The Winter Olympics, a great source of inspiration, are over for now. Yet Olympians, like dancers train year round, and are always looking for ways to maintain their competitive edge. Inspired? Consider adding some mental methods to your training routine. Successful Olympians have been learning from sports psychologists for decades, and so can you!
A great place to begin is with your breath—it’s shown to have a great influence on our performance and how we feel. Click here to refer back to some of the basics of rhythmic breathing.
To help develop this type of relaxing/focusing breathing, place one hand just below your ribcage, and the other over your belly button. Feel your belly rise and fall with each breath. Inhaling through your nose, softening your belly, breathe in for four counts. Your belly will balloon as your diaphragm (deep breathing) muscle lowers down toward your pelvic floor. Exhale through your mouth for eight counts, and feel your abdomen sinking back in toward your spine, as your diaphragm muscle lifts straight back up, and underneath your ribcage. Repeat for several breaths. Close your eyes to deepen this internal exercise.
Establish your “dancing breath,” with a 4:8 (inhale:exhale) rhythm. Using music may add more emotional engagement. Sometimes when I teach this method to dancers, we will breathe to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, adagio excerpt, a lovely piece that is about six minutes in length. You may gradually double this piece (or another of your choosing) and work up to the fuller benefit of 12 minutes, which is more optimal for enhancing training. (15–20 minutes for dancers looking for the fullest benefits of calming, flow and focus in dancing).
This sort of exercise is a basic building block for meditative techniques, as well as my full-length psychological techniques for dancers program: The BRAVE Method.
To break it down, you have Breathing, Relaxing, Aligning, Visualizing and Energizing. For dacners interested in working more with alignment, check out books by Eric Franklin. I use his texts, including Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery to support pre-professional dancers in developing a weekly mental practice for themselves. Franklin also has imagery books on dance performance and dance conditioning.
The last two parts of this mental method, visualizing and energizing, help dancers and athletes get into “The Zone.” Achieving peak performances is as much a mental event as a physical happening. Try to re-create a time when you were dancing with ease and control, melding into the music. As you breathe, relax and align yourself, visualize yourself dancing completely energized and committed emotionally. Use all your senses: touch, hearing, even smell to generate a “felt image.” You may refer back to this inner moving experience to bolster your next performance, competition or rehearsal. Or just enjoy imagination for your own sake! Ultimately, you are dancing for the pure pleasure of moving with music.
Harlene Goldschmidt, PhD
Dir. of Wellness Program for the NJ Dance Theatre Ensemble