huge role in alleviation of stress and stress disorders.  By allowing a shift to the PNS or rest and repair system, massage therapy can facilitate healing, induce a feeling of calm, and promote well-being and general health.

In general, massage is believed to support healing, boost energy, reduce recovery time after an injury, ease pain and muscle tension, and enhance relaxation, mood, and well-being. It is useful for many musculoskeletal problems, such as low back pain, postural and muscle imbalances, and sprains and strains. Massage may also decrease swelling, alleviate sleep disorders, and improve self-image.

 

Author:  Tracie Blair  B.A., RMT, Dip Acup

 

 

 

 

 

Gasping for more?

 Are you able to take a true, full, deep, and cleansing breath?   Gasping for more?

In the April newsletter our contributors discussed the involuntary process  of breathing. Today I thought I’d touch base on how our postural alignment can negatively affect our ability to breathe effectively, and efficiently access the muscles of the abdomen.    A handy tool for helping students image (visualize) the release of the pressure of performance, anxiety, and expectation has also been included!

As discussed in an earlier post, postural alignment is key to the health of the dancer as well as efficient and effective technique in all dance forms.  It is also key to whether or not we are able to access the abdominal muscles and muscle of the diaphragm effectively as well.   Fortunately breathing is a completely involuntary process – so we don’t have to think about making it happen.  BUT we CAN change HOW we are breathing.

At the attachment point of our ribs to the spine a joint is made, its synovial in nature allowing the ribs to move slightly up and down – like a bucket handle, and slightly forward and up – like a pump.   In the image to the left, notice where the ribs are attached to the spine.   There are 12 pairs of ribs attached starting at the 8th vertebrae down to the 20th vertebrae – essentially a third of the spine that is involved in the process!    The lesson?  If the thoracic spine (where the ribs attach) has an altered alignment due to improper posture -the ribs will function in a less effective manner – ultimately affecting your ability to inhale and exhale deeply.  As Monique indicated in her April article – this then has a direct effect on how much oxygen we are able to take into our lungs, and therefore our blood stream.

So let’s look at posture a little closer.   Have a look at the image to the right, notice the mid-back (the thoracic spine).  Can you see how each posture will affect the function of the ribs?   Let’s look specifically at the Lumbar Lordosis, Thoracic Kyphosis and the Forward head positions.

Lumbar Lordosis:   The abdominal muscles are extended and often the shoulder begin to pull back as well — essentially bending the thoracic spine in opposition it’s  natural curve (slightly forward).   Here the abdominals are unable to effectively support the breath, and the ribs, though still moving, are unable to use the full range of motion of the thoracic vertebral joint.

Thoracic Kyphosis:  Here the shoulders are sliding forwards and the top of the pelvis is tipping back slightly – compressing the rib cage (and the lungs and diaphragm which are housed within the rib cage), shortening the front abdominals and waistline.  Often this posture is partnered with neck and shoulder pain.

Forward Head Position:   Here the chin pokes forward bringing the head forward of the neutral alignment (centre line of the body).  In opposition the thoracic spine pushes back and upwards, again compressing the chest and preventing the full inhalation of oxygen into the lungs.  This posture can also compress the organs within the abdomen (stomach & intestines in particular) and affect their efficiency as well.

More! More!

In the April Newsletter Pilates Instructor Trainer Monique gave us a quick tutorial on breathing.  Now let’s add a pressure releasing dimension to that exercise.

Checking in with your postural alignment, talk yourself/your students through the exercise –  on the inhalation imagine a kettle of water coming to a boil on the stove, now on the exhalation imagine the steam shooting out of the kettle – your exhalation is the release of that steam.  With each breath the pressure in your ‘kettle’ decreases so you can focus on the task at hand, allowing you to then bring your body more easily into alignment.

On the next breath focus on lengthening the spine by reaching the top of your head to the ceiling while also ‘feeling’ your tailbone lengthening to the floor. Encourage students (and yourself) to maintain this length as you move through your class/day.

 

Tip:  Set a daily posture reminder on your phone or ipad.  I suggest “Time to take a Break!  Stand up and realign your posture – now take a few deep breaths – maybe add a stretch or two.”

 

Author:  Jacqui Davidson