From Yoga Therapy to Mastery of a Dancer’s Body

I started my yoga practice at age 52 out of absolute necessity. My hour-and-a-half commute each way (including school drop off and pick up) had finally caught up with me: one fine SoCal autumn day last year, I suddenly started limping from my car to my office due to harsh hip pain.

This shocker was nearly impossible for me to wrap my head around. I’m not a limper, I reasoned with myself, I don’t limp. I’m a lifelong dancer, I insisted in my head, I have Olympian vital signs, I’m strong. Ok, maybe I failed the part of the 5th grade presidential fitness test where you have to hang from a bar for seven seconds, but I’m strong in other ways. Especially mentally.

As is always my way, I analyzed the problem and knew I would come up with a solution. There was no way I was going to succumb to limping. Nothing bad about people who walk with a limp; it simply wasn’t me.

I added more dance stretches to my day and consulted with one of my chiropractor colleagues to improve my driving ergonomics. I became strict on taking my one flex day per week to work from home. But it wasn’t enough. I was still limping from my car.

I got nervous. Very nervous. I remembered my grandma was a limper on Percocet for years — an opioid, for dang sake — before getting a double hip replacement. Was that my destiny? Was my body falling apart in the same way hers did? Was I really unable to recover from this type of physical stress anymore? Was I going to be a limper from 52 onward, looking ahead to titanium hips?

This did not fit into my headspace. There had to be a way to heal myself. Coincidentally — though I don’t believe in coincidences — I clicked on a facebook ad for a yoga app that I hadn’t seen before. Ads for yoga apps always look the same to me — a contorted, perky young woman with flowing hair smiling at me from her serene, nature-filled, exotic location. Look like this in 30 days! Right. That will never happen, so why should I click on it.

This ad was different. At the time it was called Cody app; now it is called Alo Moves. The yogi pictured was a guy who looked like he was working hard leading a class, and the ad didn’t make any crazy promises. Once I clicked, I learned that you could buy individual workouts instead of subscribing, which sounded good to me, a skeptic who has never been much of a yoga fan for myself and not necessarily ready to commit. There was a workout series called Desk Therapy taught by this same guy in the picture, Dylan Werner. Even though my problem was coming from driving, that’s like sitting at a desk, and the description of the series sounded like it might help. It was certainly worth a try, I was utterly desperate.

That was perhaps the best $27.99 I’ve ever spent. (BTW I receive nothing from Alo Moves, they don’t know I’m writing this, I just love them, that’s all.) The first workout I tried that night had a lot of hip openers and was very challenging for the beginner that I was. It worked! Instant relief. Even better, I woke up the next day still feeling the effects. I didn’t limp from my car to my office that day. A miracle! I was hooked.

I tried the various workouts within the Desk Therapy series and felt how each one had a slightly different, yet always therapeutic, effect. I didn’t have to practice every single day to reap the benefit of no limping, but I did have to practice at least twice a week to prevent the limping from coming back. Each workout was thirty to forty minutes each, so twice a week was something I could — would — fit into my intense schedule.

By the time I went on a winter trip to San Francisco, the Desk Therapy series was integral to my existence. I had bought a few more series with other instructors and went ahead and committed to the $20/month subscription. So worth it. I used the Alo Moves app in my hotel room to recover from traveling and walking hills. I still swear by Alo Moves whenever I travel.

4 pose street art St Petersburg 5.19.18
Couldn’t resist a spontaneous standing figure four pose to blend in with the amazing street art in St. Petersburg, FL. At this point, I had been practicing yoga for 6 months.

I went on a ketogenic diet upon my return from San Francisco, and I continued my yoga practice. By now I was adding yoga strength workouts. I did well in ketosis with yoga, but when I thought I would be clever by adding intense stationary bike workouts to my regimen, maybe burn fat faster, I hit a surprising weight and fat loss plateau. My personal trainer friend helped me to accept my body composition scale’s data that was showing me that the intense bike workouts were not working for my body — but yoga was. This was a major mind shift for me. How could quiet and peaceful yoga help me to steadily lose fat but not hyper, loud cardio? Theories behind that are a future blog post; my point here is that my body was telling me to quit the intense bike stuff and focus on the yoga, and my personal trainer convinced me to accept that.

Alright, then. Yoga it was, and yoga it would be. At only two to three practices a week, four during a lucky week, trying various strength workouts, and regularly returning to my favorite flexibility workouts, I noticed clear changes in my contours as the body fat came off from my ketogenic and then post-ketogenic lifestyle. Even better were the things that I could do: I could stand from a deep squat without desperately and awkwardly pulling myself up with my arms, something I thought had been left in the dust of my late thirties; I could hold a plank longer than I ever had, even before my serious back injury at 33 (separate blog post series for sure); and I was gradually overcoming my fear of face planting during Crow pose.

The most mind boggling revelation, though, happened at the end of July.

My husband and I had our first flamenco rehearsal together in well over a year. I had not seriously rehearsed myself since an eye surgery fourteen months prior, and he wanted to start prepping for a mini show at Sony studios for his colleagues. I was about a minute into the warm up routine that I had developed for myself when we were performing full time, one that was ballet-based in the legs and flamenco-focused along the spine, chest, and arms.

I suddenly had to stop to collect my thoughts — everything was working differently, my body parts functioned so easily within these dance movements, and it felt like every muscle fiber was connected to all of the others from so deep inside. I had never felt such ease in my body, such control.

Still flabbergasted after my warm-up, I plunged cheerfully into the rehearsal. I had to keep stopping to emphasize to my husband how different I felt. It was like I was in control of a whole new body, yet one that was always mine. All of the technique was still there (though I have to drill footwork to regain my speed), and I was the same dancer, the same me. But I had somehow improved significantly, gotten so much stronger, more precise, and could stop my spins within a knife’s edge, all without having actually worked on my dance technique for over a year. Unexpectedly, I was in command.

It had all come from working “on the mat,” as yogi’s say, exclusively, all these months.

I know of at least two dance companies, both in LA, that regularly use yoga as rehearsal warm-ups: Pacifico Dance Company, a Mexican folklorico company, and Kayamanan Ng Lahi Philippine Folks Arts dance company. Back when I had visited a Pacifico rehearsal as a guest and taken a few classes with KNL before my eye surgery, I had thought, Oh, how nice to use yoga as a warm up, how convenient, how LA… now where’s the real dance warm up? I stand very humbly corrected.

Life hack shout out to all dancers and dance companies: yoga should be de riguer for not only strength and flexibility, but, more importantly, for continuity, fluidity, and mastery of your body — from within. Not from your mind telling your leg to turn out a little more or telling your shoulder blades to sink down your back a little more, though there is absolutely an essential place for such brain commands. But from somewhere inside — I can’t even call it “the core” because everyone thinks of “abs,” and it’s not as simple as that.

My yoga practice has secretly, almost clandestinely, connected all of the parts into a whole that responds from deep within itself in unison, in harmony, and is, therefore, so easy to work with.

The take always are:

Sore hips from a too-long commute? Try yoga therapy.

Want body contouring with a ketogenic/post-ketogenic lifestyle? Try strength and flexibility yoga.

Are you a dancer who wants to master your technique with ease? Try strength and flexibility yoga.

Are you a dancer? Just try yoga.

A midlife oasis from the vantage point of this Quinquagen.

OXOX

coco

2 comments

  1. I found yoga through Tars Stiles on YouTube. She was a dancer also. I only go once a week, but just the once a week is transformative. I also have a back injury and do daily hip openers while watching tv and at my desk. Me theory on why hard core stuff like cross fit, etcetera, doesn’t work is the increase in cortisol because its an overall stressful push push push mentality.

    Like

    1. Nice, I’ve seen hers and others’ work on YouTube, and when push came to shove, I needed the shove of a subscription and a community to keep me accountable. I also agree with the cortisol theory, and I’ll definitely be writing on that from the medical/scientific point of view.

      Liked by 1 person

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