Addressing safe yoga practices

TaraMarie Perri discovered yoga early in her dance career, and her instructors were eager to teach a flexible body already suited for the practice. “I had some teachers who were excited about my ability to do anything, but they didn’t make sure I wasn’t setting myself up for a potential injury,” says Perri, who founded Mind Body Dancer, a dancer-friendly yoga method that has been implemented at Steps on Broadway, Dance New Amsterdam and Mark Morris Dance Center, all in New York.

As the practice of yoga becomes increasingly widespread, dancers flock to classes to improve upper-body strength, enhance overall fitness, calm the mind and rebalance the nervous system. But like any physical practice, yoga can be dangerous if not pursued correctly.

Susie Smith, physical therapist at the Colorado Ballet, says joint mobility injuries such as strains, sprains, tendonitis and pelvic misalignment are most common among dancers because of their hypermobile joints. To prevent these injuries from occurring during yoga, look for experienced instructors who have worked with dancers or athletes; these teachers tend to emphasize proper alignment without pushing the body.

Kathleen Hunt, yoga instructor and co-owner of Samadhi Yoga in Seattle, recommends coming to class with a “beginner’s mind,” regardless of age, strength or ability. Dancers must be responsible for their own safety, tuning in to their bodies to know when it’s appropriate to push a position or hold back. Smith adds that keeping muscles around joints slightly activated will maintain stability (instead of sinking or sitting into a pose).

An open mindset is the best way to ensure safety during practice. In dance, competition can be a healthy motivational tool, but it won’t be of benefit in yoga, where overexerting the body can result in injury. “For dancers especially, ego and physical achievement can be very intertwined,” says Hunt. Don’t be embarrassed to use props (straps, blocks and blankets) to achieve modified poses, which will provide the benefits of a stance without forcing joints, muscles and tendons to extremes they cannot manage.

Dancers who pursue yoga to help strengthen and rebuild after injury should get approved by their care provider. For acute injuries, seek out private lessons with a yoga instructor or therapist trained with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (iayt.org). Inform the yoga teacher so she can modify poses. “It’s important that the student trust the teacher enough to say, ‘Look, I have this injury or illness,’” says Perri, “because then they can really work with the student in a way that’s supportive.”

When practiced safely, yoga can strengthen, calm, inspire and even educate, helping dancers understand how their muscles and joints function. “What’s really exciting,” says Perri, “is when you work with somebody who’s overly mobile in their hips, back or knees, and they begin to understand how their muscular support works.” These revolutionary insights can be “mind-blowing for somebody who considers themselves a master of their instrument. It feels like they have a whole new territory to explore.” DT

Tess Jones is a freelance writer and yoga instructor in Seattle.

 

Overwhelmed by the Options?

The type and frequency of class dancers should choose will depend on their training regimen. Evaluate an overall routine to determine what is missing and seek classes that complement, not duplicate, strengths.

Alignment-Based Yoga (Iyengar, Anusara, Hatha)

Great for most dancers and best for those hoping to improve alignment

Most modern yoga tracks to B.K.S. Iyengar, whose classes are known for attention to detail, down to the placement of each muscle and bone. Like Iyengar, Anusara features alignment, but it has an upbeat, heart-opening attitude. Hatha can describe all types of yoga but often means a gentle, alignment-based class. All three styles are safe for dancers to practice.

Flow Yoga (Power Yoga, Vinyasa, Ashtanga)

For someone looking to improve overall body strength, such as a ballet dancer

Flow yoga is beneficial for those interested in a vigorous, strength-building practice. Power yoga offers a full-body workout and moves quickly between poses, challenging stamina and strength. Vinyasa, meaning “flow with the breath,” can be gentle or strong, depending on the teacher. Ashtanga classes feature repeated sequences to build strength over time.

Restorative Yoga (Gentle Practice, Yoga Nidra)

A stress reliever for highly active dancers, like those in a conservatory program

Restorative classes are an excellent complement to a vigorous training regimen, allowing dancers to rest their nervous systems and recover and regenerate their bodies. They may be labeled as “gentle” classes. Meditation during Yoga Nidra brings students to a state of aware sleep. Calling a studio may reveal prescheduled restorative postures.

Heated Yoga (Bikram, Hot Yoga)

Generally not recommended for dancers

Susie Smith warns against hot yoga, though many yogis swear by its benefits—the body’s management of heat and its cleansing of toxins. Smith says this is where dancers may find the greatest risk in overstretching. Those who choose this method should pay extra attention to alignment and pull back from highly flexible poses, focusing on strength and stability.

 

Photo by Sophie Kuller, courtesy of Mind Body Dancer

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox