Journey to a Healthy Body: Daily Self-Care

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I am focusing on what I can do outside the studio for the daily care of my body and mind. 

Dancers are in constant maintenance, and one thing I have learned through the years of my young career is that we need constant oil for our engine for good functionality.

It is important to work hard at the studio attending classes and rehearse daily as well as, like I said in my Conditioning post, do complimentary exercises at the gym or take a Pilates class to support our technique.

However, self-care is a massive topic I will love to get into. Sometimes we get distracted and forget about our physical and mental health, and this affects our careers and personal lives tremendously.

I am working on establishing my complimentary exercises to support my technique (especially at this time of recovery), and I am very happy with how it is turning out: Light cardio sessions three times a week with a good stretching/conditioning gym session, Pilates twice a week, physiotherapy twice a week, and ice every night. (I can talk about this routine/update on a later post).

But yes, I do forget to take care of myself on a bigger scale. I need to understand that because the mind works tirelessly every day, I need to set a time to reset and recover during the week.

That little "time-off" is so necessary.

Reading a good book more often, taking a break from social media, decluttering my space, meditation, journaling, better skin care, maintaining a nourishing food plan, and going to bed earlier are some I would love to integrate into my life more often.

I not only need these as a dancer but also as a human being.

As hard as we work, dancers are humans as well, and we need these times of resetting in order to perform our duties better and better every day.  

I will keep you updated on my routines. For now, let's grab a pen and start writing and setting that self-care routine that your body desperately needs after a good week of sweat at the studio.

GALLERY: My Warm Up Routine before Ballet Class

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When I was 14 years old and changed to a bigger ballet school, I realized that the other students got there before me and were stretching, warming up. Before that, I used to get to ballet just in time, put on my shoes, and rehearse.

Certainly not an ideal thing for a dancer, but when you are young you don't really pay attention to the importance of preparing your body. So there I was, surrounded by my friends chatting while doing theraband exercises, stretchings on the floor, and light core strength repetitions. And me? Nothing.

After this, I established my warm-up routine. I started to get to the studio earlier, and in a few weeks, my new habit became a huge a priority. I realized that I felt better in class and were able to do things easier.

In the beginning, I went to the extreme and established my warm-up time to be one hour long even longer. I have experimented with shorter and longer exercises, as well as different stretches. Of course, now it varies every day according to how I feel. I went then from 45 minutes to 30, and back to an hour, maybe some days even 15 minutes (it also depended on how early I got to the studio).

Now that I am 21 and coming back to class after a huge gap of recovery, I am back with the 45 minutes to an hour routine. I go from the bottom up, starting with my feet and finishing with core and back.

Here are my exercises as for now:

 

1. Waking up the body with rolling the muscles

My foam roller and my little green massage ball have become my best friends. I start by cracking all the bones I can (dancers, you get me). Then, I take my foam roller and roll my back, hips, and legs. This way, I make sure their circulation is flowing. I end this rolling routine with my green ball, first massaging and putting pressure on my hip flexors, any tight areas, and finally the bottom of my feet. Which takes me to the next step.

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2. Feet warm-up

Like Steven McCrae always says: if his feet are not warm, he does not feel ready at all.

Warming up my feet is a crucial part of my warm-up, and I probably take the longest time here (15-20 minutes). With my theraband, I start with my toes and then exercise my ankles in all directions. With my injury, I am focusing on this part much more and make sure I do them correctly, adding some physical therapy here and there.

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3. Calf, hamstring and quad stretches

Oh, legs... It feels good when they are lengthening, and especially before class. I make sure I stretch each and every one of these three parts. Lately, if I don't do these correctly, I feel tight, tired, and with no flexibility, feeling them heavier than they really are. 

*I forgot to take a photo of my quad and hamstring stretches :(

 
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4. Hips and inner thighs

Opening up the hips are also a crucial part of my routine. As turnout becomes harder and harder while I take off my bad habits of dancing turned-in, stretching those inner muscles are such a relief and it will always help you to achieve a better turnout.

Light straddle, grand pliés in second position, froggy or butterfly, and a "meditation position" are great to achieve a good hip/inner thigh stretch.

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5. Back and abs

The core is crucial to keep strong, and I have been on an adventure discovering how I can strengthen it. Moreover, my back is probably the weakest part of my body, so I need to make sure I am ready for my hardest positions: arabesques and attitudes. After doing some torso stretches, I do light abs, light back exercises, and planks.

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Well, I think I covered everything. The goal is to target the whole body. I might do more or less depending on the days, and sometimes I vary the stretches. Overall, these are the targets I focus on before ballet class.

But I want to know how is your routine: what do you do differently and how do you target your body before class?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

How I Control Frustration

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For as long as I can remember, I have been a very stressed person. I stress about having everything perfect: During class, I think about the steps twice; in school, I study until I know I memorize everything; in life, I plan everything color-coded.

The majority of these times, I get frustrated because of obvious and human reasons. Nothing is perfect. Nothing, no matter how much effort I put, will be perfect.  

 

Right now, I am planning a whole new schedule. And my mom and I can laugh and laugh about this, because I lost count of how many color-coded schedules I have prepared and none, I repeat, none, have been 100% followed. "Let's start again," "this time I will follow it completely."

Why?

 

In ballet class, I normally remember corrections. But if the teacher mentions it to me one more time, for me, it means I forgot it. It means I did not make a huge effort to practice it and trying to put it on my body.  I also double-think each step, trying to make it as technically correct as possible. Even then, I judge myself with: "that was not it," "my hip was not right," "that was turned-in."

Why?

 

In school, I used to go to bed at 3 am studying for my exams.  But sometimes I was too tired to study just one more concept. I read it a couple of times and went to bed. The next day, that very same concept came up, and I did not know how to respond. I forgot. "I am going to fail."

Why?

 

For the blog, I create and re-create a content calendar with set dates. The day a certain post, opinion, or review is supposed to come out, I forget, ignore it, or I simply did not take the time to write it beforehand and schedule it. "It's ok if I skip one day," "wait, but the audience is not getting consistent content," "I failed again with this side gig."

Why?

 

These are the things that make my blood boil. Why can't I just stick to the schedule? Why can't I just publish all the days I have to publish on the blog? Why can't I just practice and practice my correction until it is on my body? Why can't just I concentrate on studying until the end and have a confident good grade?

This is the frustrated me.


Now, try to take a different turn to this mentality...

Let's go through these few tips I created for you (and of course, for myself as well.)

 

You are human

Yes, you are probably categorized as "not normal" if you are a dancer. But you are a human being, and human beings make mistakes. Every time you "make a mistake," think about all the other people in the world. Are you the only one making a mistake?

 

Don't think you are the worst person

This is something we have to work on with our self-esteem, and it goes along with acknowledging we are humans. No one is better nor worse. We are all unique and different, and instead of thinking we are the worst or comparing ourselves to others in ballet class, work, school, and out in the street, try to think that there is no one like you.

 

It's all about trial and error

If it does not work, make a change. If your body does not get the step, try consulting with your teachers on how you can approach it better. If the study guide did not show all the details, make sure to change your strategy for the next exam. If, during the day, you feel like the routine you have created is not working, try switching some hours up.

 

Don't get angry, acknowledge the mistake and treat it as a lesson

This is by far the hardest for me. I usually beat myself up for making a mistake or not getting a step in class or rehearsal. But at the end, I learn how to not make those mistakes again and automatically grow not only as an artist but as a person and an adult.

Getting angry and frustrated is never of worth. I get angry at myself pretty easily, but lately (for the last weeks or so) when this happens I take deep breaths, think about what went wrong, accept the mistake instead of regretting it, and try to think about how I can improve.

 

We only have one body, one personality, one life. It is never worth it to be frustrated for our everyday activities or routines. Like I said, if it does not work, then change it: change your perspective and start growing as the person you deserve to be.

My Inspirations Before a New Work Day

Today is my first full work-day at the studio.

After four months of doing just almost physical therapy, I am writing this post with a new leotard on and drinking a morning smoothie. Getting ready for a new day of company work.

I started to read David Hallberg's "A Body of Work," and it is perfect for this time in particular, as I am coming back from rest. He stopped for two years after double foot surgery (I still don't get to this part of the book, but the introduction gives you a glimpse of his day and how he felt when he could not take a ballet class or rehearse at all).

Lauren Cuthbertson's Nowness video is also a great inspiration to kickstart this day. On stage, she suffered a major injury and that video reflects her coming back (the video is shown below, as well as a link to my shop to buy Hallberg's book).

Lastly, Steven McRae, my ultimate favorite dancer, is also on a journey to recovery. His social media reflects a positive side of starting again with patience and mental strength. This morning, his message was, "Sometimes the hardest battle is against yourself. It's a new week full of challenges and opportunities. Be kind to yourself. Set yourself goals but remember you are human!"

These are the things that remind me that we all go through injuries. However, we all have the opportunity to recover and come back stronger. David, Lauren, and Steven's examples are just a few of many.

As small as my injury was, I am still thankful for the opportunity to reset and start again.

These are my inspirations for a new work day after a long, long break. If you were in the same situation, what would yours be?


 

Injury Update 3: Starting Again

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After four long months, I am finally holding the barre again!

On Monday, I had my very LAST doctor's appointment and had my last session of physical therapy on Saturday.

But going back in time, during my last physical therapy sessions, they were applying a method called "Iontophoresis," which consists of delivering anti-inflammatory medicine directly to the affected area through electrical stimulation. After four of those sessions, I started to feel better and better and proceeded to do more advanced exercises.

No surgery was needed!

I am thankful that my therapist was also a dancer, so she was confident that I could start with small ballet steps and use them as part of my recovery.

Going back to Monday, the doctor gave me an all-clear. However, he knows that ballet is a high-impact activity, and warned me to take extreme care for not starting too fast. Of course, he also told me to keep doing my therapy exercises every day to keep strengthening the affected joint.

I have already taken a few classes and cross-trained a bit more. I definitely feel better, and for sure am very sore. But I know that I do not have to be perfect and that after such a long time without class, the process of recovering and getting back to the shape I was before, needs to be slow. 

If you are wondering how the foot is, I feel it with almost no pain and has a higher range of movement with no difficulties. I just have to be careful to now force my turnout and lift my arches at all times, as doing the contrary makes the ankle angry. (And forcing my ankles' turnout might have been one of the reasons the tendon was suffering on the first place).

I did not kill myself in during my first class at the studio. I knew I was not going to keep up with all the exercises. Luckily, I also have a barre at home so I can keep going with slow-paced movements.

If you are injured, make sure to always think positive, because you will come back stronger!

I will keep you updated with my progress.

Thank you for reading and for your support during this journey.