Ever wake up in the morning after a great night of dancing and feel like your body just does not want to cooperate? Maybe you're on day two or three of a tango marathon and your body is screaming for some maintenance, but your tango obsessed mind has another idea. "I want to keep dancing!" it retaliates, and so begins the battle between your mind and your body.
I know the feeling very well - every thing from stiffness in the entire body to aching feet, sore legs, pinched lower back, even some tight calves for those of us dancing in heels, not to mention tight hamstrings and a stressed out psoas. Let's be honest, dancing takes a toll on the body, and if we want to keep dancing for years to come or even the rest of the weekend, some form of body care is absolutely essential!
So below I will share with you some of my favorite gentle yoga poses to refresh your tired, post dancing body and bring it back in tune with your heart's desire to carry on dancing!
1. Legs Up the Wall / Viparita Karani
This inversion soothes the avid tango dancers inevitable swollen feet and legs and brings blood flow back in to the heart, improving circulation. It also stretches hamstrings and the lower back. Since the angle allows for less curvature in the lumbar spine this is great for combating the tendency (that especially followers have) to overarch in that area. Additionally this pose slows down the heart rate which reduces stress and promotes relaxation.
To try this pose get your butt as close to a wall as is comfortable and stretch your legs up. You can also elevate your hips on a pillow or block to release the muscles of the pelvic floor even further.
2. Supine Knee to Chest Pose - With a Block / Apanasana
This pose is primarily a great stretch and release for the iliopsoas (the hip flexor). The psoas connects our lower body to our upper body so it's a very important muscle. One type of movement that can put a lot of strain on this muscle is standing and twisting from your waist, so you can imagine why tango dancers can get quite tight here.
To try this pose, lie on your back with your knees bent and soles of the feet on the mat. Lift your hips to place a block (or pillow or rolled up blanket) under and then extend one leg. Draw the knee of the other leg in to your chest. Repeat on the other side when you are ready. When you remove the block, extend both legs out in front of you and notice the difference. If this variation with the block feels too intense you can do this pose just on your back.
3. Happy Baby / Ananda Balasana
Happy Baby pose is chock full of benefits for tango dancers! It opens the hips, inner thighs and groin and can relieve pain in the lower back. It also stretches hamstrings, relieves fatigue and calms the mind. With a few minutes in this pose you are well on your way to reinvigorating your whole body.
To try it out lie on your back and draw your knees in to your chest. Open your knees and feet out to the side and grab on to the outer edges of your feet, ankles or shins depending on what is available to you and will allow you to keep your sacrum on the ground. You can even roll from side to side for a little back massage.
4. Cat / Cow
If there was only one pose I could do each day it would be Cat / Cow. This pose is essential for combating stiffness in the body. It improves mobility in the spine and relieves pain in the back and neck - just the place where we tango dancers tend to build up a lot of tension. It also stretches the abdomen and hips and massages the organs in the abdomen. It's a great pose for warming up to other more intense movement and coordinates breath to movement. Personally I find that this pose helps me to break through resistance in my body - some thing I feel a lot of after a night of non-stop dancing!
To try this pose get into a table top position, stacking your shoulders above your wrists and hips above your knees. On an inhale drop your belly, lift your chest and gaze. On your exhale press into your hands, draw your belly button in towards your spine and round your back. Repeat for as many breaths as you need to in order to feel your body begin to wake up.
5. Forward Fold / Uttanasana
This pose helps to relieve anxiety and fatigue which tends to build up for tango dancers. It stretches hips, hamstrings, and calves and strengthens thighs and knees, all of which get quite a bit of use when we're dancing. It also allows blood flow back into the head which rejuvenates the mind.
To try this pose feet can be together with big toes touching or if hamstrings are really tight feet hips width apart. Fold over the knees and take your hands to the floor or back of the ankles. Knees can be bent as much as they need to in order to reach.
6. Seated 1 Legged Forward Fold / Janu Sirsasana
This pose is a great stretch for the back of the leg as it tackles every thing from hamstrings to calves and glutes which all get a lot of use on the dance floor. It can also relieve lower back pain and as with any forward bending fold it is calming for the mind, relieving stress and anxiety.
To try the pose begin seated with one leg stretched out in front of you and the sole of the other foot placed on the inside of the extending leg's thigh. On an inhale reach your arms above you to lengthen your spine and then fold forward over the extending leg, placing your hands on your calf, ankle or foot. If there is a lot of rounding in the back, back off a little bit and try sitting on a block or rolled up blanket.
7. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Muhkha Svanasana) From Cobra (Bhujangasana) with Foot Stretch
This one is perhaps the most active of these poses so it may take a few tries for a yoga novice. On its own, downward facing dog can energize the entire body and stretches the hamstrings, calves, ankles, arches, spine and shoulders. It can also release tension in your neck and shoulders.
In a transition from Cobra pose we can also stretch the tops of the feet, relieving our feet from being inside tight dance shoes. In tango we are constantly using the ball of our foot and flexing the feet, so placing the tops of our feet down in this transition stretches our feet in the opposite way.
To try this transition start on your belly in cobra pose with your hands underneath your shoulders and your elbows in close towards your rib cage. Make sure the tops of your feet are on the mat. Press into the hands to lift the chest up into cobra, allowing your shoulders to roll down your back away from your ears. Then press your hips up for downward facing dog, keeping the tops of the feet on the mat for a little while as you lift up. When you're ready, place the soles of your feet on the mat, draw your chest towards your thighs and sits bones up towards the ceiling. Knees can be bent a little if hamstrings are tight.
If this transition does not feel available to you today you can also get a mild stretch just from down dog by bending one knee and placing the top of the foot on the mat, stretching one foot at a time.
I hope this gives you some insight into how yoga can help you take care of your body to keep you dancing longer! Do you want to practice these poses with me?