The way you start your morning can set the tone for the rest of the day. Establishing a productive and mindful morning routine can leave you feeling relaxed, grounded, and ready to take on the day ahead, no matter how busy.
We asked five professional dancers to share what they like to do each morning to prepare themselves for the happiest and healthiest day possible.
When Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancer James Gowan started meditating in early 2017, he was seeking a more mindful approach to his dancing. "I was trying to be more aware of what I was doing inside the studio, so that it could help me be more positive with myself and my work," he says. He found it so helpful that he now does breathing exercises and visualizations for 45 minutes a few mornings a week. On rehearsal breaks, he'll take five minutes to do a body scan or calm his mind.
But he finds the benefits go far beyond the studio. "Meditation has provided me a new perspective," he says. "It really does bring a heightened awareness of what's going on around you."
Science shows that meditation's myriad benefits range from physical health to emotional well-being. Meditation's popularity has risen to trend level, and savvy entrepreneurs have caught on, capitalizing on the wave of interest with subscription-based meditation apps, exotic retreats and $29-a-pop classes. But what are the benefits for dancers specifically?
Even the most veteran of performers can suffer from nerves before hitting the stage. While most of us feel most at home in front of a crowd once we're there, sometimes the wait to go on can be uneasy.
Breathing with intention is a simple way to calm this stage fright. According to Psychology Today, deep breathing, specifically through the diaphragm, can activate the vagus nerve, and trigger the "relaxation response" of your parasympathetic nervous system and lessen anger, anxiety, stress and even inflammation.
Whether you're performing or choreographing, we all experience periods when we feel less than inspired. But spending relentless hours in the studio isn't always the best solution. If you're seeking a more nuanced way to interpret a role or if the idea for your next piece just isn't coming to you, doing less may actually help more.
According to research from Leiden University in the Netherlands, meditating may help get your creative juices flowing. But how you meditate matters. The study found that participants were better at divergent thinking—that is, coming up with as many solutions as they could for a given problem—after they spent 25 minutes in open monitoring meditation. This simple practice of acknowledging your thoughts and letting them pass helps generate new ideas. While you're meditating, if you find yourself worrying about nailing a tricky section of choreography or smoothing out a lift with your partner, it's okay. Recognize those thoughts without judgment and move on. The best part is that researchers found this practice benefited both novice and advanced meditators.
Focused attention meditation, or fixating on a specific image or repeating a mantra, was also found to help with creative thinking, but its effects were more profound in experienced meditators. This method increased participants' convergent thinking so they were better able to find a link between seemingly unrelated things. If you've ever choreographed several movement phrases you love, but are having trouble determining how they might work together, this practice could be for you. One example of focused attention meditation that I personally like is imagining a gold liquid slowly oozing from your head all the way down to your toes.
The next time you're in a creative rut, set your frustrations aside for 25 minutes. Find a quiet space, a comfortable seat and spend some time with your mind.