“The waves is on fire, the day is getting hot. This is my desire to the one to hit the spot, yeah. Cool down.” – Kolohe Kai
I’m not a surfer, but I dig the song “Cool Down,” and it has been running through my head as I write this article. Just in the last week the temperatures have dipped here in Cologne from our scorching summer highs, as if on cue to signal the coming change of the seasons.
Coming down, getting complete, making transitions from one activity to the next, taking a breather, pausing to situate yourself in time and space, recovering from amplified or more intense physical or mental situations, experiences of cardiovascular exertion, vigorous challenge, or other heightened experiences of learning or creative work such as classes, rehearsals, performances, all of these can benefit from some form of cool-down ritual.
There is definitely not as of much a focus in technique classes on cooling down as there is warming up and preparing the body to move, but I believe still a valuable practice. Cooling down doesn’t have to be lengthy or complicated, just not to rush from one thing right into the next, instead to pause and complete and then move calmly forward.
I especially notice the need in childrens’ classes to ramp the energy back down from high energy, climactic movements and dances, take a moment to complete and acknowledge them and the end of the time together, rather than releasing them fully wound-up out of the studio back to their families, which can be loud, abrupt, confusing, and chaotic.
Not that we’re perfect, the small students’ exit can still be a bit wild, but ritual definitely helps, the reinforcement of what we learned and their positive contributions, and the chance to breathe together and say “thank you” to our own bodies and selves, our teacher, each other, and the tradition we study. My friend and colleague in ballet education, Matthew Donnell and I touched on the value of reverence in our podcast together, episode 078 as well.
The same is true for people of all ages, of course. We appreciate rituals and require opportunities to get present and complete to change gears for our next activity.
Cooling down is both a physical and mental practice, as Courtney and Bailey Carver pointed out in their Soul + Wit podcast episode on cooling off. I won’t focus in this article on beating the heat of summer with cool drinks and things, but they do, along with releasing mental steam.
Closing Ritual of Révérence
In the classical dance tradition of ballet, we have special ways of greeting and expressing respect for one another. We may enter the dancing space and greet our teacher with a bow, and we also dance a “Révérence” at the end of our class to express reverence, respect, and acknowledgement for the ballet teaching lineage, our own teachers and choreographers, our fellow dancers and classmates, the musicians, our audience, and our own efforts.
As Rory Foster puts it in the book Ballet Pedagogy: “Many teachers do not do it, but I find that it is a calm, culminating, and aesthetically pleasing way for students to end their class time. There is an atmosphere of completion–of closure.” (p.49)
Donnell’s perspective on révérence, which he shared in the A Blythe Coach Podcast episode 78, is that: “Dancers get so stuck in the technical aspects of what we do. One of the things that I was really taught by a teacher or two was the art of taking the révérence at the end of ballet class. A lot of teachers don’t choose to do that in American schools. You’ll always see it in Russian schools at the beginning and at the end of class. I at least try to do it, I would say 99.9% of the time I will always make sure that there is 30 seconds for at least bowing to stage right, stage left, balcony, you know, and students and just finishing. That is my chance to teach a little bit of stagecraft, of the artistry.” (38:37)
In the excellent resource book The Ballet Companion, Eliza Gaynor Minden also expresses the value of révérence:
“No matter how exhilarating the final grand allegro, no matter how much you might prefer to jeté right out the door, class isn’t over. The conclusion is révérence, the acknowledgment of your teacher, of your accompanist; and of ballet’s own traditions of courtesy, elegance, and respect…It can be a simple curtsy with basic port de bras–or a bow for men–or a more elaborate series of steps with sweeping, ornate port de bras and several changes of direction. Either way, don’t shortchange it. Révérence is not that demanding technically, but there’s still much you can learn from it. And if you did not meet the technical demands of class to your own satisfaction, you can find some redemption in the loveliness of your révérence.” (p. 181)
Start & Finish in Yoga, Martial Arts, other traditions
Like bookends to start and end, we might open or close our practices in similar ritualized ways in a variety of contexts, with familiar words or certain traditions to mark our transition into and out of the sacred space of the studio.
In Hatha Yoga or the physical practice of yoga asanas, we often enter the practice by being still and checking in, centering, breathing together, intention setting and affirming, and/or mantra. In Yoga philosophy, my favorite translation of the “Namaste” greeting is: “The light/highest in me salutes/acknowledges the light/highest in you.”
When I practiced Tae Kwon Do, there was a similarly organized tradition of greeting as we entered the practice space, warming up, cooling down, completing the session and leaving the space respectfully.
In church ceremonies, the benediction and doxology, in academia the convocation and the baccalaureate, all structures have traditions of greeting and farewell.
Physically Unwind Slowly
In the Dance Magazine article “Are Cooldowns really worth the time?” Kim Richards, a physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist explains the function of a cooldown after dancing:
“The point of a cooldown is to give your body time to come back to its normal baseline. Dancing, like any type of exercise, increases the amount of blood that’s pumped throughout your body because your muscles need more oxygen during exertion. Letting your heart rate come down slowly gives your body time to transition back to its resting, balanced state, also known as homeostasis.”
Lauren McIntyre, a certified athletic trainer and clinical specialist states: “Your body naturally goes through this process no matter what you do after exercise. But an active cooldown potentially leads to faster recovery of the cardiovascular system, less muscle soreness and a more rapid reduction of lactic acid, the byproduct that builds up in your muscles during intense exercise.”
That is one important role of cooling down, it’s physiological function, as Richards explains: “Abruptly stopping intense activity can lead to lightheadedness, dizziness and, in some cases, fainting.”
Cooldowns don’t need to be elaborate. McIntyre suggests doing movement-based activities that are low-intensity, so you can keep your blood flowing without getting fatigued. “In general, the recommendation is to keep it short, less than 30 minutes. It’s not a second workout; it should be something that feels good and comfortable to you.”
Take a Deep Breath
“For example,” says McIntyre, “walk around the studio as your breathing returns to normal, and take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.”
You can do an unstructured practice of allowing the breath to return to its regular rhythm, use practices from Yoga Pranayama such as those in my Beautiful Breathing YouTube Playlist, or other methods to calm and re-focus.
“Dynamic stretching, such as moving through a yoga flow or doing walking lunges, can serve as a cooldown if you need to stay somewhat warm for the rest of your day. ‘There’s some research that suggests that if you have very intense activities separated by less than an hour, that’s a time when an active recovery would be beneficial,’ McIntyre says.
In fact, McIntyre points out that after-exertion stretching is more effective for improving flexibility than during a warm-up: “We know that to achieve increases in range of motion with static stretching, you need to be warm.”
Do your own favorite stretches and check out my Sumptuous Stretching YouTube Playlist for more ideas.
Complete & Mentally Reset
In the same Dance Magazine article mentioned above, psychologist Dr. Lucie Clements points out that “For some dancers, the cooldown is more of a mental necessity. After a performance, for example, it can feel like ‘you’ve had this high and then suddenly you crash and you feel sad.” She says that performance blues” are a common experience and I agree, but there are ways we can cope.
Process & Reflect
Consider reflecting on what you have just experienced, either in spoken or in written form. You can quickly recount what you learned, “glows” or positive experiences and “grows” or areas to improve, and any corrections, notes, or thoughts for next time.
Journal your own thoughts, the teachers’ feedback, music and creative ideas, anything you like! It can also be valuable to record your thanks and gratitude, and acknowledgement for yourself and/or others, which you may choose to share.
When I was training with Accomplishment Coaching, I first practiced the distinction of acknowledgement and learned that appreciating others, and being acknowledged myself, is a powerful ontological tool. In fact, acknowledgement is part of us getting complete on each coaching session and approaching every action with purpose.
Resources for Chilling Out & More
- Ballet Révérence for all ages – bow, respect & appreciation
- Yoga Cool-Down – Pigeon, Seated Stretch + Savasana – 15 Minute Practice
- 6-Minute Hip Stretch for after ballet or sports
- Yogalicious YouTube Playlist
- Sumptuous Stretching YouTube Playlist
- Lion’s Breath – Yoga Pranayama
- Beautiful Breathing YouTube Playlist
- Wonderful Warmers to Whet the Appetite
- Move Your Body Minimal Fitness
- Sumptuous Stretches – Relaxation & Range of Motion
- Shake It Off! Stress & Tension Relief
- Getting Good & Grounded– solid foundation for dance & life
- Wake Up! Yoga for Energy & Enthusiasm
- Rest & Relaxation Rocks My World
- Seeking Sweet Sleep – yogic insomnia solutions
- Reflective Practice Through Journaling
Questions for Reflection
- What would you like to be acknowledged for?
- Who would you like to acknowledge? What have they contributed to your life?
- How do you prepare to transition from one activity or mode of life into another?
- What would your ideal rituals look like to cool down and complete?
Blythe Stephens, MFA
they/them or she/her
A Blythe Coach: helping multi-passionate creatives
Dance through their difficulties & takes leaps of faith
DISCLAIMER: A Blythe Coach recommends that you consult your physician regarding the applicability of any recommendations and follow all safety instructions before beginning any exercise program. When participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself.