by Valerie Garrett
As a young dancer training in ballet and modern dance, I didn’t think much about longevity. My body was my musical instrument, and I figured if I got it polished and kept it tuned, it would last me a good long time. Now, at 60, I’m still a performer, dancing with Mountain View’s Academy of Danse Libre, the nation’s leading vintage ballroom dance company and doing a dozen shows a year – some in high heels!
As a movement coach and educator working with the mind-body connection, I study and teach movement to everyone from little children to the fragile elderly. Along the way I’ve learned some very unique longevity secrets that have helped me and many others to feel great, avoid injuries, relieve pain, and stay active. Here are some of my favorites – some may surprise you!
Stretch in Bed. This most basic full-body yawn is the best exercise you can do before you get up in the morning (or even at night). Babies and animals do it naturally, and so should we. Just flex and stretch this way and that, slowly and lightly at first. Reach in front of yourself, over your head. Fold your knees over your chest and curl up, then stretch your heels away from your fingertips. Wake up the muscles to support the bones, so those first steps out of bed are secure enough to avoid a stumble or fall.
Go to Hawaii. Drain tension and improve posture that’s cramped from too much desk our couch time with a free Hawaiian holiday via dynamic imagery. Sit or stand comfortably with bare feet on the ground. Close your eyes and imagine warm sand beneath your feet. Wiggle your toes, heels and arches in the delicious warmth. Take a deep breath and notice that right behind you is a warm waterfall, splashing softly on your shoulders and down your back. Nestle into that water flow and allow your shoulders to drop into the downward streaming flow of the water. Take another breath and observe your tension drain away as you exhale. Stay there on the beach as long as you like. When you are ready to return from your holiday, just gently open your eyes. You may need to brush some sand from your toes!
Relax your Jaw. Many of us carry tension in our throat, neck, and jaw that can cause headaches, dental and health problems, and wrinkles. Finding a neutral posture for your tongue is a surprisingly effective release for your jaw and throat. Place the top of your tongue lightly up against the roof of your mouth, with the tip of your tongue touching the back of your upper teeth. As you relax into this posture you will notice an immediate release of your jaw tension. Remind yourself to practice this while you are doing your regular exercise or anytime you might be straining.
Lift your Face. Ancient wisdom meets modern exercise with facial yoga that eliminates the need for plastic surgery while building tone and expressive mobility to our faces. Here’s a simple fix. For a sagging throat or jawline, place your tongue in its neutral position, lift the chin, and press upwards with the tongue on the roof of the mouth for several seconds, release, and repeat several times.
Respect your Feet. Ever hear the expression, “My dogs are barking?” Keep your pups quiet and happy with daily attention of movement, imagery, and grooming. My friend, the dancer/choreographer Sybil Shearer (who died at the youthful age of 95!) had a daily practice of circling every bone in her body, slowly, this way and that. While sitting or standing, extend your leg and very slowly and lightly circle your foot around your ankle a few times. Change feet, repeat, and reverse. Try circling just your big toe, or middle toe. Point and flex your foot. Take your foot in your hand and give it a little massage at both the arches, under the toes and under the length of the foot. Make space between the bones with your fingers, then quietly stand. Sensing the connection to the ground through the soles of your feet will help you maintain your balance, posture, and mobility as the years go by.
Dance every day. Music and movement harmonize the energy fields of the body. So turn up the music and just move. You don’t even need a partner. You’ll release those feel-good endorphins, your body will wake up in a new way, and you’ll have renewed energy as well as a boost to your fitness program. If you can’t dance, who’s to know? Run with music, walk with music, sing or hum along. Even if you’re moving to your own drummer, it’s dancing. So, let’s face the music and dance!