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Stretch Class


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I've recently been taking a class called 'stretch' at a popular studio (not where I dance ballet). It seems to be yoga mainly, mixed with other things, although I've never taken yoga so I wouldn't know. The idea was to improve my flexibility for ballet, and it also provides an upper-body workout which was an unexpected benefit.


I really enjoy the class, but when I mentioned it to my ballet teacher she was a bit concerned. I think this was mainly because she knew the teachers and didn't really trust their knowledge of the body. She was particularly unhappy with one of them (though he's not the regular teacher). My partner also says he knew a physiotherapist who said a lot of her patients were injured from the local yoga class (not my class, this was in a different country).


I said I wouldn't go back to the guy she had the biggest problem with, but I don't want to cut stretch out altogether. I don't know if my teacher's concerns come mainly because she has unrealistically high standards - I mean, we'd all love to have the best teacher in the world sometimes that's not practical.


Can anyone else share experiences of stretch classes/yoga...have you had good experiences, or injuries? Do ballet teachers generally have concerns about yoga teachers?

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I can only speak for myself, and I think that yoga can be a useful supplementary activity for ballet students. One of my overall concerns is that whatever school is used, that the stretches not encourage turn-in or sickling. And injury is a thing which ought not to happen in a properly-taught yoga class.

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We have some stretch classes, but they are taught by one of our ballet teachers. Personally, I don't care for Yoga, however someone who is a dancer and has also been trained in Yoga or other stretch methods and knows how to adapt them for ballet dancers would be best.

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If I can add a bit, as someone who does stretching, yoga, and ballet.


The advantage of yoga is that it is slow and you are in control all the time, so you can stop before you get injured. It is therefore very important to listen closely to your body, and not do anything you are not happy with, even if a teacher tells you to.


There are also some traditional yoga postures that need to be modified for safety. The other thing is that some postures may be safe for some people, but dangerous for others. I'm not sure I'm in a position to give a list - I could say a few, but would probably miss many. Points I hear about a lot are (1) in shoulder stands and similar positions, put something under your shoulders, so that the bend in the neck is reduced, (2) supine pelvic posture is not for everyone - it can strain the ligaments in some people's knees, (3) personally I would never do headstands where the whole body weight is on the head and neck (though some people do them OK) - I think it is better to do variants where you take most of the body weight on the arms. Backbending should be done with caution if it is not right for you - dont try and force you way through any of these postures. Actually, there are a lot of "safety" precautions that I think are unneccessary, but get repeated from person to person just to be on the safe side. The precautions you will know from ballet will apply anyway.


The basic yoga classes I have been to have all had a great awareness of safety (excessively so in my opinion). Advanced classes should only be taken by people who have worked up to them over time so that they have a proper experience of what is and is not right for them. I see you are from Australia - as I am - the Australian teachers I have had have all been very aware of safety.


I agree with Mel about sickling. I'm not sure what is meant by not encouraging turn-in, if it comes from the hips (as turn-out should) - I cant see how it competes with turnout.


Although yoga helps with body awareness, flexibility and core strength (though Pilates is better for that), I think it is not particularly useful in other ways for ballet. In particular, the slow, gentle movements do not encourage the rapid explosive vigorous power needed for ballet. While it wont hurt, it wont help either.



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Yoga has been a part of my life as long as I have danced (30+ years :) ). I have never had a yoga teacher who pushed me to do poses or postions that were contra-indicated with my ballet (once I explained my situation). I also have genetically weakly structured knees and have had to modify several poses to put less stress on them.


I will second pinktights' views on the spine, upper body and load bearing for women.

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Have done yoga on and off for quite a few years. Actually, I think well of yoga. I think it certainly makes you a better person and certainly most people will become more flexible as a result of practicing yoga. But from a ballet perspective, does it really help you? Personally, I don’t think so. Yes, yoga practice improves flexibility, but then just doing regular old stretches you do in dance class will do the same just as well and without the investment in cost or time of yoga. From a ballet perspective, will yoga hurt you? I don’t think so.


Both Mel and Victoria have been critical of some yoga poses where the feet wind up sickling. Presumably, they believe that this can or is likely to cause sickling in ballet class. I’ll respectfully disagree with that conclusion. Like turn out, sickling is an action and not a position. As a dancer you learn (or should learn) what it feels like to point your feet without sickling. That you can place your feet in a sickled position seems to me to have no bearing on the action of pointing your foot. I think a good counter example is swimming. My guess is that ballet teachers would generally approve of swimming as an adjunct activity (easy on the joints, relaxing, and fun to do), yet when swimming (crawl, butterfly, backstroke) your feet are sickled constantly.


There is variation in yoga classes about how to approach the stretching aspect of yoga. Everyone is safety conscious, but I found teachers ranged from essentially ignoring what people did in a stretch (asana in yoga terms) to obsessing about it. I learned that a stretch is all about how it feels rather than how it looks, which pretty much removes the injury factor.


I do have to admit a certain curiosity about a stretch class. I mean, why would anyone take one? Perhaps if one doesn’t know many stretches, it might be good. Or if the stretch class used props or partners not otherwise available, it might be good. Or if one has money to burn. But to increase flexibility, we know that above all, one must stretch frequently. Classes aren’t enough. Given all of that, I’d rather hand my money to the ballet teachers and make stretching part of my daily activities.

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There are several reasons I go to stretch class. The ballet class on Monday night at my studio is beginners, and though I used to go to it, I’ve been finding it uninspiring lately. Whereas in stretch I work so hard, and I ache afterwards. In fact I am still in pain two days later, which is why my partner keeps telling me it must be bad for me. Also, I find it really difficult to be committed to stretching in my own time. Going to a class encourages me. And it’s for an hour and a half, which is way longer than I’d stretch at home.


I worry about one of the poses we do. I don’t know what it’s called but it’s like a big lunge to the side, and my knee feels strain sometimes. Similarly, when we lie on our sides and pull one foot back to the buttock, again my knee starts sending me messages. I don’t have any ‘body problems’ yet but I’m sure my knees would be happy to oblige! I know I can stop holding a pose whenever I need to, but I hate dropping out early and I’m not always sure what is bad and what is good pain. But apart from that I enjoy it and don't want to give up.


I think I’ll ask my teacher to recommend a yoga teacher since she doesn’t approve of my current teachers.

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I would definitely say, if your knees dont like it, dont do it. You have so much to lose, and so little to gain in comparison. And pain 2 days after a class? If its in the knees, a definite no. In fact you shouldnt have pain anywhere. This is different from the normal muscle soreness after exercise, which is OK. Where stretching is concerned, "no pain, no gain" is the OPPOSITE of true. Pain = damage, if you really are talking about pain, not just muscle soreness (and only in the muscle, not anything else).



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Guest sally-mandy

In the past eight years I've done yoga, Pilates and ballet. Tried to be careful and "listen to my body," but I've ended up in physical therapy to correct some significant pain. If I could do it all over I would BEGIN with a physical therapist to look in depth at my specific body and check how I'm using it periodically.


Yoga was the beginning of a five year lower back problem for me. Not that yoga is harmful per se, of course, but the combo of my body with that class was not good. Ditto with Pilates. I ended up hurting myself though I was doing what the instructors said. Ditto with ballet, actually. My teachers are good, but they don't know my particular body, and it turns out I needed personalized info.


I feel quite certain these problems are age-related. In my twenties and early thirties I could do almost anything with my body with no negative impact. Now I have to be much more careful (at 42) and the generic info from my teachers isn't always sufficient.


For instance, the stretching I was doing in the recent past helped my immediate stiffness after exercise but aggravated the long term causes of pain. I learned in PT that I'm relatively flexible and have a few strong muscles but the balance is off. Some muscles are way underdeveloped and others are working too hard. My strength is not commensurate with the flexibility. Plus one side is much stronger than the other. Because of all this, my ballet work and stretching to increase flexibility were causing me to strain certain muscles and joints. I would not have known all this without the physical therapist looking in detail at my entire body, range of motion, etc.


I feel very grateful I have health insurance that covers this sort of help.

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That's scary. It's hard to know what to do, isn't it?


The pain I was talking about was muscle pain. I'm ok now (day 3). I can touch the floor again!

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Sally-mandy's post was very thought-provoking. Because I at least had somehow been assuming that being "body aware" and taking things carefully was a proper protection against injury. But I guess not. And it seems to me on reflection that maybe general "body awareness" does not exist. What in fact you learn is specific awarenesses about different parts, muscles, ligaments, joints, etc. And if for any reason your attention has not been directed to that area, then you dont develop the heightened awareness that lets you protect against injury and so on.


How do you get this awareness? Often people seem that to get it after an injury, when a skilled practitioner has taught them to become aware and deal with that part of the body. Or maybe with intense concentration on that area in exercise (e.g. awareness of the ankles or turnout muscles in ballet). But the idea that you get it just by exercising and "listening to your body" - not enough??


The consequence is that awareness would have to be specifically taught, for each area of the body.


I wonder if anyone agrees with me?



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Couple of points.


Sally-mandy you gave me a chuckle when you mentioned your age. Yep, the older you get, the more weird things seem to happen with your body. I went five years with a constant sore back. It had no cause and nothing made it better. It wasn’t awful pain, just annoying pain that would usually go away once I started moving around (dance, exercise, things like that). Doctor was zero help. Ditto the usual PT exercises (most of which I already did). Then one day it vanished completely. Again there was no cause. My routine had remained pretty much the same. Right after that, my left hamstring decided to hurt—for a year. Again, no cause, no remedy, and suddenly it just stopped bothering me for no apparent reason at all. Now it’s the neck. Been sore for about 3 months. No cause, no remedy, and essentially I ignore it.


I do think we older folk have to work to understand our bodies. How do we do that? Well, I think we have to experiment and essentially be intuitive about it. You also have to understand that determining the cause of something is very very very difficult thing to do. That’s why I would stress being intuitive about it. I also think younger folk, no matter their qualifications, are pretty much clueless about how the physically active older person’s body works.


How you get body awareness is an interesting question. I have always stressed awareness and feeling of movement in all the physical activities I’ve engaged in, and it has always come easy to me. So perhaps we have some innate ability to do so, I don’t know. Personally, I think it is just a habit and develops with practice, much like quickly learning ballet class combinations.

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Guest sally-mandy

Jim, you got my point exactly. "Listening to my body" either has not been sufficient for me, or I'm not skilled enough at it yet. I do need to be learn it consciously with help. At its very most basic, I need to understand how my body works beyond what I learned in high school health class. The books and models of spines the PT uses have helped me visualize what's going on internally.


I'm sure Garyecht is right that some body awareness is innate. I am quite aware of where my body is in space, but I don't understand very well how the systems work.


In PT I learned that the pain I was having in my hands originates around my shoulder blades. Intermittent foot issues come from a complicated serious of things going on in my hip, groin, and lower back. I just would not have made those connections on my own. And the things I was doing to attempt to correct them in some cases made them worse.


Also, the physical therapy has been incredibly helpful in building that core strength that everyone says we need in ballet. I've improved my strength more in three weeks of daily specific exercises than in six months of general, class-type Pilates and other stuff I was doing.


I'm a PT convert--can you tell?! :shrug:

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