By Bri Wilson
Human beings have always danced and moved to celebrate, mourn, and heal. Now is no exception.
As stay-at-home orders fell into place, a plethora of dance and fitness classes sprang up across social media channels. Many of us found that taking these classes eased the challenges of self-isolation, as we moved our bodies and connected to communities near and far.
On both physical and emotional levels, movement invites pleasure and joy; it increases muscular blood flow, strengthens neural connections, and, when done in community, reminds us that we’re not alone in this strange new way of life. There’s no one right way to have a dance or movement practice; listening to and honoring what enlivens your body is the perfect place to start.
Here, Pilates instructor Nancy Mattheiss and I share our experience and advice for integrating movement into our daily lives. Nancy’s summer class, Core Matters Pilates – Mat Work opens for registration on May 26.
What would you say to someone who wants to move their body but is struggling to get started?
Nancy Mattheiss: I’m a big believer in celebrating incremental progress. Set achievable goals, and then hold yourself accountable. Walking twice a week with a friend while social distancing is one possible way to start. Another is sampling a beginning exercise or dance video. Remember, at home no one is watching- work at your own pace!
Bri Wilson: Start slow and small. Try dancing with just your hands or dance in a chair. Turn on your favorite song and dance the way you did when you were a little kid.
What about to someone who had a regular movement or dancing practice but is feeling stuck and uninspired?
Nancy: What’s key is to find the activity that brings lightness or a smile to even think about. Find the fun factor in ping pong, dance, jumping on a trampoline or hula hooping, and give yourself permission to be a beginner and see what happens from there. Follow your curiosity!
Bri: Talk to a friend about how you’re feeling and pick a new movement or dance class to try together. Our brains thrive on novelty and connection; if there’s a way you can safely experience a new genre of dance, go for it. You’ll strengthen your brain and body and enjoy some social-emotional bonding too.
Can you suggest any specific movement prompts or exercises that might be helpful?
Nancy: Moving regularly gives vitality and should feel good. Distinguish between feeling pain (don't go there) and that natural, slightly sore result of beginning to regain movement. Use that line as a gauge of your exercise progress and intensity.
Bri: Every hour, take a one-minute break to gently move your spine. Spinal movement sends critical feedback to the brain and can help you feel more awake if you’ve been sitting for a long time.
Are you personally able to create space for movement during this time? What are the challenges and how are you approaching them? What are the benefits?
Nancy: Absolutely! I’m the one dancing in my kitchen while I make dinner, rolling away morning stiffness on my foam roller while I sip tea in the morning, taking a daily walk and getting some bike riding in when I can. The creativity and physicality of gardening (and stretching out afterwards!) gives me great pleasure. I find that the benefits of moving regularly include strength and flexibility, the resiliency that comes from consciously overcoming the hard thing, and the ability to keep hiking above the tree line with joy.
Bri: Dancing regularly has provided some much-needed normalcy throughout all this uncertainty. I practice with friends on Zoom; we help keep each other accountable and inspired. Sometimes I feel completely disconnected and isolated from my practice, and that’s when taking a big group class online can help shift my mood and remind me of why I love to move!
You can follow along with Nancy as she moves through a basic Pilates routine here:
You can follow along with me as I move through a seated BrainDance here:
A note about the BrainDance: Developed by Anne Green-Gilbert, the BrainDance is a series of eight movement patterns that correspond with the first reflexes healthy human beings develop within the first year of life. You can learn more about the BrainDance at creativedance.org.