Dance is also a powerful tool for circulation, oxygenation and muscular health.
We learn from the proponents of Alexander that almost all muscular/posture problems are caused by misuse and inadequate use of the many muscles in our body. We get into a pattern of using the same muscles, repeating the same actions. We get into a rut, in terms of movement and posture. After a while we sense a stiffening, a discomfort- and quite often the effects of abuse of our muscles accumulates insidiously. Suddenly a shoulder flares in pain or the back gives up. It seems to have crept upon us from nowhere, but in reality we have been heading down a road to muscular disaster for a long time.
An Alexander therapist can advise us in terms of correct posture- a carriage which makes most effective use of our muscles.
Dance can free our movement, give us an opportunity to exercise a much wider range of muscles than we tend to do in everyday life. Some of our muscles are relatively atrophied and others can become inflamed from the stress of repetitive overuse. Dance can bring us back to balanced, all-round use of many muscular systems.
Find at least ten minutes alone- it's best not to feel inhibited by the presence of others. You could take a Sony Walkman into your room and lock the door, or whatever it takes to feel comfortable and able to express yourself freely by means of body movement.
The room should not be cold or draughty, and your body should not feel cold. Wear comfortable, loose clothing which keeps you adequately warm but not overheated. You may find you wish to shed a layer when you are dancing at a faster pace, but you should be very careful that your muscles should not become chilled. Don't dance if you feel fatigued or deprived of sleep, very hungry or full right after a meal.
Pick melodies you really enjoy, perhaps a melody which encourages you to sing along and become involved with the music to the greatest degree possible. Try to find music that has a Jewish spiritual theme. Regesh music is marvellously inspirational and includes slow and faster numbers. The Breslov Research Institute has produced a wide range of wonderful tapes. If you prefer Mordechai ben David or the Miami boy's choir, fine. Whatever works for you- whatever you enjoy.
Choose a relatively slow number to begin. Let your limbs stretch and move gently with the melody. Don't strain yourself! It's important to keep the muscles in your neck and shoulders as relaxed as possible. Rotation of the head is beneficial if these muscles are warm and relaxed but can cause problems if you are already tense there. If you feel any resistance - don't force it. Try moving at a slightly different angle but just as far as you can go without any strain at all. As you get into the flow of the music and movement this should come more easily, but in many people there is a tendency to hold the head more stiffly while focussing on the movement of the limbs. It is important to become aware of this tendency. In the course of your dancing, remember to return to the neck and shoulders and rotate gently to keep these muscles relaxed and moving freely.
Some months ago I developed a painful ache in my facial muscles. Such pain is often attributed to a virus, but I believe this one appeared due to intense tension in a particular relationship. A massage by an Alexander therapist initially intensified the pain, but within twenty four hours it was gone. However, because the problems in that relationship had not been resolved, the tension in my cheek returned. One session of dance, with particular attention given to the muscles which support the head, released the tension. The pain in my left cheek rapidly drained away, even though the problems had not been resolved. Later, if I felt any slight clenching in those muscles again, I found I was able to prevent it developing into a full blown face-ache by gentle exercise of the muscles below it. Many disciplines make use of the relationship between different muscles- we have here a kind of "chain effect". We can tell if a muscle is in pain, but we often have quite a few muscles in a state of chronic tension though we don't always perceive this consciously. By releasing tension in neighbouring muscles we can relieve tension in painful muscles.
When muscles are in tension they contract. This bunching can force part of the muscle into adjacent muscles, sometimes this is perceived as a click or crack. The fibres feel knotted and entangled. They are actually not so much knotted as split longitudinally- much the way fingers intertwine when we clasp them together. This splitting and intertwining causes pain and inflammation since it is a radical departure from the natural state of the muscle. Massage can tease the fibres free, warm them and relax them temporarily, but if the muscle is still pulling it will soon return to it's previous undesirable state. It's our job to bring that state back to normal tone, and that can be accomplished by dance. Dance can relax and tone many muscles of the body in one session. We're not trying to attain strength here, but balance and release of tension.
After you have loosened up your muscular system, you can move onto a faster number. Now you can enjoy an aerobic work out, possibly incorporating some movements you've seen or learned in aerobic calisthenics. In dance, the movements are really up to you. Improvise! Now your heart and lungs play a more obvious part, but remember throughout the exercise to breathe regularly- in through the nostrils and out through the mouth. You want to draw oxygen to all your tissues in the most effective manner. Try to draw the air deep into your lungs, but again- gently. Don't force anything. Try to maintain an awareness of your muscles, especially the areas that are typically tense. If you feel any twinges of pain, slow down and take it gently! This is not boot camp.
Finally, return to a slow number and wind down gently. Never stop suddenly- your heart will not thank you for that kind of treatment! Slow down gradually so that your heart returns to its resting rhythm gently. If you have ever been connected to a monitor you will notice the intimate relationship between your breathing patterns and your heart beat. If your breathing is regular and effective, your heart traces will appear text book perfect. Any irregularities in breathing will appear instantaneously on your heart trace- it's truly amazing to see. Your pulse registers every gasp of pain, every inefficiency in the system, every shortness of breath. When you breathe properly you are literally kind to your heart- and this is very important during exercise, especially if you're not accustomed to it. It is therefore advisable to increase the time devoted to faster music in small, manageable increments while you develop a routine.
Dance is essentially a pleasurable, experential exercise, effective both on a physical level and an emotional level. When you bring music into movement you can generate inspiration which can last you the rest of the day- an interesting point, since "inspiration" is related to breathing, bringing oxygen into every organ of the body.
So, kick off your shoes, turn on the tape, stretch your arms and enjoy the dance!
Return to Health page