Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Dance into Joy

"Dance is such a profound thing. You take up space when you dance. You're in your body. You're alive. Dance is dangerous, joyous, sexual, holy, disruptive, and contagious and it breaks the rules. It can happen anywhere, at anytime, with anyone and everyone, and it's free.” Eve Ensler.

Dance is my passion and prayer; dance releases me into flow connecting to the joy of life. Moving rhythmically connects us to our vitality that we can dance into the innate joy of life; dance is a natural instinctive gift when we surrender to rhythmical movement we connect to our body’s inner wisdom and to healing and joy.

Our society and modern day living can disconnect us from our inner wisdom and our innate joy. Joy is our natural state of being, it may seem unexpected but when we face life challenges we still can experience joy. Our emotions are dynamic and transient, therefore we can choose to just focus on negative experiences or we can experience joy and negativity at the same time. Joy is an innate gift that resides within us all and we can connect to our joy at any time. Connecting to joy when encountering life challenges may bring miraculous insights that allow us to flow through the pain into healing and growth; joy can soothe us through our life challenges.

We can reconnect to the joy that resides inside our heart at any time. Scientific research shows the heart plays an essential role in our mental, emotional and physical well being; we have a thinking heart that releases its own balancing and regulating hormones. In the human body the heart is the strongest generator of electromagnetic fields that transmits information throughout the body and outside of the body. Research shows that positive emotions like joy create physiological benefits in your body and mind. There are wonderful healing benefits to releasing yourself from mind and ego, dance allows us delve into deep joy that resides within our hearts and joyful energy vibrates through us and out of us.

Dance connects us to Joy

Dance is a wonderful way to connect to our innate joy as dance lets us to move into and through deep emotions gaining new insights into our experiences. Emotions are not tangible they are energetic; energy in motion, it is not possible to truly connect with our deep emotions through rational thinking. Dance moves us beyond ourselves and connects us to our deep hidden emotions, it allows us to express ourselves in ways thinking does not, and dance enhances physical and mental well being and promotes emotional and spiritual well being.

There are many known health benefits to dancing including:-

  • Reduces stress and depression and promotes healthy sleep
  • Improves posture and muscle tone
  • Increases energy, vitality, serotonin and endorphins feel good hormones
  • Improves flexibility, strength, balance and endurance
  • Strengthen bones and boosts cardiovascular health
  • Increases mental capacity and improves mental health
  • Raises self esteem and enhances confidence
  • Creates powerful social and emotional bonds and generates the good feelings that come from lovingly connecting with other people

    Express Yourself and Passionately Dance

    There are many forms of dance, from Latin, to street and lindy hop to contemporary dance. Dance is integral aspect of human culture, rituals and celebrations; dance remains an integral aspect to our well being, there is no need to learn a specific dance style, our bodies have an inner wisdom and love to move and our bodies are constantly in motion; internal rhythms pulsate through us continuously.

    No matter what age, shape or size or fitness level, you can gain the benefits of dancing; you can move in your own home, play joyful upbeat music, and feel free to have fun, be silly and let inner rhythms move through you. When no one is watching you can let go of your inhibitions, have the courage to freely express yourself and rhythmically move.

    Dress up and dance, be playful and dance, sing, shout and dance because when we start to gently move, twist, stretch and shake; our bodies vibrate and breathe, resonate and release, realign and find balance, heal and begin to flow with life. Our minds become clearer and we reconnect to the earth, nature, the divine and the universe when we freely express ourselves.

    Dance connects us to joy it begins with rhythm, dance allows me to get out of my own way. As I dance I feel energy move through my centre, tremble down to the sloes of my feet, rise up into rotations of my hips, pulsate into the beating of my heart, expand in my lungs with each new breath, tingle to the tips of my fingers, I vibrate into the vitality of life. I move beyond myself and connect to the divine joy of life.

    Connecting to our innate joy through rhythmical movement gives us access to our inner wisdom and boosts our immune system, improve our mental health and lift our spirits. It is essential we let ourselves experience joy in motion. Dancing can help you to transform feelings, help you to overcome emotional blocks and move forward, grow in life and to affirm how wonderful it is to be truly present in the moment.

    Moving rhythmically eases muscular tension, reduces anxiety and increases energy. Moving spontaneously and sensually allows us to trust our inner wisdom and connects us to the divine. Expressing ourselves creatively through dance opens up new ways of thinking, being and moving beyond ourselves it is a work out for our soul.

    Dancing freely, expressively and passionately allows us to heal our body, emotions, mind and spirit. Dance, wherever you may be, do not pass up an opportunity to dance into joy.

    “Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are not great dancers because of their technique; they are great because of their passion.” Martha Graham.

    Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laurastanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

    Saturday, 22 February 2014

    Out of the Silence

    “Movement reaches our deepest nature, and dance creatively expresses it. Through dance, we can gain new insights into the mystery of our inner lives.  Dance has the profound power to heal the body, psyche and soul.” Anna Halprin

    It is easy to be overwhelmed by our past traumas. The pressures of daily life do not seem to give the time or the space to allow for healing and recovery of past traumas. Health; balance and well being begins with connecting to our innate body’s inner wisdom.

    In stressful situations I have often forgotten to trust my intuition and become overwhelmed by worry.  For me dance brings me to a place of healing, when I connect to my common sense and start to trust my intuition and reconnect to the power of dance, I have stopped being overwhelmed, I find it easier to make decisions and it gives me greater sense of well being and joy.

    In my life experience all challenges, pain and suffering are powerful doorways to transform my life for the better.  My healing journey keeps revealing the wisdom of the body, through motion and dance has the natural power to heal all wounds and discover new insights.

    The body has its own inner wisdom that is within us all, we must trust our own physical instincts to guide us to find balance and well being.

    Through moving our body in rhythm and joy we connect to our vitality and when we connect to the felt sense we release physical tension and awaken and heal deeply hidden emotions. Connecting to the wisdom of our sensual selves we can unite and express our creativity and dance into the innate joy of life.

    Body’s Inner Wisdom
    Our body’s inner wisdom; our gut feeling, an inner knowing, the gentle sensation that expresses our inner truth, is our body calling to us and it is devoted to our well being. Our body’s wisdom is a fundamental part of us that guides us through life if we listen.  The gentle nudges of sensation; locked jaw, tight shoulders, stomach ache may be your body’s signals to gain your attention that all is not well to keep us safe.

    My stomach expressed my distress in physical symptoms when doctors could not find anything wrong. My body was shouting all was not well and was demanding me to ‘pay attention', not a physical problem but an emotional one and my body had enough. I gradually started to listen to my inner signals again, slowly taking tiny steps in the right direction reconnecting to my inner wisdom.

    Just because we cannot explain these feelings, doesn’t mean that we should ignore them according to scientific research, our instincts and body’s wisdom are more reliable in decision making, than our conscious brain. It can be a physical sensation, as sense, a knowing but it can be easy to dismiss and ignored due to the stress of every day life. Finding the courage to listen to these inner signals are essential for our healing, health and well being.

    When I have been disconnected from my body’s wisdom I have been in a continual state of anxiety and worry.  I would take on too much; I would not trust my ability to say no.  I found it difficult to trust my feelings and filled my time being very busy to avoid my feelings and the reality of the situation.

    Once I started to reawaken to my intuition and body’s wisdom I began to find answers to all kinds of challenges in everyday life, my mind, heart and energy received intuitive information that lovingly guides me.

    It is important to trust the power of love and your body’s inner wisdom when you encounter life challenges, Life gives us difficult times and they happen to all of us, it is important to find the courage to look deep within and find the blessings from difficult life experiences. When we experience life challenges it is vital to connect to your heart, your inner wisdom and the power of dance is an innate and joyful approach to explore healing and growth.

    Dance is the most natural form of human expression and an innate form of healing. With courage and common sense my intuition passionately continues to guide me in my dance practice, performance and healing work. I feel dance is our connection to divine spirit, the loving energy of the universe and it and allows us to connect to joyfully experience life.

    "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Albert Einstein

    Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laurastanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

    Friday, 22 July 2011

    The Importance of Massage for Dancers

    Dance can be an extremely physically demanding activity; training, rehearsals, and performances are physically intensive. Also all our daily activities put our body through stresses; sitting for long periods, driving or working on computer creates tension in the body and physical activities such as running or going to the gym can be physically demanding. Every day life stresses, emotions mental stress all affect our physical self.

    The demand for sports massage and other massage therapies are increasing and becoming more recognised as a skill that enhances our overall well being. Due to intensive training, hectic schedules and stresses of every day life we are more prone to overworking our bodies and may suffer from muscle imbalances and overuse injuries.  Physical tension in our body can have a negative affect on our mental and emotional well being so releasing excessive tension can enhance our mental health and promote relaxation and a sense of calm.

    Overuse Injuries in Dance

    Overuse injuries occur because muscles are worked hard during training, rehearsal or performance and are not rested fully.  In the next class, rehearsal or performance the muscles are not fully recovered from the last session. It is as important to have a high quality recovery practice to maintain wellbeing and enhance your true potential. Overuse is the most common cause of muscular imbalances and injury in dance. If these are not noticed early on they can impair performance or worse can lead to chronic injures. See the dance Injuries article for more information.

    Recovery From Physical Activity

    Instinctively the body heals itself it performs the recovery process through circulation of the blood flushing out waste products that build up in the muscles during intense physical activity. It provides nutrients and repairs any tissue damage however this process takes time and a rest period is necessary. Dancers’ schedule often makes this required rest period very difficult to achieve. Massage is a safe and effective method of speeding up the recovery process.


    Benefits of Massage for Dancers:

    • Massage aids and speed up the body’s natural recovery process
    • Massage helps prevent injury
    • Massage enhances performance by releasing muscular tension
    • Massage aid the healing process with minor soft tissue injuries
    Massage can be an integral element to a dancers training or work schedule. If the dancer of company can budget for it, massage sessions by a qualified therapist can be programmed into training, rehearsal and performance schedule. However understanding time and money restraints dancers’ face I suggest learning and practicing simple self massage techniques as this can benefit dancers greatly.

    Why Self-Massage for Dancers

    Massage is extremely effective for releasing muscle tension and restoring balance to the musculoskeletal system. Regular massage may help prevent injuries as a constant build-up of tension in the muscles from regular activity may lead to stresses on joints, ligaments, tendons, as well as the muscles themselves. Self massage improves they way you feel and enhances your performance, simple self massage techniques can help aid recovery and release muscular tension.

    It is important to learn simple massage skills to be able to incorporate massage into your training and is helpful to have a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology, especially the muscular and skeletal systems. By understanding these systems and the effects of exercise you can also appreciate how massage benefits you. It becomes an integral part of your dance training and can ultimately enhance your performance. The wonderful aspect about self massage is it is instinctive and easy to learn as you are learning about your own body’s needs.

    When Not To Massage

    There are times when massage could be detrimental rather than beneficial to you.

    The basic contraindications to massage are:

    • Feeling unwell or body temperature over 100°F
    • Injury, wounds, recent bruising, muscle tears or sprains
    • Bacterial infection or other infections
    • If you react adversely to massage treatment
    • If your suffer any symptoms seek advice from a doctor
    Self massage can be practiced anytime, anywhere, but its advisable not to when you have just eaten a heavy meal or when you are hungry or very tired.  Allow at least an hour after eating.

    Massage Techniques

    There are many massage techniques but generally they are applied with the main pressure being directed towards the heart. This ensures that no undue pressure of blood being pushed against closed valves causes any damage to them. Exceptions to this rule, for example, compression is where pressure is applied directly downwards for a short time therefore no risk of the build up of pressure or damage to blood vessels.

    Massage Techniques include:

    • Strokes
    • Brushing
    • Compression
    • Squeezing
    • Stretching
    • Shaking


    Self Massage Tips

    • The basic movements comprise stroking and brushing with gentle pressure
    • Use a wide surface area of the palm of the hand and fingers
    • Hold the muscle being massaged in a relaxed and shortened position
    • Squeeze the muscle and stroke up the limb e.g. leg. Always apply pressure with stokes towards the heart
    • On the return, you maintain, light contact and avoid the path taken on the upward stroke
    • Your hands are relaxed and softly moulded around the natural contours of your body
    • Perform passive stretches to the muscle groups after you have massaged them
    • Note if you feel acute pain, if so STOP and seek medical advice

    Benefits of Self Massage:

    Research shows massage provides several important health benefits, including:
    • warms muscle tissue, increases blood flow to muscles
    • increases blood flow & improves blood circulation
    • improve flexibility & increases range of motion
    • stimulates peripheral nerves
    • relieves muscle soreness
    • aids and speed up the body’s natural recovery process
    • enhances performance by releasing muscular tension
    • aid the healing process with minor soft tissue injuries
    • boost immunity by stimulating the production of white blood cells
    • helps you relax and improve your mental energy helps alleviate stress
    • increases endorphin levels (the feel good chemicals in your body)

      These benefits are accumulative so as you continue to practice the art of self massage regularly the more you will enhance your well being.
    As a dancer you can enhance your dance ability, boost your health and vitality, reduce muscle soreness, prevent the risk of injury and increase your dance performance through a regular practice of self massage.

    Self Massage Videos by Laura Stanyer

    These self massage videos below are designed for you to easily learn them as you follow along.  They are designed to unwind after a long day or after intense physical activity to release excessive tension and reduce stress.  Uses this self-massage at the end of a long day or after a physical activity like intense dance class or a run as a part of you cool down sequence.

    When to self massage
    These sequences are designed to release excessive tension after physical activity of after along day it’s advisable not to massage when you have just eaten a heavy meal or when you are hungry or very tired.  Allow at least an hour after eating.

    What to wear
    These sequences are designed through the clothing; make sure you are wearing loose comfortable clothing that doesn’t cause any restrictions to your movement or breathing. Avoid tight clothing like jeans as you must be comfortable.

    Make sure you are comfortable
    It is best if you are comfortable and relaxed, sit in a comfortable supportive chair or work on the floor on a mat in a comfortable position.  Have supportive cushions for your back or behind your knees if you need to and make sure you are in a warm and well-ventilated room.  It is important to be comfortable and maintain a neutral upright posture not to put excessive stress on you body.

    Apply gentle pressure
    Always start with light pressure in order to gently warm up and gauge sensitivity and your body’s reaction to touch.  Never put pressure directly through the joints such as the vertebrae in your neck.  Apply light pressure using the pads of your finger tips and the surface area of your hands; fingers, palms and heels of the hand.

    Focus on natural breathing
    It is important to maintain relaxed, gentle breathing throughout and you can visualize your muscles relaxing and energy flowing through the area to enhance your well being.

    How often to self massage
    It is possible to receive the benefits if you only participate in self massage a few times a week. These self massage sequences can also be performed each day as regular practice enhances your overall well being.

    Like any physical skill, self massage is a practice that can be cultivated over a lifetime and it is a great skill that enhances your overall well being.  Do not become impatient or easily discouraged.  Make a long-term commitment to your self massage practice and over time you will positively discover the benefits.

    Self Massage for the Head, Neck and Shoulders

    Self Massage for the Leg

    Self Massage for the Foot

    Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

    Visualisation for Dancers

    Your imagination is a powerful inner resource that you can tap into to achieve your best with greater consistency.  It can enhance the manifestation of your dreams and goals in dance and in life as it allows you to put yourself into the appropriate state of mind, be in the flow state where everything is effortless and flows beautifully.

    The aims of visualisation techniques are to focus the dancer so that they are positive and confident in their ability and enjoy the experience of learning and performing and achieve their true potential.

    Scientists have discovered there is an area of the brain called the pre motor cortex that is activated when you imagine your body moving, the area that plans movement so when you rehearse a dance skill or sequence in your mind you create neural pathways in your brain as if you were actually moving and performing the sequence. All without moving a muscle this means when you do perform the skill or sequence you should find it easier as the pathways in your brain are already in place.

    Generally dancers spend most of their time physically training and rehearing for performance but they don’t spend enough time preparing themselves psychologically for the pressures of dance training, rehearsal and performance.  Visualisation enhances your dance performance, this is especially important for the skills or strategies where there is little opportunity in daily training or rehearsal, the situations that only happen in performance.

    Repeatedly rehearsing in your mind allows you to strengthen the neural pathways that will produce the step or sequence and help to refine your skills without putting the body through excessive stress. It enables you to rehearse anywhere.

    Visualisation involves the dancer imagining themselves in a class, rehearsal or performance. The visualisations have the dancer performing the skill or sequence at their very best, enjoying the experience. Enter completely into the visualisation with all your senses: visual, sound, touch, smell and felt sense. Being in a totally relaxed state allows you to be receptive to visualisation.

    Benefits of Visualisation:

    • Enhances learning and motivation
    • Enhances self-confidence, helps to visualise success
    • Create coping strategies in stressful situations
    • Enhance focus, concentration and self-discipline
    Just as you practice dance skills, visualisation needs to be practised on a regular basis for you to become highly skilled and can be incorporated into your training or daily routine.

    Visualisation for rehearsal of specific movements

    Visualisation used to learn and rehearse specific movements or dance skills enhances learning and performance. Visualisation can explore the mechanics of how to execute the movement and can allow a dancer to explore symbolic sense the quality or energy related to improve a particular dance skill. For example, whilst executing a pirouette a dancer may visualise spinning like a top.

    Visualisation for rehearsal

    Visualisation can enhance you learning ability when learning new movement sequences or choreography for performance. It can enhance the dramatic aspects of a dancer character within a piece of choreography by imaging the emotions or motives felt by the character they are performing. Rehearsing in your mind allows the body to rest while strengthening the neural pathways in your brain.

    Visualisation for Performance

    To reach your true potential in dance it is important you have a high level of confidence in your ability to perform at your best consistently.  It is important to visualise yourself performing in a confident manner in full control of yourself excelling in you execution and feeling confident within the performance environment.

    Positive Mental Attitude

    Breaking negative behavioural patterns by the use of a trigger - a word, phrase or action can help to prevent negative attitudes when learning.

    A trigger can be:
    • A word or phrase spoken inside your head
    • A physical action, for example squeezing first finger and thumb together
    • A physical reminder, for example a wristband
    When hearing, seeing or feeling the trigger you can shift your focus gaining a positive uplifting thought for a boost of motivation.

    Visual Practice: Role Model

    Observing a professional dancer who has practised the skills countless times can give you an excellent role model to develop the same skill you are hoping to learn. You can visualise being them or performing the skills as they do.

    Visualisation and Goal Setting

    Setting goals within training and performance is a useful tool to measure your progress. It provides an opportunity to improve your skills or learn new skills, technique or choreography. It allows you to review your training methods if you do not meet your original goals.
    • Specific - Goals are focused on precisely what you want to achieve. For example: goal to improve jumps and landings
    • Measurable - Assess your level of success so you can review your own progress. For example: a goal to improve the number of successful double pirouettes once you have achieved a successful single pirouette
    • Accepted - You and your teacher or choreographer agree on what your goals are
    • Realistic - You are able to achieve the goals you have set yourself
    • Time limit - You should set target dates to achieve your goals. For example: goal in 2 months to be able to handstand unsupported
    • Enthusiasm - You should be challenged and stimulated by your goal
    • Record - Keep a written record of how and when you achieve your goal to assess your progress

    Visualisation Exercises

    How to use these audio guided visualisations

    NEVER listen to this audio recording when driving or when you need to concentrate on a particular task.  Only listen when you can relax and not be disturbed from any distractions.

    This audio recording will guide you into a state of relaxation, it is best to be comfortable and either sit or lay down in a comfortable place free from distractions.

    We advise you listen to this audio recording through headphones for best results.  To begin with, it is best to listen on a daily basis to develop your visualisation skills.

    Audio running time: approx 20 minutes, as this audio recording is specially designed to become a part of your dance practice. 

    Peak Performance Visualisation
    Visualise actually attaining your best performance, such as receiving major recognition or a standing ovation and what it would be like.  Most success stories are first preceded by envisioning the success accomplished, visualisation is like role playing success.

    Peak Performance Visualisation helps nurture strong belief in your self which provides the motivational fuel to put in the daily effort and discipline required to arrive at best achievements.

    Peak Performance Visualization by lstanyer

    Peak Performance Recall Visualisation

    Recall is a technique that allows you to recall a positive perfromance experience. By remembering and feeling the positive sensations your body will go into the experience of flow which enables you to be relaxed and focused and in control.

    Recall an experience where you were at your peak in performance, feeling wonderful. Recapture the feelings, sounds etc. and enhance them make them more vivid in light, colour, positive feelings and sounds. Watch your own feature film of your best performances when you need a boost of confidence.

    Peak Performance Recall Visualization by lstanyer


    Visualisation practice empowers and centres you for performance, allowing you to enter deeply into the present moment and harness your true potential. Along with diaphragmatic breathing it calms and unclutters your mind leading you to a place of freedom and unselfconsciousness. Visualisation is a very personal experience and skill that takes practice to discover its depth and power.

    Visualization Skills in Dance Practice by Laura Stanyer

    Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

    Relaxation for Dancers


    I incorporate relaxation, visualisation and massage within dance  my dance practice to develop the mental and physical skills necessary for dancers to achieve their true potential in dance, enhance performance and well being. There are many benefits to relaxation practice for dancers.

    Physiological Benefits of Relaxation:

    • A decreased heart rate and respiration rate
    • Reduces muscular tension
    • Reduces blood pressure
    • Decreases chortisol (a main stress hormone)
    • Improves circulation
    • Increases alpha brainwaves (related to creativity and the flow state)

    Psychological Benefits of Relaxation:

    • Greater mental clarity
    • Improves concentration
    • Greater mental control
    • Enhances creativity
    • Enhances a healthy sense of humour
    • Allows mental openness and clam

    Relaxation is a skill

    Relaxation is a skill that allows you to focus on a goal, gives you the opportunity to be creative and reach your greatest potential. Like any skill it takes continuous practice to develop.

    Relaxation training can:

    • Cultivate your ability to learn
    • Counteract the effects of stress
    • Facilitate to achieve your true potential and enhances creativity

    How we learn new dance moves (motor skills)

    Learning a new physical skill is a complicated process as you learn you create and strengthen new neural pathways in your brain. When we master a new motor skill, or a simple dance move thousands of neurons in our brain have to fire simultaneously.
    As you begin to learn a new dance skill at first it feels awkward and the movement is clumsy, as you practice the new moves your body will be learning via biofeedback. At first you need to concentrate on what you are doing to connect your mind to your body allowing your brain to create new neural pathways, you will make many mistakes but it is these experiences that amount to learning.

    As you practice the dance steps repeatedly the neural pathways become stronger and stronger and the new step becomes easier as you establish a more solid pathway in your brain. Through practice a new dance skill will gradually improve and refine the skill until it becomes effortless, many complex actions become instinctive through continuous practice. Scientific research suggests it takes approximately 180 repetitions for a new movement to become automatic and is then hard wired into your brain.

    How relaxation cultivates your ability to learn

    Often as we learn new dance skills our idea of success interferes with the process of learning. Instead of relaxing and enjoying the experience we think having focused determination is the only way to achieve success and excellence. We relate discipline with hard work and do not allow ourselves to learn through play or joy. Our idea of perfection and achieving the skill immediately doesn’t permit relaxation to be a factor in dance training.
    For instance when learning a new dance skill you are unable to achieve it straight away, you may become frustrated and try even harder to perform a dance skill exactly. However, the more effort you put in the worse it becomes. For example, trying too hard to achieve a pirouette, the more you attempt to prepare to balance and propel yourself into the turn the more you fall of the point of balance. If you find yourself in a downward tendency of trying harder with worse results this is the time to try and relax and explore a gentle playful approach.
    If you try to relax and have fun you are more likely to see positive results because it is often your perception of what you think is right that blocks the process of learning.

    Relaxation counteracts the effects of stress

    Rest and relaxation allows you to maintain your health and well-being and a balance of work, rest and play. Learning how to relax can help you find an inner calm which allows you to connect to your natural abilities and reduces tension.
    Relaxation training also improves our reaction to stress both physiologically and psychologically, which means we react more rapidly to a stressor and recover more quickly. When we are tense we tend to be slower to react and slower to recover from stress. For example, a relaxed person would react more quickly to a shockingly loud noise and recover almost instantly where as a tense person would be slower to react and would take a lot longer to recover from the shock.
    The mental stress on dancers is high, especially at professional level. They perform week after week, observed by audiences and critics the effect of negative feedback can result in bad performance and affect their personal and professional life.
    Mental preparation allows dancers and performers to focus; to set goals and to plan for and manage the stress of performing. It enables the dancer to raise their self-esteem and to help them maintain a high level of motivation during training, rehearsal and performance.

    Relaxation permits creativity

    At peaceful moments; just when you are falling asleep or a walk in nature is when we become inspired. This is when we are tapping into our alpha state; this is the state of mind when we are relaxed and extremely creative. Relaxation creates space for original thinking to occur; this is often referred to as being in the flow or zone.
    Cultivating the skill of being in the here and now, being in the moment allows you to calm down, relax and enjoy the experience of dancing, learning or performing being in the moment rather than rush through the experience.

    Relaxation Visualisation
    This visualization is useful for eliminating negative thoughts and feelings that cause distractions that may interfere with your activity.  It enables you to focus on being at your very best.  This part of the visualization may be listened to working towards an up and coming important event.  Also, only listen to it several hours before an up and coming event as you need time to re-energise and prepare for the event.

    Let Go Of Worry One by Laura Stanyer

    Part two is to be listened to after the event or day and at a time you can relax to allow you to start to assess any other stress that may be affecting you.

    Let Go Of Worry Two by Laura Stanyer

    Relaxation Exercise
    This exercise is designed to help you relax and can be performed in isolation or incorporated into your warm up to help you achieve optimal level of arousal and combined with your cool down to enhance your recovery.
    When you begin relaxation exercises wear loose comfortable clothing, sit or lay down in a quiet and tranquil space with your feet hip width apart, arms relaxed by your sides. Use a mat or cushions. Allow your body to melt into the chair or floor releasing any tension you may feel from your shoulders, neck, legs, and wiggle your fingers and toes.

    PMR (Progressive Muscular Relaxation)

    Progressive Muscular Relaxation is a method of tensing and relaxing muscle groups or body areas to release excessive tension. This can be completed with eyes open or closed.

    PMR Exercise

    Tense each muscle group or body area for approximately 10 seconds. Then let go completely allowing the tension to be released and focus on the relaxed area for approximately 15 seconds allowing the area to feel heavy, warm and completely relaxed.

    Sitting or lying down in a comfortable space tense and release:

    • Feet and toes Legs and calves
    • Buttocks and thighs
    • Stomach and lower back
    • Chest and neck
    • Shoulders, arms and fingers
    • Face, jaw, forehead, cheeks and tongue
    • Whole body
    Now observe how loose your body feels, a calm sensation through floating your body.
    Relaxation, breathing and visualisation techniques allow you to maximize your mind body connection and enhance your true potential in dance. Breathing exercises promote relaxation, to find out more go to the breathing article.

    Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

    Good Posture - Postural Alignment for Dancers


    Posture is the position in which you hold your body upright against force of gravity while standing, sitting or moving. It is important to understand the correct position of the body parts and the process of adjusting body parts so that they are stacked equally on top of one another in a healthy position. Good posture requires the least amount of muscle activity to maintain an upright position.

    Posture is important for good health as:

    • It allows us to be active with more energy, less stress and fatigue
    • It allows musclo-skeletal system to hold the body parts in place
    • It allows space for your vital organs to function at optimal efficiency
    • It allows you to breathe more efficiently
    • It promotes efficient functioning of the nervous system

    What is Neutral Alignment?

    Specialised muscle groups known as postural muscles work against the downward pull of gravity to maintain an upright posture.
    To maintain neutral alignment these postural muscles that run up the front and the back of the body, cross all weight baring joints work constantly against gravity to hold the body in a neutral position. The aim is to maintain a balance when still or moving but with no extra tension. It is important to be aware that you inherit postural factors however, changes take place throughout your life depending on the way you use your body. Also be aware that your posture constantly changes depending on the activity you are engaged in, whether you are sitting or standing for long periods of time or dancing, your musclo-skeletal system is constantly working to maintain alignment.

    Short Term Changes

    Short-term changes occur as physical, mental or emotional stresses during the day can cause fatigue in the postural muscles making them less efficient at working against gravity.

    Long Term Changes

    The cumulative effect of these short term changes, plus other factors like injury, can lead to more permanent changes in posture as bone structure alters due to prolonged muscle imbalances.

    Possible of Causes Postural Changes:

    • Hereditary factors
    • Environment resulting from bad posture, for example how you sit
    • Stress mental, physical or emotional
    • Repetitive action - muscles shorten, overuse and muscle imbalance
    • Trauma effects of an accident or injury
    • Disease affecting the musclo-skeletal system

    Ideal Alignment (Neutral)

    Every human body is unique and from the moment we are born various factors, (gravity and the activities we engage in) alter our posture therefore muscle imbalance and misalignment will affect all of us to a greater or lesser extent.

    Alignment from the front

    Imagine a thread though the head giving a feeling of upward lift, through neck and upper spine, keeping the body light and open. Imagine a sense of relaxation and downward movement by a thread through the base of the spine.
    • Stand with your feet in parallel placed hip width apart; spread your weight equally between both feet
    • Head floating on top of neck with neck long and centred
    • Chest area open with a light lift of sternum (do not overarch in lower back)
    • Shoulders relaxed - blades go down back and inwards
    • Arms hang from the shoulders, hands relaxed
    • Ribcage down with abdominals gently engaged
    • Pelvis in neutral alignment, supporting the lumbar spine
    • Hips level (imagine triangle reaching from one hip bone to the other, down to your pubic bone. Each point of the triangle is at the same level)
    • Buttock, thighs and tail bone are relaxed avoid arching lower back
    • Knees in line with feet, keep knees soft
    • Weight is equally distributed between the feet and evenly distributed over 3 points on feet: under big toe, little and heel with natural arches and toes relaxed

    Assess alignment from the side

    Line of gravity
    This is an imaginary line, which falls vertically through the body and is a useful measure when assessing posture.

    From a side view standing upright the line of gravity passes through:

     The line of gravity will not fall through all of these points if posture is incorrect and will move as the position of the body changes.

    Common Postural Problems

    When viewed from the side the spine's natural position appears as an S shape curve. The bones are formed into four distinct curves of the spine, which are held together and supported by the back muscles and ligaments. It allows movement of the head and trunk and supports and maintains the centre support for the entire body and supports the upper parts of the body. For many people this natural spinal alignment is misalignment due to incorrect postural habits such as sitting or standing awkwardly.
    KyphosisLordosisFlat BackScolosis
    Exaggerated outward curvature of thoracic spine
    Muscle imbalance:
    • Weak lower back muscles
    • Tight chest muscles
    Exaggerated inward curvature of lumbar spine (swayback)
    Muscle imbalance:
    • Weak Abdominal muscles
    • Tight hip flexors and lower back

    Diminished inward curvature of the lumbar spineExaggerated lateral curvature of any part of the spine

    Laura Stanyer's Postural Visualization, watch and follow along to release tension and promote awareness of you body and alignment.  Enjoy!

    Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

    Thursday, 21 July 2011

    The Power of Breathing


    Breathing is a vital element for relaxation and physical activity such as dance; being able to control your breathing pattern allows you to maintain self-control and help to relieve your body of excessive tension. Breathing is the process by which living cells in the body receive a constant supply of oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. Oxygen is needed by each cell in the body for survival as every bodily function and all movement requires oxygen.

    The Mechanism of Breathing

    It is a passive process by which air is drawn in and forced out of the lungs by the combined action of the diaphragm and intercostals muscles. The process of exhalation becomes an active one when we require exhaling more air for example when we cough, also dancing requires more oxygen.

    Interesting Fact: The diaphragm is a large muscle that separates the chest and the abdomen. It is the major muscle of respiration and is responsible for 75% of the air drawn into the lungs. Correct breathing enhances our oxygen supply to allow us to function efficiently.

    This active process is assisted by other muscles including:

    • Internal Intercostals
    • Internal and external obliques
    • Transverse Abdominus
    • Rectus Abdominus
    All help to compress the abdomen and squeeze more air out of the lungs.
    The special nature of breathing being both passive and active process (happens automatically and be under our conscious control) is because the parts of our brain that controls our breathing also controls our emotions, therefore our emotions affect our physiological and psychological state. Most people do not breathe efficiently we are habitual shallow breathers because we only use a small part of our lungs.

    Interesting Fact: Our mental or emotional state is reflective in our breathing and our breathing can impact on our emotional state. Learning to control our breathing patterns will allow us to gain greater control over our emotions especially in times of stress.

    Causes for shallow breathing include:

    • Stress
    • Bad posture
    • Lack of cardiovascular exercise
    Just like dance training or mental skills practising breathing techniques can improve your well-being. The aim of breathing exercises is to breathe with maximum efficiency with minimum effort.

    The process of inhalation

    During inhalation the diaphragm contracts and flattens this increases the volume and size of the chest cavity. This lowers the pressure inside the chest, because the pressure inside the body is lower than the pressure outside the air is drawn into the lungs. At the same time the external intercostal muscles contract lifting the ribcage up and outwards, further increasing the volume and size of the chest cavity. 25% of the air is drawn in by the external intercostal muscles.



    The process of exhalation

    During exhalation the diaphragm relaxes and returns to its dome shape pushing the chest cavity upwards and reducing the chest cavity's volume and size. This increases the pressure inside the body, the air rushes out as the pressure is lower outside the body. At the same time the external intercostal muscles relax allowing the ribs to lower down and inwards decreases size of the chest cavity.




    Breathing Exercises

    These exercises can be performed laying down, sitting or standing but it is recommended firstly to lie on your back on a mat with a pillow under your knees and one under your head for support and comfort. The diaphragm is not working against gravity and prevents you using other voluntary muscles and allows you to focus on working the appropriate muscles.

    Awareness of breath exercise

    Place one hand on your chest and one on your lower abdomen to feel where you are breathing from:
    • Is your chest lifting?
    • Is your stomach expanding?
    If you are breathing correctly, when you breathe in the hand placed on your lower abdomen should lift first and then your chest lifts upwards and expands but do not lift your shoulders.

    Deep abdominal breathing

    Learning deep or diaphragmatic breathing exercises can help to increase the vital capacity and the function of our lungs.

    Benefits of breathing exercises:

    • Decreased heart rate
    • Reduces blood pressure
    • Reduces muscle tension
    • Decreased respiration rate
    • Reduces hyper tension
    • Improves circulation

    Slow diaphragmatic breathing involves breathing into your lower abdomen before filling your chest cavity. This optimises oxygen consumption this allows more oxygen to reach your muscles and your brain to function more efficiently. If you are unaccustomed to deep breathing the following exercise may make you feel tired at first, do persevere as it will take less effort to breathe, it will enhance the co-ordination of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles when breathing. This will assist in breathing co-ordination when you dance.

    Deep Abdominal Breathing Exercise
    Inhale - Inhale slowly and deeply, say four counts. Breathe as fully as you can without discomfort. Imagine your torso slowly filling with air.
    Pause - When you have completely inhaled, hold your breath for four counts. This is a comfortable pause. If you feel discomfort, reduce the counts.
    Exhale - Exhale slowly and continually for four counts, letting the air out through your mouth slowly. Let out as much air as you can, down to the lower part of the lungs and feel yourself relaxing and any tension flowing out of you.
    Pause - Once more when you have completely exhaled, hold your breath for four counts, releasing any further tension. This feels like a comfortable pause. If you feel discomfort, reduce the counts.

    Many people find diaphragmatic breathing difficult at first as we are habitually shallow breathers but with practice it does become easier. If it is very difficult reduce the number of counts to two or three and build up to four. The important thing is to establish the slow relaxed breathing rate.

    Rhythmic Breathing

    When you are comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing try this exercise. Rhythmic breathing exercise allows you to gain greater control over your breathing, and more control over your voice. As you make progress, you can begin to increase the counts but to further develop breathing control hold different counts on inhalation, exhalation and the pauses between.

    Mantra Breathing

    Once you are comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing try adding positive words or phrases to your breathing. Mantras are sounds, words or phrases that are used to focus your concentration in a positive way. You can say them out loud or internally. If you choose to say the mantra out loud let the sound resonate in your chest.

    The mantra should naturally fall into rhythm with your breathing. Make sure that the mantra follows your breathing.

    Let go of any concerns that may arise about whether you are doing the mantra properly, there is no right or wrong way but what is right for you. Allow the wonderful silence to refresh your mind and emotions.

    At the end of your breathing exercise you will begin to feel a calm feeling of warmth radiating from your core throughout your body. Bring your breathing to its natural state and focus on the pleasant feelings in your body.

    If you ever feel stress, attempt to bring your attention back to you breathing, this allows more oxygen to reach your muscles and our brain to function more efficiently and will having a calming effect.


    Bring your attention to your breath throughout your day:

    • If you are watching the time – breathe
    • When waiting - breathe
    • Before you start a dance class – breathe
    • Before you start a rehearsal – breathe
    • Before you start a performance – breathe
    • Before you start filming – breathe
    By focusing on your breathing the mind is soothed and the body is nourished with fresh oxygen. Breathing slowly and deeply combined with relaxation and visualisation in dance can ease tension in you mind and body allowing you to move freely and reach your true potential.

    Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.