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Dance and Health- Using Meditation For Wellness.

Healthy-dancer-happy-dancer

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?

Making-meditation-for-wellness-work-for-youI 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.

Using-meditation-for-dance-and-Wellness-the-happier-you

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…?

Dance-and-healthHave 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?

 

meditation-for-wellnessWhen 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.

Dance-and-Wellness-dealing-with-negative-emotionsNow 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 Choosing-our-thoughts-for-dance-and-wellnessharder 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 Taking-charge-of-your-brain-by-using-meditation-for-wellnessnot 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
  • DESENSITISATION

Mindfulness-for-wellnessMindfulness

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.

Desensitisation

Be-an-observerThis 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…

Stretching-while-meditating

– 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-a-cosy-space-for-meditation

-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.

 

Meditate-if-you’re-tired-but-wired

-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.

 

 

Fit-meditation-into-your-routine-for-dance-and-Wellness

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 Comments

  • Theresa Horn

    This is a great article! I’m so glad that you confessed that you found meditation to be boring when you first tried it. It is SO boring! Now that I am armed with all of this new knowledge, I’m going to give it another try. Thank you.

    • admin

      Thanks Theresa,

      Yes it can be hard to get your head around can’t it? 😉 When I didn’t understand how it could help me I just felt meh, why bother? However once I understood what I was actually doing and how it could change my life EVERYTHING changed.

      The relief and peace it gives your brain from thought when you get practised at it once you crack it is really lovely- it feels like a sigh of relief. And it feels so empowering to be able to disengage from thoughts we don’t find helpful, negative or useful. I actually used it to help train my brain out of chronic pain! Let me know how you get on. I defo find creating a comfy cozy space helps me to be able to look forward to it too! 🙂

  • Mike L

    Well being I am a perfectionist, I better start meditating….
    I’ve thought meditation was just a form of relaxation without knowing the other benefits of it.
    Sticking to anything for longer than a week or two has been hard for me after getting my hernia in the middle of working out a few months straight.
    Now whenever I try to exercise, weight lift, cut pop out of my diet, eat a proper diet I can’t even make it a whole month.
    Hoping that changes in 2019

    • admin

      Sorry to hear that Mike. It’s so much harder to stay motivated when there’s extra challenges, isn’t it? There will be ways round it though. Side benefit of meditation is it’s actually a great way for us to stay in shape as stress produces cortisol which makes us gain weight, so it’s a great way to stay in shape without lifting a finger! Do you also struggle with pain with your hernia? If so, I’m going to be doing some posts on handling pain which you might find interesting 🙂

  • SkyPath

    Hey! I see you post, it just really awesome!! every picture can connect with the article, is easy to read!
    I know that meditation can help people body a lot, but still, i don’t know how to do or how it works, thank for you amazing article let me know all these things!

    • admin

      Your very welcome. It can be confusing can’t it- I didn’t really understand it until I came across the right info either. It’s often marketed as just ‘relaxation’ which is misleading. Glad I was able to help 🙂

  • Derek Marshall

    Great article regarding the benefits of meditation. I never actually thought of its application to physical performance. You seem to do all the thing I do when I meditate, I have been meditating for about 12 years on a daily basis.

    Being aware if the senses or bringing your mind to their awareness has the powerful effect of bringing you into the moment, the now. Stillness.

    “I think, therefore I am not, only when the mind is silent I am” Spirit science.

    Got to admit, I am really into trying mediation with binaural beats – not something I have tried…yet!.

    • admin

      Amazing, do you ever do anything to mix your meditation up or do you keep it the same each day? Yes, binaural beats is great- I find it such an easy way to fascilitate meditation and get you in the zone. Just make sure to use headphones so you get the benefit. Great quote 🙂

  • Demi

    Admire your honesty about meditation..Like you I thought it boring too at the beginning. Still feel so but I have been trying to make it a part of my life for few months and have been researching how to do it properly to benefit from it. All the insight you have here is really helpful!

    • admin

      Thanks Demi,
      Yes I think to build meditation into our life in a sustainable way we have to be honest about what we find boring. It’s worth noting that there’s not just one correct type of meditation- for example some people work better with stillness whilst other people can find a more engaging meditative state through movement.

      So it may be worth playing around with this- trying yoga for example which is a bit more engaging. As long as you’re still actively using your brain to meditate whilst doing it you will definitely still reap all the benefits! Good luck! 🙂

  • Effie

    I agree with Theresa. Even though I feel the need to lean how to meditate it bores me to death. Perhaps I should try Mindfulness. Desensitisation is not for me. I’m bookmarking you article. I need to study it again and again. Good read!

    • admin

      Glad you liked it Effie, thanks for bookmarking it 🙂 and that is completely fair enough, we will all click with things slightly differently, which is why it’s great that there’s different ways to meditate! Let me know how you get on with trying mindfulness. I do really find music helps to allay boredom and get one into a state of enjoying it. I think meditation when done accurately should feel like a long quenching drink of water as our lives can get pretty stressful. Have a play, and let me know if you have any breakthroughs or questions. When you do find that peacefulness it is so worth it 🙂

  • Matts Mom

    I have often wanted to begin to learn to use meditation. I have thought it would have a ton of benefits, and now I see that this would really benefit me. I tend to be an over thinker and because of that I can stress out a bit much sometimes. I do believe this would help, is that correct? If so, where do I begin?

    • admin

      I completely relate to you, overthinking is a massive trait for me too! It can cause a lot of stress can’t it? Yes, meditation will definitely help with this, in that you will have more choice over which thoughts you pursue and therefore be able to step away from them if you wish.

      Some worry/stress related thoughts do have real considerations behind them so I would always recommend listening to them and trying to answer in a way that is satisfactory to you, to then be able to focus on something else. So you can also use your thoughts to change your perspective eg ‘I’m really worried about this new job… what if the people aren’t nice… what if the work is too hard…what if I don’t like it etc’ to ‘I’m really excited to have this new opportunity… I wonder if there’ll be someone nice I click with… any challenges I can use to grow and become better and stronger in my career and grow in the direction I want.

      Then when you’ve satisfied what is causing you to overthink you can use the meditation to gently extricate yourself from further thought and engage in your present task. Of course to begin the brain will keep trying to make you worry/ think about it again but just be disciplined in bringing it back to the present moment each time and a new habit will start to form.

      I would start with just 5 minutes twice a days if you can and then build up to ten and then 15. I think the mistake people make in the beginning is to do it for too long and their mind just wandering for 20 minutes. Much better to start small and do a good quality practise with a short burst of concentration and go from there.

      You may also find EFT helpful which you can read about in my article on stagefright 🙂

  • Lee Ann

    Wow!! This was very useful information for me. I have tried meditation, but like you I was quickly bored and was not able to shut my mind off. which is also an issue when I try to sleep at night.

    I have not tried music when I have tried to meditate. Listening to a different one in each ear is something I have not heard of.

    I love the fact that you have listed the different types of beats and what they work the best for. Is there a certain place to find the main types that you recommend? I didn’t see a link.

    Is there a certain cd or digital download for this?
    Looking forward to hearing back from you.

    Wishing you the best in all you do
    Lee Ann

    • admin

      Hi Lee Ann,

      It can be so hard to shut the mind off. But the good news is the more we practise it, the easier it gets. The brain does more of what it’s constantly doing, and most of the time we’re thinking all day every day so it just constantly does it,(the brain is pretty much addicted to thinking) but with practise you’ll be able to get those moments of peace and quiet as and when you like them.

      I definitely have a few recommendations. I’m just sorting out my links this week so as soon as they’re up and running I will post a link/links for you in the comments 🙂

  • Kat

    Hi, it’s great how you’ve linked meditation with focus and concentration! This is an excellent way to describe how it is done. I love using meditation to go to sleep the most, and need to get more of a regular routine with meditating. I practice it every now and then to manage anxiety, but not daily yet. will work on that :).
    I really love how you linked that we have a negative bias! This is so true, then to be able to discuss how this is tuned into our ancestral roots. So much amazing content here in one post. Thanks for a wonderful post on one of my favourite topics, meditation 🙂

    • admin

      Thanks Kat,
      Yes, it’s hard to find the motivation to meditate daily isn’t it?

      One thing I have found is that when I do, I have much greater control over managing feelings of anxiety as it’s harder to do in a high arousal state. So by practising in a low arousal state but also on days when we are stressed out our skill at handling our mind when things get hard increases exponentially. It’s like a muscle, the more you practise observing, and choosing your focus when those feelings hit, the more it gives us a choice not to get caught up in them. Hope this helps 🙂

      And yes, meditations great for falling asleep isn’t it? Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks so much for the feedback 🙂

  • Karli

    First of all, great site! Your article taught me some things I did not know. I knew about the different frequencies and states but I didn’t know which ones were best for what.This was jam packed with information that I can easily incorporate into my meditation routine. I knew about binaural beats, I think I should actually try to use those more often. I am not a dancer, but I can definitely use these tips for my overall health! Thanks!…Karli

    • admin

      Thanks Karli,

      Glad it was helpful, yes binaural beats are awesome, particularly for getting to sleep. If I know I’ve got an important day the next day and I really need to sleep I’ll make sure to listen to binaural beats- works every time! So I recommend them for this in particular, but for everything they’re such a great way to hack your brain!

      Glad you liked the post and enjoy your meditation:)

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