Deep states of relaxation have many benefits for dancers who are physically active and work hard each day. Special relaxation methods, like meditation practices and guided imagery have been proven to show improvements in mood, memory, concentration, coordination and positive outlook. These changes are most evident by those who practice relaxation methods on a regular basis. As with dance, or any type of learning, the more relaxation is practiced over time, the greater the gains.
Neuro-science can now identify specific alterations in the brain's circuitry that relates to greater self awareness, and an ability to soothe emotional irritability.
Guided imagery techniques do more than help dancers relax—they also help individuals become more receptive to and in control of their emotional lives. In this way self awareness and self control promote more creativity in movement and performance expression.
I have taught guided imagery and other psychological techniques to dancers for more 10 years. These practices are included in the Wellness Program with The New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble (NJDTE), and a special elective course at Montclair State University dance department. I encourage dance students to make their own audio recordings to help increase focus in areas that are important to themselves and their dancing.
Here’s a sample guided imagery exercise that I encourage you to try in a quiet place when you have a few moments to your self. Ideally you are sitting in a comfortable position, spine lifted and feet evenly resting on the floor. You can enhance the effects of relaxation breathing with your favorite scents. Enjoy lavender essential oil or a lightly fragrant candle. Our sense of smell has an immediate impact on the central emotional part of the brain that transforms our mood.
Breathe in through your nostrils for 4 counts, take a slight pause, then exhale through your mouth for 8 counts with a slightly longer pause. Sense the warming effects of the blood rich lining of your nostrils. Let your dancing breath be rhythmic and easy. Become fascinated by the flow of energy and breath through your body. Engage with your ability to send warmth and energy through your entire body. Feel the bridge of your nose widening. The powerful muscles of your jaw soften. Continue with your easy dancing breath. Breathe in through your nostrils for 4 counts, take a slight pause, then exhale through your mouth for 8 counts with a slightly longer pause. Continue with this pattern of breathing. Sustain this moment of deep relaxation.
When you have completed this guided imagery exercise, take a moment to file into your memory the feelings of relaxation. You may tap into these whenever you wish. Try to remember in as much detail as possible the feelings, sensations and imagery involved in these moments of relaxation. File them away for a time you are starting to get stressed out. Preemptive relaxation goes a long way to supporting you emotional well being. Practice once a day and see how you feel after a week. Maybe you will notice more flow in your dancing, and better concentration learning steps. Or maybe you will just have an easier time relaxing. That's a good thing!
Harlene Goldschmidt is a dance psychologist and performance consultant.