I have been an adult ballet dancer for almost 19 years; I have avoided injuries and never missed a class except for travel. That ended abruptly two weeks ago when I did something to the muscles in my lower back and hip.
Luckily, it was just before a week-long break at the dance school, so I didn’t miss classes. I did have to miss a couple of swim practices though, as I was pretty much confined to bed for several days. I was not happy. At all.
Thankfully, rest, gentle stretches, and a couple of trips to to the chiropractor’s have me mobile again. I have managed two dance classes this week, though I still feel like a bit like this mushroom:
Part of me thinks I need to start accepting that I am 61 and my risk of injury will continue to grow with age. Part of me says that I have already scaled back to an easier level of class, and I am learning to accept that things like grand pliés will depend on how I feel that day. It’s okay to make accommodations. And part of me thinks I should just shift my perspective. Like these bats, I’m a pretty badass dancer if you look at me the right way.
And then Pandemic Dark Dance posted to Facebook, “Tomorrow Night… Hopefully the last online Pandemidarkdance for a long while. I fully expect all 600-some members to login for it. We can’t take 600 requests, but we can take a few. You got any? Next Thursday (17th) we’ll be back in the Owls club, like olden times… Like nothing had ever happened… save for the vax check, tea-light squares, and the entry and exit wearing of masks…”
So we’re moving our fitness lives back into the world and the online options are closing down. Mostly (see above) I’m thrilled about that. I’m back at the gym I’m doing in person yoga again.
But who is being left behind?
I’m struggling with this in the university context too, trying to balance accessibility concerns, with wanting to be back on campus for in person learning.
It’s not just about being high risk for covid, or having perfectly reasonable concerns about social gathering when the pandemic isn’t over. There are also disability access needs that have been met during the pandemic. In addition, there’s the rural/small town/big city divide. I remember, in the early days of social media, when online friends in big cities would talk about getting off LiveJournal or Friendster or Facebook in favour of in person friends in the real world. I’d point out that their real world looked different than mine. I didn’t have the same access to in person events that they did.
“WE DANCE IN THE DARK IN MORE THAN 75 LOCATIONS AROUND THE WORLD AND WE’VE BEEN DOING IT SINCE 2009! We turn off the lights and crank up the tunes to release our inhibitions, move our moods and work up a wild sweat – all completely sober. We are mums, dads, students, lawyers and baristas, from 12 to 100 years old. We all have one thing in common; in the dark we come alive, shake the blues away and get lost in the music….We grew from a small gathering in Melbourne into a global community, simply because joy is contagious, and people love to dance. Lights Out, Let’s Dance – there’s room for you on our dance floor. “
When the pandemic hit, dark dancing took off in peoples’ homes. If you use Spotify there are more than 300 No Lights No Lyrca playlists. I can’t dance due to my knees but these playlists have saved my life on the bike these past two years.
So as Dancing in the Dark returns to clubs, that’s great I guess. But what about those of us who don’t live in Toronto, New York, or London or who are choosing to stay out night clubs until the pandemic is gone for good? Or what about those people who dance in bed, or in their wheelchairs, for whom the night club, even sober, might never have been a real option?
I was happy to see that some dark dancing groups are running hybrid dance parties, in the club in whatever city they are in and on Zoom and or YouTube as well.
And I’ll be curious to see where we land in terms of hybrid forms of participation.
How is this working out in your online fitness world? Are you losing online fitness options? What do you think we ought to do to keep online and in person fitness communities going? How is hybrid working out, if your communities are going that route?
I hope today finds you with the space you need to take good care of yourself.
And I hope that you can recognize your own efforts to make that space, even if you didn’t always succeed.
You matter, your needs matter and your efforts matter.
And here’s a gold star for those efforts:
Now, onto our movement and meditation for making space. (As always, feel free to do these or to do your own thing.)
One of my favourite ways to get moving is to join my friend Elaine Dunphy in either an ageless grace or a Nia dance class. Since I can’t bring all of you to one of her classes (what with Covid restrictions and the laws of physics and all), I asked her to create a short video for today’s post.
Here’s Elaine, in full positivity and joy, with a New Year’s Eve message and a short and fun movement practice for you to try as you create a little space for yourself today.
And as for a meditation, I am offering two today.
The first one is for people with a lot of space in their day, the second is for people with just a sliver of time for themselves.
And if you just have a minute, here’s a meditation for you.
I hope that these posts have helped you find space for yourself during the month of December when time seems to telescope, dragging on or collapsing without any relationship to the clock or to the calendar.
As we move into 2022, may you have the space you need in your mind, in your heart, in your days, in your schedules, and in the places where you spend your time.
We’re officially into that weird point of December where no one seems sure what day it is or what’s open or what they are supposed to be doing. And the range of Covid restrictions in various places is amplifying the confusion this year.
All of that adds up to even more reason to try and make some space for yourself – in whichever way works best for you today.
(That’s often the tricky part of making space for ourselves, I find. It’s hard to know what we are going to need from day to day and how much space we’ll require to give ourselves what we need.)
So, I’m just going to remind you that making space for yourself is a valid and important thing to do. You deserve gentle care. You deserve to have room in your own life. You deserve to feel good.
And if feeling good is out of reach right now, then I hope you can find a way to feel as good as possible in your current situation, even if the only space you can create is 10 extra seconds in the bathroom to squeeze your shoulders up by your ears and then let them slowly sink downward again.
Since we are in the in-between and everyone may need different things, I’ve picked out two choices for each video. Relaxing yoga/energizing cardio and meditation for hope/meditation for energy.
I hope you can find what you need today, in these videos or elsewhere.
I wish you ease.
Here’s your star for your efforts. ⭐️
Your hard work counts.
If you need to relax today, this yoga stretch video could be a good place to start.
If relaxing stretches aren’t your thing today, this fun dance video might be just the movement you need to create some space for yourself.
If you are feeling a bit overdone emotionally today, this guided meditation could help you untie some mental knots.
If you are feeling a bit blah and need some mental energy, this next meditation might be the answer.
I was slightly reluctant to post this (quite lovely) meditation because it is labelled for ‘productivity’ and I hate that word. Not everything has to be ‘productive’ and our cultural push for ‘productivity’ is one big reason we need to consciously make space for ourselves instead of being able to let it happen more organically.
However, that being said, it is an enjoyable meditation and is NOT pushing productivity. I feel like that word is in the title to help the video be picked up in searches rather than being part of the channel’s philosophy per se.
So, to be clear, I am definitely not criticizing the channel for putting the word productivity in the title and I am not suggesting that YOU need to be productive. I found this meditation energizing and I hope you do, too.
I hope you find space today, with these videos or in your own way.
Remember: No one else gets to decide what space you need or how you make that space. 💚 you are the boss of you. 😉
I don’t know about you but I am really getting to the point in December where time starts telescoping. I keep feeling like I have lots of time left before a task needs to be finished and then, somehow, time has contracted and my deadline is looming.
Wait, is that just an ADHD thing? Does time do that for neurotypical people, too? I’ve experienced this all my life but I have had ADHD all that time so perhaps it’s related.
ANYWAY, my point is that even when time feels tight, it’s important to do what you can to add in some space for self-care. I am NOT pressuring you to do anything specific. I don’t want making space to become another guilt-inducing item on a long to-do list.
Perhaps, if everything feels crowded and tight, you can do something very small – like taking a VERY deep breath every time you touch your phone or first touch the steering wheel.
If you have more time and space today, here are your videos!
Our movement video is dance instruction/dance practice with Laura Jones from Stopgap Dance Company (an inclusive class for disabled people)
For our meditation today, I chose some restful meditation music rather than a guided meditation. I kind of feel like I am in a spa when I listen to this so that’s not a bad way to spend 5 minutes.
Whether you choose these videos or whether you find another route to making space, I wish you ease and restfulness.
Have you been managing to make some space for yourself through movement, meditation, or through something else that makes you happy?
I really hope you have.
But if it is hasn’t worked out for you yet, I still applaud your efforts.
It’s tricky to find time for yourself in a busy life and it’s even trickier to find energy to do something different with that time. It’s far easier to just zone out and go with whatever habits you already have.
I’m not criticizing the tendency to zone out. I do it too. Sometimes, it’s is all we can manage to do and that’s fine.
But if zoning out is not serving you well, if it is not helping you to feel rested, then maybe you can ease your way toward another form of self care.
Today’s breathing exercise (it’s not exactly a meditation but it also kind of is) might be a good place to start, even if you just follow it for a couple of breaths.
You don’t have to create a huge space for yourself right away, the teeny tiny space of a few breaths is an excellent place to start.
If you want to get moving today, this hip-hop dance video is a fun way to get started.
No matter what you decide to do today, I hope you find some ease.
Flexibility is something that most athletes aspire to, but until recently I never thought about there being a problem with it. After all, I spend a fair bit of time stretching and trying to increase my mobility; most of my athletic friends do the same.
My daughter, however, struggles with hyper-mobility. According to the Hypermobility Syndromes Association, hypermobility is most common in childhood and adolescence, in females, and Asian and Afro-Caribbean races. It tends to lessen with age. In many people joint hypermobility is of no medical consequence and commonly does not give rise to symptoms. Hypermobility can even be considered an advantage, for example athletes, gymnasts, dancers and musicians might specifically be selected because of their extra range of movement.
That describes my daughter pretty well. She is Asian and aspired to be a dancer. When she was learning to dance en pointe at 12, she took a good year longer than her classmates to master the skill. That was because she needed time to develop foot muscles strong enough to compensate for her loose ligaments.
Still, that mobility looked pretty cool on stage. She could move effortlessly into the splits, then side splits, them touch the floor with her head from that position.
Now that she is no longer dancing for hours every day, she struggles with joint pain. Despite being very fit by most standards, she needs to do even more exercise to strengthen her muscles since her ligaments don’t do their job properly. So far, the promise of symptoms lessening with age has not materialized, so she will be getting advice from her physiotherapist on a home gym set-up so that she can do weight training in the basement.
While she does that, I will be reflecting on different bodies and how they work. This blog has often commented on the common stereotypes of fat/unhealthy and thin/fit, and how both can lead to poor health outcomes for people. I knew that there are injury risks with almost every sport, and stretching before and after exercise is one way to minimize those risks. Until my daughter started suffering, I had no idea that it was possible to be in pain because your body is naturally so stretchy.
Lesson learned. I’ll add this to my growing list of gender analysis considerations, my list of ways that something can affect different people in different ways – some good, some neutral, and some bad, depending on the individual and their circumstances. It has been a good reminder on the importance of checking my biases, and not making assumptions about anyone else’s health or fitness.
I’ve done Nia lots of times since and I’m still a pretty goofy dancer but I have a grand time thanks to the atmosphere that Elaine creates.
Since I trust Elaine to ease me into new things to be gloriously awful at, last week, I checked out her drop-in class for a program called Ageless Grace.
I had no idea how hard it is to draw a circle with your left pinkie while drawing a triangle with your right big toe.
And how relaxing it is to pretend to be pulling taffy, in all directions, in time to some music.
And I wasn’t alone in this fun. My Mom, my sister Denise, and 27 other people joined Elaine and grinned, laughed, and sang our way through a series of exercises designed to encourage neuroplasticity and fitness.
And while I can’t exactly judge if it did those things for us, I can definitely tell you that it encouraged fun.
The target demographic for the class is seniors but it’s useful for anyone who is interested in challenging their brain. (My almost-48-year-old-ADHD-brain loved it.)*
All of the exercises are designed to be done in a chair so the participants can focus on the movements instead of worrying about falls.
Denise and I stood for the whole thing because we both have body quirks that are exacerbated by sitting. It was tricky but trying to keep our balance while doing dexterity/mind-body exercises meant we got to laugh at ourselves a little more than everyone else. (Pretty sure our Mom got in an extra snicker or two at our expense, too.)
So, the long and the short of it, is that I am just as gloriously awful at the Ageless Grace exercises as I am at Nia dancing. And I had just as much fun making mistakes**the whole time.
As my summer dance classes come to an end, I am reflecting on why I dance. It’s certainly not because I’m any good at it! And while dancers generally love to perform in public, as an adult student, I don’t perform in shows. It isn’t even because ballet gives me flexibility. It’s the exact opposite, in fact; ballet demands flexibility rather than contributing to it. Dancers spend a lot of time stretching so they can do the movements (I don’t stretch nearly enough, and it shows in my technique).
For me, dance is hard work. I am not strong or graceful. But the most difficult is the memory work. My summer dance teacher has new variations of every exercise each class. That means an average of ten different patterns of movement for about sixteen bars of music every night, before we move away from the barre and do short routines in the centre. Throughout, I am making my feet go one way while my arms (and sometimes my head) are doing something quite different. That is a lot of exercise for my brain as well as my body, and it is what makes dance so wonderful as I age.
According to a widely-cited 21 year study of people 75 or older published in the New England Journal of Medicine (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa022252), the only physical activity that appears to provide protection against dementia is dance. The study doesn’t explore what it is about dance that is so effective, but one of my former teachers swears that it is the combination of movement with memory work that helps build new neural pathways and keep our brains young. Every time I reach the end of class, I quietly celebrate the fact that I have fought off cognitive decline for another week, along with osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Dance: all by itself, it is the anti-decline-from-aging trifecta.
Do you ever have the kind of day where working from home seems to put you to sleep? The home office set-up isn’t great so you have migrated to the comfy couch. You have no physical meetings to attend, so you just sink deeper and deeper into the upholstery. No-one ever seems to schedule breaks between those virtual meetings, so there is no chance to get up and stretch, grab a fresh cup of tea, or even go to the bathroom. Suddenly hours have gone by and you can barely move. Maybe that’s just me.
I am trying really hard to break this pattern. I use an app on my phone to remind me to get up and move for five minutes every half hour – when it doesn’t interfere with those meetings, or my flow when trying to write or revise documents.
When I do use that app, or just have a few free minutes, what to do? There isn’t enough time for a yoga session or a walk around the block; I feel silly doing jumping jacks or squats. But I can get behind a quick YouTube dance video. Today it was a couple of six minute videos from MOOV, a hip-hop/street dance studio in Ottawa.
There are so many to check out on YouTube. Zumba, hiphop, salsa, African dance, Bollywood, even Disney tunes – all in 10 minutes or less. But right now my favourites are the Caleb Marshall dance workouts. Inclusive, easy to follow, and just a little bit goofy so I don’t stress about messing. They are perfect. Check this out and see if it doesn’t bring a smile to your space as you bop around on your “way to the next meeting”: https://youtu.be/zxbN_r3Xx-w