Posts

Injured? Don't Watch Class.

Injured? Don’t Watch Class.

In theory…

When you are injured, it is often customary to be asked to sit and watch class. In theory, this is a good idea that should have practical benefits. Learning from observation and keeping your head in the game are two reasons I have heard teachers give for this request.

In practice…

In practice though, watching class when you are injured is a recipe for disaster because you are not happily absorbing corrections and gaining insight into things. Instead, you are undergoing what my students have variously called “mental torture,” “instant depression,” and “a lesson in frustration.” Does that sound overdramatic? It’s not.

The psychological impact of not being able to do something you love should not be underestimated: it is huge. A dancer who cannot use his/her body can experience a range of emotions from anger to sadness. Being reminded of what you are unable to do can have a deeply destructive effect, and that effect can impact your healing process.

We know that a large part of recovery from illness and injury is state of mind: the more positive you are, the faster you will heal. The mind-body connection is powerful, and if you spend your days in despair, it will be difficult to get back in the studio even when you’re given the medical okay.

Here are some more effective ways for you to spend your time.

  • Ask your doctor and PT what types of activities you can safely do, and then find a way to do them. When I had my fracture, I was cleared for swimming, so I joined the YMCA and swam every day. If you can ride a bike or do non-weight bearing Pilates, for example, get started right away. The sooner you start moving that body of yours, the better you’ll feel. 
  • Take class in your mind. (What? Yes, in your mind.) Mental rehearsal will keep the mind-body connection alive and receptive even when you can’t take class (or full class). Find a quiet space where you can close your eyes and visualize yourself taking class. Use recorded music if it helps. It takes a lot of concentration to do this, so you may only get through part or half of class the first few times. Try to recall recent corrections, and really allow yourself to feel as if you are dancing.
  • Get support. Dancers identify so strongly with their dancing, that when injured, they can feel lost. That feeling can become darker before it gets better. Keep tabs on how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask for support from teachers, friends, family, and professionals: seek out a coach or therapist. Talking with people about how you feel is an important part of the healing process.
  • Learn something new. If your healing and rehab process leaves you with time on your hands, don’t spend it wishing you could dance- it will only create a negative feedback loop and you’ll feel worse. Instead, commit to learning something new; when I was injured, I did a night school class at a local university; an injured friend of mine took a cooking class. Think about what you’d like to improve in your life (healthier foods, improve your mental fitness, brush up on your Spanish skills…) and dive in.

The aim is to keep your mind active and receptive, and your energy positive, which allows you to reframe your injury as an opportunity. Sitting and watching class often has the opposite effect, so be sure to talk to your teachers about how that request affects your mental health. Then, share your plan for recovery with them. 

Are you or have you been injured recently? How did you stay positive through the healing process?

Healthy Body Workshop at STEPS

On April 9, 2011, the School at Steps (SAS) in New York City held a  “Healthy Body Workshop” for their students and the public. A number of professionals in the wellness world in NYC spoke on topics ranging from “occupational hazards” (Dr. Linda Hamilton) to yoga and meditation for dancers (TaraMarie Perri).

New York City Ballet principal Jenifer Ringer was also there to speak to her own experiences with staying healthy both physically and mentally. It was a wonderful event and one that all dancers, students and professionals would have benefitted from attending.

Take-Aways

Here are some of the take-aways for those of you who couldn’t be there.

  • Alternative/Supplementary Training: Yoga and Meditation

TaraMarie Perri, dancer, yoga instructor, and founder of Mind Body Dancer, spoke about taking the things we already do well as dancers one step further, like body awareness. She engaged us in a breathing and body scan exercise to allow the mind and body to check in with each other and take stock of emotions as well as tensions. Once you are comfortable with the practice, it only takes a few minutes and is a great way to start your day, getting your mind and body in harmony.

Taking up a meditative practice like yoga can bring important things to your dancing that aren’t usually focused on in dance training. Mindful breathing, a sense of calm, and a mind-body awareness will enhance your connection to your artistry as well as your technique.

It can take time to become comfortable with a new form of movement, so don’t give up if it feels strange at first. Let your body and mind get used to thinking and working in a new way.

  • Occupational Stress Management in Dance

Dr. Linda Hamilton, clinical psychologist, spoke about a number of physical and emotional stresses common to dancers and how to manage them. The main idea was that dance training can be stressful and no one expects young dancers to just “deal with it.”

From the quest for perfection to the physical strain on your bodies, there are therapies, coping strategies, and techniques to put your health and well-being at the center of your experience. One good one I like is reframing any negative talk you have in your head in a positive way. You’d be surprised how much it changes the outcomes in the studio, not to mention your quality of life.

Another good take-away here was that 70% of injuries occur after 5 hours of dancing. As dancers, we are often trained to think that more is better, but this not true when it comes to physical activity. Repetition causes fatigue and fatigue causes injury.

Try not to get stuck in this negative cycle. Instead, try alternative forms of exercise that work other parts of your body and mind (like yoga!). This statistic is also good to keep in mind as we move into summer intensive season. We want to work smarter, not more.

Tune in to the next post to hear the take-aways from Dr. Price, an orthopedic surgeon who works with dancers, and NYCB principal ballerina, Jenifer Ringer.

Photo credit: OzRock79