Saturday, January 3, 2015

Yoga for Dancers

Confession: When I first moved to France, I went to yoga class well before I took any dance classes.

Yoga, anytime, anywhere!
The Isle of Staffa, Scotland,
July 2014.
I did this because it had been awhile since my last dance class in Canada and I didn't want to get injured when I got back into it. I wanted to tune-up my flexibility and strength first. And since I wasn't feeling super confidant yet in my new surroundings, I practiced yoga to feel good mentally and physically in my new life. 

Yoga class in French is still yoga class; all the Sanskrit terms are just pronounced with a French accent!  The big things – focusing on breathing evenly and being aware of alignment, etc. – are still the same. And the great thing about such a visual form of exercise is, if I do feel lost for a moment, I can just look around and follow the rest of the class.

Yoga is excellent cross-training for dancers and for everyone and anyone. I’m not a healthcare professional, so I can’t get into detailed medical terminology regarding the benefits, or risks, of yoga. There’s so much information out there and I encourage you to check it out and ask questions so you can make informed decisions regarding what’s best for you and your body. I can only share the ways yoga has benefited me as a dancer and as a person, both physically and mentally:

1-Yoga helps me find the balance between pushing myself to be better and being satisfied with where I currently am.

I’m sure most dancers will agree the mentality of dance is ‘push-yourself-further-than-the-day-before’ and that determination to constantly improve and grow leads to accomplishing great things. But it also gets exhausting, both physically and mentally. Yoga, with its ‘listen-to-your-body/you-are-enough-in-this-moment’ mentality, is a great counterpoint for all that drive and it helps me to quiet my busy mind when I’m on the go.

2-My flexibility is maintained through yoga.

When I was younger, I could go all summer without stretching and jump right into dance class in the fall and it would only take a few weeks to get my flexibility back. Now – really not so much! Yoga helps me maintain my flexibility, especially when it’s a while between dance classes and it helps my body recover more quickly when I’m sore or not feeling 100%.  

3-Increased core strength + improved arm strength = Stronger Dancer.

My core – abs and back – is much stronger because of the planks, side-planks, chaturanga’s in my yoga practice and as a result, my balance is better and my turns are more consistent.

I’ve also noticed my arms and shoulders are a lot stronger due to yoga, which is great when I have to throw myself around during the floor-work sections in those intense and very physical Contemporary Dance classes. And when my contemp. teachers make the class do push-ups, they’re actually doable! I share this fact with my students when I'm teaching and I make them do push-ups during the Contemporary Unit – especially when they complain. A strong dancer has a strong core and anything that helps build and maintain that is absolutely worth doing.

4-I am much more aware of my breathing.

I didn’t realize, until I started practicing yoga, how much I held my breath; not just when I danced, but in my whole life. This was a huge discovery! When I felt nervous, I would hold my breath and continue to feel shaky and ungrounded…because I wasn’t breathing properly! Now I’m much more aware of my breath-holding habit, I recognize it when I’m feeling nervous or anxious, and I’m working to remind myself to just breathe and be calm. Yoga helps me feel much more grounded and relaxed overall.

5-Yoga helps me to be mindful, positive and compassionate towards myself.

Like so many people, I am my harshest critic and I struggle to meet the expectations I set for myself. Practicing yoga helps me be mindful of my own self-talk. This is especially important when I’m feeling insecure in the face of a new or challenging situation. My default reaction has been to think negatively and be overly critical of myself. But this is slowly changing and it feels good; it’s not an easy thing to just up and change a way of thinking but I’m working on it and yoga helps me. I feel more confident and more appreciative of what I CAN DO, at dance class and in my life.

6-Yoga is portable, versatile, and affordable:

Yoga can be done practically anywhere: in a studio or at home. Case in point, the small living room of our temporary apartment in Paris became my own little yoga studio when most of the places near it were still closed for the summer. We’re settled in the suburbs now and I still make space for yoga at home because it’s so convenient.

Yoga on the road at my sister's house
in Edmonton, AB, December 2014.
Our one-bedroom apartment in Paris was my
own private yoga studio, August 2014.
The variety of yoga styles is incredible - slow, power-house, flow, hot, etc. I can choose a different style depending on how I’m feeling and what I want to work on. It’s empowering to have this range of choices and it also means I don’t get bored quickly.

Contrary what some retailers might suggest, yoga actually doesn’t require a lot of expensive exercise clothes or equipment! Just a mat, some comfortable workout clothes and a water bottle are all that’s really needed.

The classes themselves also don’t have to cost a lot; a lot of studios have special deals or promo-passes for new students. Groupon is a fantastic way to try out a new yoga studio and there are lots of yoga meet-ups online. YouTube is also an amazing yoga resource, with hundreds of different and FREE yoga videos for all levels to follow along with at home. If you're brand new to yoga, I would suggest going to some classes in person first, so you can ask questions and get feedback on your alignment, before you practice on your own at home. Always be mindful of your body and your needs when you try anything.

As my gift to you for a healthy and active 2015, here is a list of some of my favorite yoga studios in Canada and abroad, and some of my favorite on-line yoga videos:


This studio in the Old Strathcona area offers a wide variety of classes for all levels, as well as special workshops and different yoga-related events throughout the year. The instructors are excellent and very approachable should you have questions or need some one-on-one help.

I went to a warm flow class with my sister-in-law last Christmas in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, and it was great! Warm yoga can feel more intense due to the increased temperature of the studio and it’s excellent for really working up a sweat and getting deeper into the postures. Remember to hydrate well before going to a warm/hot yoga class and bring a towel because you’ll need it!

This was the first studio I went to in Paris and I got so much out of their 10 class pass/35€ for new students. It’s in a lovely old building in the 14th, easily accessible by metro M4 or M6 at Raspail. They offer an extensive variety of classes for all levels and the instructors are fluent in French and English. My favorite classes are Vinyasa Flow, for a vibrant and up-beat class, and Yin, for a slow, calm, long-held-poses class. They also offer ‘Happy Hour Yoga’ classes each day for only 12€/class.

On-line Yoga Videos:

American yoga instructor Lesley Fightmaster has an awesome name and some excellent online yoga videos for your home practice. Her YouTube channel offers tons of different options for all levels. I regularly follow her 45 minute Vinyasa Yoga video and it’s a great challenge, especially on those days when I have to convince myself to do it. I’m always glad I do afterwards, because it feels great to move and sweat and to conquer my own lethargy.

This YouTube channel has a wide variety of yoga classes, as well as videos of relaxing music to accompany your practice. I like to do the Hatha Flow 3 42 minute class when I’m tired and/or sore because of its relaxed pace and its gentle and effective sequence.

I’m so glad yoga is part of my stay-fit-and-healthy-as-an-adult-dancer regimen. I feel fortunate that in all my years of dancing, I’ve never had any serious injuries. I want it to stay that way so I can keep on dancing as much as possible through all four seasons of the year. Yoga gives me the confidence to do that and it also helps me to grow as a person. I hope this post gives you an idea of how being active through yoga can be tailored to fit any schedule, any budget and any place.

Best wishes for a healthy, active and glorious 2015, wherever you may be!

As it’s said at the end of yoga class, the light in me recognizes the light in you - Namaste.

Photo Credit: Shutter Photography,
Edmonton, AB. May 2010.




  1. I have just started learning yoga from my cousin but I am not satisfied with that. So I keep searching about it online and this is how I landed on your blog. Can you also share some online yoga videos also?

  2. Hello Rhea,
    Good for you for trying yoga! It's great that you're searching for more information about this new activity. If you click on the links I've included in the post, they will take you to the yoga websites I've mentioned, Lesley Fightmaster Yoga and YogaYak, and you'll be able to choose from any of their online videos. I recommend starting with 'Yoga for Beginners Vinyasa Flow Free Yoga Class with Lesley Fightmaster'. Here is the link to that video:
    You might also want to check out Yoga Shala's Vinyasa Flow Yoga Class for Beginners. The link for that video is:
    Thanks again for reading and commenting on this post. I hope this helps you with your yoga practice.

  3. Yoga Dance had key factor for fitness and health. i have so exited to knew that about this wonderful post of France Europe.

    Ballet business | Rachel Withers

    1. Thank you for checking out this post, Maria. Yoga and dance are both great ways to be fit and active and they're both extremely enjoyable.