I’m going to start this post by challenging you to answer 1 question:
What is the most important organ in my body for me as a dancer?
The answer may surprise you- some of you may have gone with lungs or heart or even intestines for digestion. But actually it is your brain that governs all these things- it is responsible for your heart rate, your breathing, even your hormone regulation. You may by now be thinking that yes, but this is a given, the body does it automatically, and you’re not wrong. But the brain does not always stay in a state of optimum health on it’s own. And dance and health need to play nice for us to be successful.
When we dance and train long hours every day, it is a big ask on our body and our psyche. It is not unusual for dancers to fall into body dysmorphia, or stress and anxiety; and adrenal fatigue and burnout are also not uncommon where there is a high level of demand. Because of our sport it can also make certain people susceptible to complex regional pain syndrome after injury or problems such as IBS. And trust me, once these issues hit, it takes 10 times longer to climb out of them than it does to fall into them.
So Where Does Meditation For Wellness Come In?
I have a confession. The first 5-10 times I tried meditation over the years I. Was. So. BORED. Now this may sound like a funny thing to admit, in an article that is about meditation. But my brain is very highly geared towards fun and new shiny things (much like a magpie.) And it’s very easy to actually try and meditate without A) really understanding fully how to do it, B) why it’s important and C) most importantly how it can actually transform your life outside of your meditation practise.
If you’re struggling with anything I’ve mentioned above, or even the brain’s lesser forms of negativity siblings such as comparison or perfectionism this article is for you.
Science Time- Let’s Geek Out!
Now some of you who read my articles may know that I have spoken before about how the brain prioritises information. The brain has what is known as a NEGATIVITY BIAS. We are hardwired to remember bad experiences. This is because initially when we were in the wild and we saw a bear the brain would register that ‘hey, I think I saw a bear here last time, this may not be a safe place to walk.’ So it is actually our brain’s way of protecting us, which unfortunately translates across to a lot of situations in our life for which this is unhelpful! And so because it’s not our default, we need to work to keep our mind healthy just like our body.
Do I HAVE To…?
Have you ever tried meditation? Did you have success with it and manage to keep it up? Or did it get cast aside like last night’s bad dinner? The reason I ask is our intention and incentive behind it is everything. You see, it’s not so much making the time, that’s the problem, but the FUN. Do I have 20 minutes to meditate- um, I think i’ll go make a sandwich. 20 minutes to play Pokemon Go on the other hand, oh look, my time’s just freed right up. Now let’s switch things up for a minute. Imagine for a second that your entire ability to dance and keep body healthy relied on you being able to meditate, that you needed meditation for wellness. Would you be able to keep it up daily then? My guess is that, you betcha, it would suddenly gain a lot more importance.
So let’s get down to the juicy details- HOW do I meditate and WHY is it important for me? I’m going to explain how meditation can help with all the aforementioned conditions above very shortly.
So WHY Do We Need Meditation For Wellness?
When we think of meditation it is not uncommon to think of humming and an empty mind. However, this is a common misconception, meditation is actually a form of brain training. That’s right, let’s get ready to work out those brain cells! It’s not about an EMPTY mind, but a FOCUSED one. So meditation is about training and focusing your concentration. The most common form is mindfulness- where we focus on our senses one at a time. When thoughts come along (which of course they will,) we observe the thought rather than engaging it (and therefore further THINKING) and gently move our attention back to our senses.
Now when we experience stress, anxiety, or the emotions surrounding body dysmorphia these are very intense emotions. When we feel an emotion strongly (even if it’s positive) it’s known as a high arousal state. This can be very overstimulating for our nervous system if experienced for long periods of time regularly. So emotions like grief, anger and fear are all high arousal states. Naturally in these states the brain is highly focused and it is much harder to disengage yourself from them. However by practising meditation and being able to shift your attention away from thoughts when you’re in a low arousal state, you stand a much better chance of having the level of skill and concentration necessary to disengage from unhelpful thoughts that hit when there is strong emotion attached to them. Those thoughts about your body, that critical perfectionist voice, those moments of comparison, that stress, that pain (that’s right even chronic pain can be retrained) are not going to get better on their own. It is only by taking charge of your brain and being in the drivers seat that you can take back your life for the better. So don’t panic, it’s actually good news!! You don’t have to let your brain take you for a ride.
Let’s Give It A Shot… HOW?
There are 2 ways that I would recommend for HOW to do this:
Mindfulness is the art of observing your senses. Generally I do one sense at a time- typically I start with becoming aware of my breathing, then closing my eyes, and just focusing on the darkness behind my eyelids, then moving on to what I can hear and finally observing different parts of my body and what sensations I can feel- the fabric of my clothes, the feel of my hands, the wall or floor I’m resting against etc.
When you meditate like this I find it quite helpful to have music on as it’s a lot nicer to have something to follow when you’re focusing on your auditory sense.
Supercharge It With Binaural Beats
To supercharge this further, that’s right- you’re about to learn the ultimate brain hack- you can use music which uses binaural beats. Binaural essentially means having or relating to two ears, and it is essential that to benefit from the full effects that it is listened to through headphones. Binaural beats are a form of brainwave entrainment which means that by using 2 different frequencies (one in each ear) you can change the brain’s level of arousal.
There are 4 main types:
- Alpha (induces relaxation)
- Beta (induces concentration and alertness)
- Delta (induces dreamless sleep)
- Theta (induces R.E.M. sleep, meditation and creativity)
So binaural beats are a great mind hack for getting your mind health to it’s optimum. The benefits range from reduced stress and anxiety, improved focus and alertness, concentration and motivation, deeper meditation and also can affect positive changes in performance and mood. To experience the full benefits, 15-30 minutes is best.
This involves becoming an observer when you experience an unpleasant emotion. Notice- where do you feel it in your body? Is it a heavy or a light sensation? How intense is it? Does it have a shape? By doing this you can create space between you and your emotions and this space allows you to move from reacting to responding. It also means that by focusing on unpleasant emotions in this way you can actually lessen or even dissolve the emotion itself and also gain power over it.
Dance And Health- The M.O.T Of Your Life
So I’m nearly done, it’s a challenge for me to stop talking, I know! But meditation does have one more really great be benefit. It can do more than just give you power over your thoughts and emotions. Our nervous is divided into 2 branches (sympathetic) which is our fight or flight and (parasympathetic) which is our rest and digest. If we function too much in sympathetic dominance we are more likely to develop illnesses like IBS, complex regional pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, adrenal fatigue and burnout, this will heavily impact on our ability to dance! So meditation is pretty much the best body M.O.T you can give your body as a dancer! To quote Nike, just do it.
A Few Last Tips…
– Meditation doesn’t have to be for long. You can encorporate it into your day while you stretch. Or on your commute. Even a snapshot 5-10 minutes will be of great benefit.
-Make it something you look forward to. Create a space that’s your own, light a scented candle, anything relaxing that makes it enjoyable. This is also great as it engages your sense of smell.
-As dancers it’s not uncommon to feel tired but wired at the end of the day, so use meditation as a great way to fall asleep.
–Find a routine. Write it in your diary. Planning it in will help you stick to it.
So that’s it, be willing to stick to it for at least a trial month. Think of it like a Netflix subscription! This is the ultimate tool in your arsenal for both dance and wellness. The changes in the brain really are amazing, and that little moment of shhh in our chaotic lives is addictive, so don’t be end suprised if you end up catching yourself looking forward to it!