Our bodies are efficient problem solvers, but oftentimes we experience situations that cause us to operate on autopilot. Reacting to bad news subconsciously retreats our bodies to the fetal position, causing sadness, fear, and worry to be trapped in the muscles of the hips.
Muscle memory hangs on to the tension like tradition, but it can be released through mindful stretching and strengthening, changing you from the inside out. Many realize you can be transformed by the outside in, but it’s also possible the other way around
Dance is not for everyone, but it is my form of therapy, fitness, and artistic expression. I teach my hips to hold the pole a lot stronger than the memories of failures, sadness, and anxieties for the future. Repeating the dance like a ritual, heals my body and makes me stronger inside and out. Like magic.
Do you have tight hips? Where do you hold tension? How do you release that tension? What do you do for artistic and expressive release?
Sometimes things happen in life that throw you off course, forcing you to stop and change everything. Maybe you were fired from a job. Maybe you are going through a divorce. Or maybe the entire earth is in quarantine from a contagious virus pandemic.
It’s hard to stay calm and accept change. Good thing humans (and our own bodies) are great at adapting. The first step to adapting is to be your own cheerleader! Remind yourself of how far you have come as a human, through many periods of ups and downs, and know that in the end a change on the outside brings upon change on the inside, and vise versa.
A way to begin a new life, whether it be a permanent or temporary situation, is establishing a routine. This is a great time to take a fine-toothed comb across your daily life, noting what is working and what is not. Taking time to let go of the things you are doing that no longer work in this new life, will help you to replace the tasks with things to benefit your new way of thinking.
You are your own boss. How should you plan your day? I love checklists and they work for me, so if that resonates with you too, consider this list with great links to keep you on track when things change:
Art Making and looking at art changes your way of thinking.
Movement Incorporate and exercise regimen that interests you.
Rest Sit quietly alone with yourself, and consider meditating.
My daily schedule keeps me working — if I do not have structure, I fall into bad habits. I wake up every day at 6:30am, even on weekends (I occasionally sleep in as a treat). I exercise in the morning, and again in the evening, (try my workouts). I try to fit in small, healthy (vegan) meals throughout the day to fuel my body, and if the weather is nice, I eat lunch outside. I love artistic projects, even if it’s just looking at colors to feel inspired. I have recently taken up learning Spanish online, and it’s been a challenge I enjoy. One thing I do have trouble with is rest. I always feel like I need to be moving around. I need to schedule more time to just be.
What is your ideal schedule? How do you deal with change?
Activating my front leg quad and back leg glutes to protect my hypermobile joints, like a good girl.
I teach a class called Flex Fit, which is a mix of yoga, active flexibility, and mobility exercises energized by breathing. I teach seven Flex Fit classes a week to a variety of different age groups, body types, and fitness backgrounds, and every so often someone will ask me how long it will take them to get their splits/backbends/etc. There is no good answer to this question because everyone’s body is different. Some bodies hold on to tension more than others, and some bodies are hypermobile.
Taking more than one of my classes every week will of course increase your flexibility and range of motion, but for a person like me who has hypermobile joints (aka Ehlers-Danlos syndrome), flexibility comes easily. I used to feel lucky my body was this way, but now I realize my super flexible joints can easily become overworked unless I teach my muscles to work smarter.
Every so often in class, I’ll see a body like mine — elbows and knees that bend backward, or shoulders that dislocate to get a pole trick. I wish I knew about Ehlers-Dalos syndrome when I was a young dancer so I could have worked to saved my body from damage. Luckily we know what we know now, and when I have hypermobile students in my class, I am eager to help them gain better control of their muscles to protect their joints while they practice.
Ehlers-Danlos syndrome affects connective tissue, primarily the skin, joints, and blood vessel walls. Symptoms include overly flexible joints that can dislocate, and skin that’s translucent, elastic, and bruises easily. In some cases, there may be dilation and even rupture of major blood vessels. It requires a blood test to diagnose, and you can find more info at the Ehlers-Danlos Society.
After a lifetime bad posture habits mixed with forcing myself into splits without using muscles to help, I tore my right ACL in the summer of 2017. There it is in the photos above all torn up on the left, and then what it looks like now, reconstructed using my hamstring tendon.
look how high my leg can go!
I was just yanking my legs into the air using my strong arms to hold them in place. No core or hip engagement, just forcing my ligaments to stretch — and those things are not supposed to stretch. I did this for so many years. On the left photos below you can see my terrible form, taken a month before my injury.
On the right, you can see me and my smarter body, taken 3 months after ACL reconstruction surgery. I’m using my hips, engaging my core, and activating quads and glutes to protect my hypermobile knees like a good girl.
For me, I need daily reminders to activate my muscles to protect my joints when I walk, sit, stand, and pole. Teaching my Flex Fit class really changed my life and how I think with my body, helping me stay on track to protecting my body so my joints will stay healthy throughout my career.
If you have EDS and are an athlete or dancer, how do you deal with your hypermobile joints?
As a young dancer, I recall most dance classes began with a warm up that included stretching. We prepared our bodies for dance this way for years, and I do believe many instructors still lead their students through stretches at the beginning of a class.
Over the years, dancers and athletes have been studied, leading to an evolution in the methods used to progress performance, changing the way we think about warming up. In my adult dancer life, I learned that stretching as a warm up is no way to prepare my body for movement. In fact, stretching should go at the end of my workout!
now what do i do?
A good warm up is designed to prepare your body for the work you will be doing in class. For instance, jogging for 20mins is not a good warm up for pole fitness, or lifting weights, or even a dance class. It may be good to begin with a few seconds of jogging in place to get your heart going, but adding cardio to your warm up is just a part of the routine.
A warm up preparing my body for splits and back bends would be different from a warm up that would prepare me for doing tricks on the pole. For the splits and back bends warm up, I would focus more on range of motion while the pole warmup would focus on muscle activation and include exercises that act as a movement rehearsal for moves we may try on the pole. Once I set the intention for my class, the contents of my warm up become easy to create.
Here’s a video of a 25min warm up that prepared me for splits and back bends to give you an idea of the flow. Follow along with the video and let me know how you liked the warm up, and then use the outline listed below to create a warm up that works for you.
how to warm up!
In general, I like to begin with breathing and a gentle introduction to the range of motion of my joints. I work my way from head and neck, to shoulders, chest, hips, knees, elbows, wrists, ankles, feet, and hands. Twisting, bending, and drawing circles with my body while incorporating breath to power the movement is a great way to stay mindful during warm up.
Next I work through larger movements to work my cardiovascular system, activating large muscles. My favorite go-to is squats, and you can do them in all different ways. Lunges are another great one, paying attention to engaging the muscles of the legs and glutes.
I almost always include some yoga in my warmup, like Downward Dog, Plank, Cat and Cow Pose, and Childs Pose. Finally, I end my warm up with about 3mins of ab exercises. Don’t forget to warm up your feet and toes, too! There’s nothing like getting a cramp in your foot while you are upside down on the pole!
In general, I like my warm ups to last 20mins, but in a pinch you can do 10mins of warming up — but never skip the warm up! If you don’t get your body moving before you do the work, you body may not be ready when you need it to be, and that is when injuries happen. Also, a good warm up should not wear you out before class has even started, so save that conditioning for later in class.
Save the passive stretching for the absolute end of your workout. Stretching your muscles actually makes them exhausted for a few hours after you have stretched them, so it makes more sense to stretch when you are done using your body. I like to hold and breathe in my passive stretches for no longer than 2mins each stretch.
How do you prepare your body for your workout? Let’s share tips so we can keep evolving and growing as artists and instructors 🙂
If you feel tightness in your hips or back and you have three minutes to spare, this exercise is for you. The goal is to do it mindfully, breathing through the exercises and notice if you can release tension you may feel in other parts of your body that may happen. I always notice it in my fingers. You may notice that too in this video 🙂
I teach a sequence like this in my Flex Fit classes every week in CT and MA. This video starts by waking up your hips and spine with a gentle motion followed by muscle activation work to increase your range using your breath. If you are interested in learning more about mobility and active flexibility exercises, feel free to message me.
If you tried this exercise, let me know how you like it! Share it with a friend who may need it too 🙂
How can we keep our skin and hands hydrated without compromising our pole practice?
For pole dancers, wearing lotion before practice is a huge no-no. For me, I am able to go lotion-less all summer long, but by fall my skin starts to crack. How can we keep our skin and hands hydrated without compromising our pole practice?
Just like everyone needs a different hand grip that works for them individually (I love Dry Hands and Lupit Grip Pads the best), your personal hand and skin care routine will vary. I wanted to share my unique regimen in hopes it may also work for you, or perhaps inspire you to research how to keep your unique skin healthy all year long.
These are my hands — dry and calloused. I pole about 12 hours a week and have developed calluses on my palms, toward the creases of my fingers, and at the tips of my fingers. If I don’t care for them, they turn into blisters.
Once a week, I make sure I sand down the calluses on my hands with a foot callous filer, the one used for feet and heels. The most abrasive side helps to get rid of the giant mounds that form in the hand creases. The softer side takes care of the fingertips.
Before I file, I make sure the skin is soft by either soaking my hands in warm water (you can add essential oils and salts and turn it into a self care moment!), or filing after I have taken a long shower. Also in the shower, I use my fingernails to remove any loose skin that may be in the creases of my hands before I file them away after the shower. Peeling away at the skin in the warm water helps to gently remove the dead skin. Just be careful you don’t overdo it!
On rest days, I use a concoction made by Gifts from the Gods on my hands. It is a mix of coconut oil and camphor oil, though would not recommend using this lotion on days when you want to pole because of the coconut oil. For me, using it on rest days provides my hands with soothing relief, and the camphor oil is good for inflammation and pain. The oiliness is usually gone for me by the next day, and it never affects my pole practice.
If I ever have a huge crack in my hands and need some relief on the same day I have to practice, I always use my Climb On lotion bar. This lotion bar is beeswax based and contains no oils. I wouldn’t recommend putting it on your hands right before going to pole, but if you do a few hours before, it stops the hands from cracking open, and it smells amazing too. I love this stuff — heals blisters overnight!
Lastly, on days when I will be pole dancing and my skin is feeling particularly dry, I spray Rosewater and Glycerin Mist on my skin. It’s a non-oil based moisturizer that makes your skin hold onto its moisture longer. I have found using this a few hours on my skin before I pole, I am fine for practice and my skin doesn’t feel itchy or dry.
How do you care for your hands and skin? Everyone has different skin, so share your skin regimen in hopes it will help others! 🙂