Shake It Off! Stress & Tension Relief for Dancers, Athletes, and other humans under pressure
Haiku #93 of 2021: “Let Go”
How quickly can you
let everything which lies right
behind you go
If you’ve taken a dance or yoga class with me, you know I love to “shake it out” after the focused effort of dance movements and yoga poses. This way we can release excess tension that may build up during exercises. A couple of examples are in my Pre-Barre Warm Up to Whet the Appetite video at 11:44 and in Plush “Parallelevés” at 4:05.
Shout out to my ballet student from Honolulu, Ryan, who would always sing “Shake it Off” when we were releasing tension and coming back to neutral in between combinations!
Move to Release Stress
There are a variety of enjoyable exercises to shake your stress off, whether it be physical or psychological, a selection of which I featured in this recent video:
These are six of my favorite little movements to relax and relieve stress and tension between dancing, sports, and everyday activities:
1. Standing “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” (Adriene Mishler – yoga) [01:48]
2. Heel Rocks (Peggy Hackney- Bartenieff Movement Fundamentals) [03:47]
3. Duck Tails (Peggy Hackney- Bartenieff Movement Fundamentals) [05:20]
4. Shoulder Shimmy (Michelle Gaines- Jazz) [06:44]
5. Horse Lips (Aloha Theatre & The Movement Center) [08:16]
6. Lion’s Breath/Lemon Face (The Movement Center & yoga) [09:11]
Shake it Off for Mental Health
Recently I read an article about the psychological benefits to such movements as well in Mind Body Green, where the psychologist entered, Ellen Vora, M.D., explained:
“It approximates what we used to do as animals to discharge excess adrenaline and reset the nervous system,” she says. “…For example, Vora notes, you might see a goose flapping its wings after getting into an altercation or a rabbit shaking after a stressful event.”
Vora’s recommended technique to release stress in the body follows these steps:
- “Sit or lie down on a comfortable surface.
- Pull up any song you enjoy. If you’re curious, here’s what a neurologist listens to to relieve anxiety.
- Close your eyes.
- Let your body relax, releasing any tension.
- Shake your body around for at least 90 seconds, in whatever way feels best to you.”
Both the article and I stress the importance of self-awareness and self-knowledge. Always tailor your physical and mental practices for yourself and your individual situation. Go at the speed that is right for you, start slowly and be mindful, and choose supports that work for you, such as movements and positioning that are comfortable in your body and music that you enjoy.
Here are some other fun “shake out” movements to try:
- Arm & Leg Shakes (standing or reclining with limbs in air)
- Classical Jazz Dance, West-African Dance, Tahitian Dance, or Belly Dancing Isolations
- Rag Doll yoga forward fold
- Bouncing Meditation
In creating upcoming content, I plan to include movements and topics of interest to YOU, so let me know what you’d like to see more of!
Spiritual Shake-Off: Meditation
Yoga and meditation provide spiritual practices in letting go as well. In his translation of the classic yoga text The Bhagavad Gita, The Living Gita, Sri Swami Satchidananda describes spiritually letting go like this:
“Swim like a duck in the water. But the minute you come out, shake everything off. All the water drops away, you come out free. That’s real dhyanam, true meditation.” (p.84)
Questions for Reflection
- How do you tend to hold on to tension in the body?
- How do you hold grudges in the mind?
- What are your go-to techniques to cope with stress?
- What’s your favorite way to shake off between exercises?
Tell me your favorite ways to shake off your stress here or on IG @ablythecoach, I would love to hear your perspective!
Blythe C. Stephens, Coach for Creatives Dancing Through Difficulty
MFA, she/her or they/them
Creator of A Blythe Coach: dance through your difficulties and
take leaps of faith into a joyful, fulfilling life
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