Tagyoga

10 Rest Day Tips

20160418_200918We all know that we should have rest days. Between pole days, conditioning days, flexibility training days, training for comps, choreography sessions, and that push to try that move just one more time …soon you find you’ve been poling for three weeks straight!

Your body doesn’t tell you with a polite note slipped under the door either. It bangs on the door in the middle of the night and wakes you up sore, unforgiving, and perhaps even with the flu!

Being run down puts a big hole in your pole practice. You end up having to take a week off instead of just a day, and then you feel like you need to work twice as hard to make up the gains you think you missed.

It’s a vicious cycle, I see many people go through in the studio. Over training leads to injury and burn out. It is also an emotional roller coaster where unrealistic expectations crash with self doubt, and tuning out to the body’s cues.

So let me re-frame your idea of a rest day with these 10 tips that will make sure you are giving your body some love for all the amazing things it can do!

1 – Foam rolling
For a more in depth look at how foam rolling can compliment your pole practice, recovery, and flexibility training read this article. But seriously, your muscles will thank you and so will your soul. Show yourself some love!

2 – Yoga
If you really do feel like you need to move on your rest days, take up some yoga. It can be as flowy or vigorous as you like, even put in some handstands if you want, but it will offer a nice change of pace to pole dancing, and the connection to your breath will support recovery. Don’t forget your long shavasana, even if you have a home practice. Yoga doesn’t neglect rest and neither should you.

3 – Epsom salt bath
You may already be taking a magnesium supplement to help with muscle soreness, but what if I told you you can soak in the stuff! Add some aromatherapy oils, a few candles and a glass of wine …need I say more?

4 – Massage
Do you have tight shoulders? A stiff neck? Sore glutes and hammys? Muscles need circulation and rest to recover. Self massage is great, and foam rolling, but if you can book yourself in for a proper massage at least every 3-6 months your body will thank you. Take the whole day, let yourself be oiled up and let it soak in to those calluses and dry spots. When you get home jump in a Epsom salt bath and laze the afternoon away. Aaaaahhhhhh.

5 – Get outside
Many pole dancers have pole widows at home. They miss you and your rest days are a great chance to catch up on quality time with loved ones. Go for a walk, head to the beach, or just wander. The walk will help you feel like you haven’t just sat around all day, and the time to connect with you partner will also boost your spirits and hopefully make you feel less guilty when you spent the whole day in the studio tomorrow.

6 – Visualization
Maybe you have a pole comp coming up and really can’t let yourself take time off. Did you know, that visualizing your combos and routines can be an effective part of your training? Lie down, close your eyes, and put on your music. Visualize the stage, the audience, your introduction, the lights on the stage, your costume. This exercise will help with your memory of combos and floorwork and also help with your awareness of the music. All while giving you body the time to recharge to tackle the routine tomorrow!

7 – Keep a pole journal
I’m a big fan of journaling, for record keeping and self reflection. After a comp or showcase it’s a lovely way to document photos and the final choreography, and take stock in the experience. It also satisfies the desire to be living, breathing pole, while not actually over training.

8 – Costume making/fixing
Whether you make your own costumes, or just have a wardrobe overflowing with crops, booty shorts, tank tops, and tights, guaranteed some if it needs some TLC. Grab a needle and thread and fix those sequins on the costume you wore last time. Sort through your active wear and cull anything worn out, sweat stained, or that would be more appreciated by a pole friend. Lots of studios run buy/swap/sell events and it’s a great way to trade for new gear.
There are also a tonne of YouTube videos and tutorials about making your own costumes. Many patterns for underwear, bras, and crops are also easily adaptable to pole. Making your own pole wear and costume means you can always have a unique outfit to compliment your routine too, scoring bonus points from the judges.

9 – Colouring books
Cultivating mindfulness through colouring is a trend that’s taken the world by storm. Children colour and draw all the time, so why as adults have we tossed this hobby into the “I don’t have time” basket? There are now books with designs of pole dancers and aerialists! No excuses, take the afternoon off, go sit under a tree, and colour!

10 – Cook
Late night pole classes getting in the way of healthy dinners?
Are you finding yourself grabbing chocolate bars from work to the studio “because there isn’t enough time to eat anything healthy?”
Use your rest days for meal prep! Head to the shops and buy ingredients that you can use to make meals in bulk. Cook up a storm and then freeze the leftovers in single portions, perfect to heat up when you get home from class.
It is also super easy to make your own protein bars and healthy snacks. Cook a batch on the weekend and they will also last you all week, so there is no temptation to cheat while on the run.

Pole dance teaches us that our bodies can do amazing things. Show your body some love and take a rest day. Self care is not selfish. Recharge and refuel and return to your dancing stronger than ever.

If you have any more tips for rest day self care, let me know in the comments below, or tag me on Facebook and Instagram!

Dance Safely – Thoughts on a Pole Dancer’s Practice

March 2014 - Sefton Pole Dance Competition

Following on from my article about falling safely, I have been thinking a lot recently about dancing safely.

For nearly a year now I have subscribed to The Dance Training Project run by Monika, who works mainly with traditionally trained dancers for rehabilitation and conditioning. Although not specific to pole, I have found her comments about injury prevention, body work, and cross training, so helpful in my own practice. It is called pole “dancing” after all!

Recently, Monika released an article titled Dance Like a Human, commenting on what dance training really does to our bodies, fundamental movement patterns, and injury prevention.

She asks,

“What happens when you work solely on pointing your toes, extending your back, and stretching your adductors so you can kick yourself in the head, but you never make time for the complimentary pattern?”

In yoga, it is considered best practice to compliment back bends with forward bends, inversions with child’s pose. A shoulder stand sequence includes a series of counter poses – shoulder stand, plough pose, fish – ideally all held for equal amounts of time.

In pole, this is not always the case. You might only have an hour or two to practice at home, so you attempt trick after trick and then rather spend time cooling down and stretching you quickly scrub the Dry Hands off your hands, get dressed and walk out the door.

We are told to train both sides, but how many of us attempt it once, get half way through the trick and bail because of virgin skin pole burn?

Evidence of this is all over. Crazy purple pole kisses from tricks attempted over and over. Shoulder injuries, hip injuries, and students arriving to the studio with their strapping tape coordinated with the colour of their polewear.

So what would “counter poses” look like for pole dancers? Beyond a stretch and cool down, what can we do to make sure our bodies stay in balance and injury free?

backbend

Coming from a yoga background I would suggest, if your training involved lots of back bends – ballerinas, cocoons, crescent moons and brass bridges, counter these poses with some forward bends off the pole – seated forward bends, wall assisted forward bends, and some spinal twists. Don’t forget to breathe deeply into the upper, middle and lower back in these poses and remember to lengthen and extend.

In my experience, over training can also cause many issues. Attempting these moves day after day can wreak havoc on your body, and rather than help you achieve your goals may set you back even further. If your pole goals include jade splits, upright splits, and Russian splits remember to let your hamstrings and hip flexors have a few rest days per week. And ensure you are working on strengthening your glutes, hip flexors and surrounding muscles to create ongoing stability.

A final few words from Monika,

“To an untrained eye, I can make most movements look good. Most dancers can, too because that’s their job. “

but…

“they [dancers] can mask their lack of fundamental movement quality with their impressive skills.”

You might be able to touch your foot to your head, but a cleaner and safer shape can come about with better technique.

Sarah Scott has just opened a Facebook group called Off the Pole, where she is aiming to share conditioning exercises to support a pole dancer body. For home polers and studio dancers, this is going to be such an asset to your dance training.

I am really looking forward to learning from Sarah Scott and making pole conditioning much more of a priority this year.

I’d love to know who you look up to and learn from to support a balanced pole practice. Comment here or tag me your training posts and let’s all dance stronger!

A Story about Stretching

2015-12-06 11.29.25For anyone involved in the pole dance community, you would have had a thousand involved conversations about flexibility and stretching. Studios everywhere offer conditioning classes to compliment your dance practice, and most people’s pole goal list is dotted with dreams for flat splits and bendy backs. After a few months of dancing you may have also amassed a stash of foam rollers, thera bands, and spiky balls to support you on your journey to flexiness!

 

Coming from a yoga background, I already felt I understood the benefits of increased mobility. But it wasn’t until I started pole that I really focused on stretching and learning about muscle groups and how I could work towards my flexibility goals.

StudioVeena was my first inroad into dedicated stretching in 2013. She still offers tutorials for front and middle splits and back flex and encourages foam rolling as part of a warm up to increase blood flow and support muscles relaxation. The tutorials are between 20-30min, the perfect length to fit into my schedule. After riding home from work, I was already well warmed up and could foam roll and then stretch before dinner. Doing this nearly everyday, I was making amazing gains on my front splits.

I also purchased Delavier’s Stretching Anatomy book, which offered 130 stretching exercises covering the entire body. The diagrams and clear details about how each stretch targeted different muscles really helped me articulate to myself how each stretch was benefiting my body. I could also begin to see how different stretches related to different pole moves, discerning how a strong and stable Butterfly pole pose would require strength and mobility in my back muscles, chest, shoulder, hips and glutes.

It was around 2014 that I started to learn about the difference between dynamic stretching and static stretching. My yoga classes and the StudioVeena series at the time were using static stretches. Cleo had just released her Rockin’ Legs N Abs DVD and I was excited to spice things up.

As well as a being a high intensity warm up and cardio challenge, Cleo worked through exercises for dynamic flex with lots of high front kicks, side kicks and back kicks. The women on the DVD are incredibly flexible and strong and inspirational in their range of motion. It was a great full body workout, but I have found that I don’t use it as much as I had hoped.

Sometimes dynamic stretching gets a back rap, the concern that if you bounce through a stretch or kick your up into a split without the proper strength to hold it there, you risk injury.

Personally, I am very careful with dynamic stretching. It’s important to remember that pole, like yoga, is a body work practice, and you need to listen to your body. After tearing both hamstrings, my physio advised that to reduce the chance of re-injury, I should take it slow with my tendons. If you have grown up with dance and ballet, your muscles and tendons may respond differently. I’m a massive advocate for “it’s never too late to start” but please remember that if your body is older and you don’t have a background in physical activity, diving in to the Rockin’ Legs N Abs video may be too dynamic for your body to handle.

It’s been a long road to recovery after my hamstring injuries. Physically it has taken nearly two years for my hamstrings to feel like stretching again. Emotionally it has also taken nearly two years to work through the fear that I might tear them again too. Attending a flexibility class or even just stretching at home used to bring up a lot of anxiety about damaging my body and I would get flash backs from the moment of injury. Thankfully, time away from stretching my splits allowed me to focus on other goals – back flex, strength tricks and dance flow have been the main focus on my dance practice for the last 2 years.

I still dream about the splits, and my feet touching my head in a back bend! Recently, a friend told me about the Easy Flexibility series and after doing one video with her I bought a split stretching series. I was pleased to find the videos offering a balance between static and dynamic stretches and stemming from an awareness of anatomy that made sense to me. It is also refreshing to be able to complete a video and not be sore the next day. I have been able to get back into a routine of stretching everyday which is great to make progress towards my flexibility goals but also supports range of motion and general well being.

Last month, Indi Pole Wear also released a stretching guide for pole dancers
outlining a sequence of 22 stretches for back and hip mobility. The stretches are familiar (cobra pose, pigeon etc) but also show how you can use a chair or pole to correct form or increase the stretch. The authors also comment on how important your breathing is to promote a relaxed stretch. I’d recommend the sequence to anyone starting out on their stretching journey but like all tutorials that can be used without the spot of a trained instructor, be aware off what your body is telling you in each exercise and take it slow.

Stretching can be a wonderful practice to do on your own, even meditative and insightful as you engage with the process and movements of your own body. But when pushing yourself to get flexier, if you don’t have a teacher to correct your form or remind you to breath, you do run the risk of injury.

There will be a summary of this story in the Cross Training Series, including tutorials of my favourite stretches, as I genuinely believe stretching is beneficial for your pole practice. But I hope that this story inspires you start or return to stretching, either in a class at your studio or at home with one of the methods I have used. If you have a great stretching practice I’d love to hear about it too! Please comment below or get in touch with me through Instagram or Facebook.

Safe stretching!

What to do when you don’t have a pole

This Christmas break my partner and I are cat sitting at a friend’s place down the road. It’s a lovely house with air conditioning which made the move an easy decision for this time of year. But I don’t have my pole 🙁

What’s a dancer to do?!

DANCE!

I’ve been watching YouTube clips of Merce Cunningham and revisiting some of the ballet technique I learned in my class. The back room of the house has amazing wooden floors so I indulged, rolled back the rug, put on my thigh high socks and flirty dress and spun around to Chino Merino’s new album. Bliss!

 

The nature of floorwork is changing in poledance, gaining influences from contemporary dance and hiphop. Working on carpet at home, it’s hard to come up with new things. The floor boards gave me real freedom to slip and slide and just flow, throwing a little bit of Marlo Fisken in their too!

It has been wonderful to have time to revisit my yoga practice too. I took my mat out onto the grass and down dogged with the ants and creepy crawlies.

The softer grass offered a safer lander for me to work on some freestanding headstands. At home I practice against the pole or the wall, but here wall space is limited. Learning to roll out safely and find balance away from the wall is challenging, but with so much time off on holidays, I was able to dedicate a whole afternoon to refining my practice.

The outcome? I haven’t missed my pole as much as I thought I would. We still have a week or so left here so I still might get withdrawals, but it’s been an enjoyable and productive break. If I had just been at home I probably would have focused on tricks and new transitions, but it’s been great to work on dance, floorwork, and balance. Hopefully I can bring some of this flow and headstanding, back to the pole when I return home.

How do you find ways to still train when away from pole?

Cross Training for Aerial – Part 2: Handstands

I have included handstands as part of my cross training series, as I genuinely believe it is an exercise that compliments your pole dancing and conditions many parts of your body to make you a stronger and safer dancer.

I never did handstands as a kid, maybe a few cartwheels here and there, but being upside-down was not something that came naturally.

Through yoga I strengthened by headstand practice, but handstands were only something that we seemed to focus on during workshops, where there is more time to talk about technique, offer spotting, and allow people to work through the fears associated with inversions.

When learning handstands I was constantly demoralized. My teacher at the time wanted me to “bunny hop” up which I found very static and underwhelming.

If you are unfamiliar with this, check out this video. He calls it the “down dog hop” but it’s a clear explanation and visual of what it’s meant to look like.

The bunny hop technique asks you to put your hands on the ground in front of you, shoulder width apart, fingers spread and facing forwards. You then walk your feet up to your hands like a shortened downward dog, bend your knees and spring your legs up to position the hips over the shoulders. This technique takes core strength to hold your legs in a tuck once off the ground, strength in the arms to keep them straight the entire time, and a lot of power through the legs to move your hips into position. This technique might work for some people, but it did not work for my body proportions and strength at the time.

Then one day in 2011, I joined an Acro class at the pole studio. The teacher showed me a more gymnastic inspired way to get into a handstand – the kick up. I see kids in playgrounds handstanding like this all the time! By kicking off one leg, my other leg was free to stretch in the direction of kick, naturally using my body weight to help shift my hips over my shoulders. In one class I was already kicking up further away from the wall and using my legs in a front split position to toy with the balance point.

After 4 years, I still cannot bunny hop! But, I can practice my handstands with the kick up method, and it’s allowed me to begin to feel more comfortable in the position so that I train it more often and find other ways to get in and out of the pose.

After warming up for pole dancing at home, I usually try out three to five handstands against the wall. Kicking up and then seeing if I can take my toes off the wall to find balance. If I’m feeling brave I also try against the pole – a smaller target to kick up against that is easier to hit if you get your butt to the pole before your toes.

The other night I came up with a new way to train my handstands – in the hallway!

There wasn’t any space to kick up, so, facing one wall, I placed my hands on the ground in the centre of the hallway and walked my feet up the wall behind me. At the top, I opened my legs to have one foot on the wall behind me and the other in front.

handstand open legs

 

My arms and shoulders were feeling the burn as I stabilised through this whole sequence, pushing the floor away and clawing with my fingers.

 

 

 

handstand legs together

My goal was change feet, scissoring my legs from wall to wall. I managed about three before I was exhausted and walked my feet back down the same way I got up.
Looking at the video (it’s always a good idea to tape yourself to see your form) I was pleasantly surprised how solid my body was throughout the leg change. I was holding a vertical alignment, with a little bit of an arch in my back which could improve, but the scissor action did not put me off balance.

 

Considering how this applies to pole dancing, think about an Ayesha or Static V and it’s leg variations. You need a solid torso to stay stable in the pose while your legs might go up into a Pencil/Straight Edge, out into a split, or behind you into a back bend.

If you have a solid handstand against the wall, have a go at this variation and see how it benefits your pole inversions too!

Cross Training for Aerial – Part 1: Yoga

IMG_7430I was a yogi well before I came to pole dancing. Starting in 2005 in a backyard studio in Sydney’s outerwest, my partner and I found it an easy way to exercise regularly and incorporate a little bit of mindfulness into our day.

As we moved around Sydney, I found other studios to join, settling for a long time with Jivamukti Yoga in Newtown. Different to Hatha and Bikram, Jivamukti is a very dynamic practice. We explored handstands, headstands, and bound poses, and the studio ran regular immersion weeks. Like a retreat, we would do about 4-6 hours of physical yoga a day and investigate the yoga sutras as we learned about the history and theories of the practice.

It was around this time that I first fell in love with my body and what it could do. I wasn’t the strongest or the most flexible, but I found a grace in the vinyasa and a groundedness in in the body work and breath practices.

This year, I was able to reconnect with one of my favourite yoga teachers as he started teaching close by. Richard is a dancer as well as yogi and it made sense to return to his classes as a way to compliment my dancing.

A typical yoga class with Richard looks something like this –

  • gentle stretching to limber the joints and bring movement in the body
  • a series of sun salutations based on the traditional Surya Namaskar
  • a focus on a particular series of postures – one legged balances, hand balancing,inversions, seated twists, even the splits!
  • back strengthening and flex – including bow and wheel poses
  • shoulderstand and headstand sequences
  • Shavasana

These classes incorporate all three elements of a great workout – cardio (when performed with breath practice), strength, and stretching, and gives you space to assimilate it all as you rest in Shavasana (corpse pose) at the end. All of these can support your pole dancing, making you stronger, more flexible, and more balanced.

A stronger core? Check!
Back strengthening and flexibility? Check!
Shoulder openers? Check!
Hip openers? Check!
Awareness of how your body moves through space? Check!

It’s great to have a teacher who adds their own touch to the traditional yoga sequences too. Many pole dancers started pole as they found other forms of exercise too regimented and boring. Try to find a yoga teacher who will throw some surprises in there.

The benefits also go beyond just strength and flex training. A great class leaves me feeling like I had a great massage all over. The increase in circulation and movement across my upper back and shoulders is amazing therapy after a week of pole dancing. The focus on alignment also irons out the kinks caused by the one sided bias of pole dancing too.

Take a look at the yoga classes on offer in your area, or check out some of the free videos online. One of the great aspects of yoga philosophy is that many teachers believe it should be accessible to anyone, meaning there are a great range of free, or very cheap, options available.

Further Reading – Everything You Need to Know About Yoga and Pilates

Om Shanti!