A Tough Winter

It has been a tough winter for many of us who live in places where the temperatures are unseasonably low (most likely due to global climate change). Hong Kong recorded the lowest temperature since the 1950s. On the coldest day, January 24, we registered just above-zero temperatures—around 2-3 degrees Celcius in the outskirts of the city (roughly 35 degree Farenheit). While it may sound “warm” to those of you in North America or Europe, the high humidity level, the zero insulation and lack of central heating or built-in radiators in Hong Kong’s buildings means that we have all been freezing our butts off!

Prior to the cold spell, I got sick with a nasty stomach flu. Luckily I was back on my feet within a week (thanks to many factors but mostly the wonderful probioticsDr. D’Adamo’s Polyflora—I have been taking and Miracle Mineral Solutions 1 & 2). Yesterday I made my way back to the ballet studio. It was very very chilly and most of us didn’t get warm even after the barre exercises! For me, I usually start to sweat after the first tendu, but yesterday I didn’t start to feel warm until ronds de jambe!

Gaynor Minden Paws - balletomanehk.com

So happy to make it back to ballet class after being sick and then hibernated in the extreme cold. Nothing feels better on a cold day than working up a good sweat! BTW, those Gaynor Minden paws are really great!

 

During the class, I also found it a big challenge to maintain the proper ballet posture as I had been lying in bed a lot and sitting in a hunched position in this chill for the whole week. My muscles were so tense (still are!). My teacher kept on reminding me to activate the scapular as my upper back was not upright and my arms and shoulders were not properly stretched out. This really affected all my movements. I felt it acutely when doing pirouettes. But as soon as I became more mindful of my alignment, I had a better go with turning.

The pirouette has always been the bane of my ballet existence through the years. Even after almost nine years (with many hiatus in between), I have yet to make a good clean single. In the past, I would condemn myself and feel devastated each time I failed to execute a good pirouette. But my mental state has changed. I have learned to laugh at myself and pat myself on the back every time I fail. In fact, I don’t even use the word “fail” in my head anymore. I just think of it as an attempt that leads to mastery one day. And I try to really focus on what went wrong and make an effort to do it differently the next time. So instead of pouting, I would put on a smile and try, try again.

While I’ve totally “gone off the wagon” of the 12-Week Challenge, I just try to go easy on myself and allow my body to slowly adjust to the temperature and my physical conditions instead of feeling frustrated. It is never a good idea to push yourself from zero to perfection, especially for those of us mature recreational dancers. Don’t you agree?

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A Dream about Nureyev

Nureyev at the barre - Balletomanehk - www.balletomanehk.comFour years ago, I saw Rudolph Nureyev in my dream. In it, I was teaching him how to do port de bras (geez, does he need any help?!) . We were talking French. At the end of this dream sequence, I said “ta den” (take this) in Swedish to him (referring to his arm), and he repeated these words in a sexy voice and then moved his arm in a most graceful manner! Hardly do I have dreams as vivid as that!

Thanks to Facebook, which gave me a reminder of what I wrote in my status on the same day four years ago, I can now savor this sweet dream 😉 I also dreamt of Yuan Yuan Tan one time, but I will share it in another post later. Have you ever dreamt of a ballet dancer? Or do you mostly see yourself dancing in your dreams? I’ve had quite a few of those myself—in which I was able to perform some feats that I normally aren’t able to in the waking state, such as 10 pirouettes landing in 4th. Of course I have also had less pleasant dreams… such as thisthis and this. Please share with me your ballet dreams—if you remember them!

Cardio Day and Nice Reward

How is everyone doing with your 12-Week Challenge? Here is how my calendar looks like:

12-Week Challenge - Balletomanehk - www.balletomanehk.com

For me, keeping up with the light schedule is itself a challenge. I had to swap a lot of the exercises to fit them into my schedule. But going back to regular class definitely helps to get me into the groove. The cardio is often the part that stops me…. I would find all sorts of excuses, like having a sore back or headache, for not doing it. As on any day of the week, I have a short supply of time today, but the weather is super nice and I decided to give cardio a try. So I made a search on YouTube and found this awesome video—a 10-minute cardio workout for busy people by Amanda Russell:

It’s made up of 10 exercises. You would do each for 45 seconds and rest for 15 seconds then start the next one. This would make the set a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), perfect for fat burn. In the past, I have done HIIT in the form of jogging. I have to admit that these exercises are much more fun to do than jogging, as they provide a good amount of variation. But at least half of them are extremely difficulty for me as they require a lot of strength in the core, thighs and quads. At first I thought that 45 seconds would be easy peasy. Nope! I had to stop in the middle of at least three exercises to catch my breath. The good thing is that they really get my heart rate up fast and they are not as tough as the other set by Jenna Wolfe that I mentioned in my last post. Give it a try and see if it suits you. The best part is that it takes less than 10 minutes to complete once you are familiar with the routines. I think this would make the cardio part of the challenge easier for me. And I am starting to appreciate the benefits of doing cardio exercises for my ballet training. They seem to contribute to my stamina and strength.

Before I did those exercises today, I was actually starting to get hungry and debated whether I should eat first or exercise first. But I decided to hold off eating and finish the workout first. Sure enough, I forgot about the hunger and got the exercises done. It didn’t take that much time as imagined. Then I rewarded myself with an organic garden salad, freshly harvested from my little rooftop garden. Yummy yummy!

Organic Garden Salad with Salmon - Balletomanehk - www.balletomanehk.com

Hope you are having fun with the challenge, seeing progress in your ballet training and most important of all, feeling good about yourself! See you next time!

No Matter How You Feel… Show up and Never Give up

Today’s the fifth day of the 12-Week Challenge. I missed a day on Wednesday as I had to travel to the city for work, which means almost four hours back and forth. On Thursday, I picked up the challenge again by jumping rope on my roof.

Jumping-Rope

I made around 120 rounds… not that much if you think of the little time needed to do that, but still, it was better than nothing and my heart rate certainly went up a notch. It’s amazing how a simple exercise was able to lift my mood as well—I was feeling rather depressed about my economic situation after paying tax, and worried how I’m going to pay the rent, let alone my ballet classes! (If you are so inclined, please consider sending in a donation so I can keep on taking ballet class… click here. I’ll be forever grateful!)

The Universe does have its way of comforting and encouraging me. First, I saw this quote while browsing Instagram:

“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never give up.”
~Regina Brett

It was like a gentle nudge that life goes on, keep doing what you need to do and what you love to do.

Then, another sign—The following cardio workout routine showed up on my Facebook newsfeed. Exactly what I needed to get my cardio exercise done for the challenge:

The trainer, Jenna Wolfe, said the exercises progress from the easiest to the hardest, from the largest number of reps to the smallest. To my surprise, I almost stopped dead in the middle of the sequence. The squatting one was so tough. My thighs were killing me. But the high kicks were easy, without me having to bend the trunk forward like Wolfe does in the video (dancer’s advantage, I guess). I don’t know if I burned 100 calories or not (the goal of this workout) but I don’t care about calories. It’s the heart rate that matters, and I surely could feel the blood pumping fast after the workout!

Then, somehow I stumbled upon the following video on workout exercises. Although I was going to try out Kathryn Morgan’s leg workout, my attention turned to this instead. In my first time back at the ballet studio, I noticed how tight my hip muscles were and how little turnout was left of me, so I decided to work on that. Check out this video! I love it because all the exercises were done with a focus on warming up and rotating the hip joint… no forcing at all. And the video is not too long, around 8 minutes. You can do it along with the instructor Lisa Maree. Some of her audience members reported much better turnout after having done this workout repeatedly. So it might be something to build into the 12-week challenge routine and beyond.

After my workouts were done, my legs were totally shaky! But I feel good. The quote above is so spot on! Thank you, Universe.

Postural Alignment for Ballet

Second day of Kathryn Morgan’s 12-Week Challenge: I had to switch things around as I couldn’t really do the cardio as suggested on her January calendar. It was raining cats and dogs for the most part of the day, so I decided to do some gentle stretching instead, especially since I have developed some muscle aches after my first class yesterday (as expected!). “Yoga” was suggested for Thursday, so I decided to swap “cardio” with that. And since I haven’t really properly learned to do any yoga myself, I opted for Egoscue exercises instead.

You may never have heard of Egoscue exercises. They are exercises for correcting our postures so that our main loading joints align properly, giving the entire body balance from left to right and from front to back. I learned to do these more than eight years ago, about the same time I started to take ballet lessons. At that time, I had a severe case of back pain, and I tried many different modules until I hit the jackpot—the book “Pain Free” by Pete Egoscue showed up in my local bookstore right in front of me. Following the exercises for back pain in the book helped me get rid of most of the pain and I was able to function normally again.

Later on I realized that ballet strictly requires a symmetrical alignment of the body and mine was far from the ideal. In fact, being desk-bound for my work made my right shoulder much lower than the left, and there was a serious imbalance between my left and right hips. Such imbalances caused pain in the lower body, such as pain in the knees and ankles. So I looked into the Egoscue Method further and found the following book: “The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion.”

The book shows three different kinds of imbalances and mine (left-right and anterior pelvic tilt) are two of those covered in the book. The other one is posterior pelvic tilt. I started doing full sets of exercises to correct both the left-right and front-back imbalances. I did them first thing in the morning every single day for about four years, and the result? Voilà!

Egoscue_Condition1_Before-After-Left

2007 vs. 2011

Egoscue Exercise for Condition 2 - www.balletomanehk.com

Life got busy, and I haven’t been doing these exercises diligently after the initial four years. Sure enough, the long hours sitting behind the computer screen have taken a toll on my posture again. With Kathryn Morgan’s 12-week challenge, I have found the motivation to squeeze some time into my busy schedule to realign my posture again.

Some of the exercises are borrowed from yoga and some are unique creations by Pete Egoscue himself. Below are some snapshots of what I did today:

Egoscue - Downward Dog - http://www.balletomanehk.com Egoscue - Frog - http://www.balletomanehk.comEgoscue_Standing-Quad-Stretch Egoscue - Abdominals - http://www.balletomanehk.com
Egocue - Supine Groin - http://www.balletomanehk.com

I feel so good now that I have aligned my posture for the day. The whole body feels relaxed and light, and the exercises have given me the kind of gentle conditioning that would prepare me for the ballet workouts that are coming up.

Thanks to the rain, I did manage to do a tiny bit of cardio after all—it made a mess with my garden on the roof, so by cleaning up the mess, I did get my heart rate pumped up and I got a little sweaty too! 😉

How has your challenge been so far? Share with me in the comment section below.

My First Real Class after the Hiatus

First-Ballet-Class-2016

Yesterday was the first time I went back to the ballet studio after half a year’s hiatus. I was so thrilled and nervous at the same time! Also, as I just recovered from the flu, I was a tad worried and didn’t know if I could make it through the class or not. On top of that, I was too careless not to have checked the ballet studio’s Facebook updates to see if there was actually a class today. So I messaged the teacher but I didn’t hear from her even though it was only 15 minutes before the class would start. The door to the studio was locked and I started to wonder if I had wasted the almost two hours’ trip from home. Well, turned out that the teacher was stuck in cross-border traffic and the class would start half an hour later and so my journey was not wasted after all. But I had to cancel a tutoring appointment, which I scheduled right after the class… and lost HK$500 :'(.

In any case, I was determined to rekindle my ballet training this year. So off I go against all odds! This just happened to be first day of former New York City Ballet dancer Kathryn Morgan’s ‪”12-Week Challenge.” I mentioned this challenge a couple of days ago, and was super excited about starting it. I am really not sure if I can follow through even the light version of the challenge, but to get started would be to have won half the battle, at least in my case, as I had so many reasons to put off resuming class last year. But I finally made it!

The class was conducted by a young substitute teacher, whom I have been an acquaintance for quite a few years. It was slow-paced but she really made sure we got the alignment and movements right. We had only two center exercises, starting with a tendu+temps lié and ending with sauté. The last set of sauté was long-ish and I almost felt like collapsing, but I persisted till the end and am really proud of having completed the exercise.

To my surprise, my technique is still there, despite not having much strength and flexibility. But I know these will come back in time. To me, at this point, being able to move my arms and upper body in a graceful way means more than being able to have high leg extensions or super flexibility, as the important thing is to be able to do what I can still do to get back the feeling of dancing again. So, I’m just taking things in baby steps now.

After class, I could feel the endorphin rush… I wanted to sing James Brown’s song out loud: “I FEEL GOOD!!!”

Looking forward to more ballet this year.

Relaxing Your Hip and Back for Ballet

If you are like me, who find yourself sitting at the computer desk for way too many hours a day, you probably would have developed tight hip flexors, or psoas—the largest muscle group in our body responsible for flexing our legs from the hip joint. Well, this is bad news for anyone serious about doing ballet the right way, because a good ballet posture calls for a relatively neutral spinal alignment (vertical, but allowing for the natural curve of the spine). When the hip is tilted forward as a result of tightness in the psoas, it is more difficult to move your legs freely from the hip down, and it affects the balance and all sorts of movements too.

The following photo illustrates how an anterior-tilted hip looks like (yea, that was me many years ago 😉 ):

Anterior Tilt of Hip Joint, a no no for ballet - www.balletomanehk.com

I’m sure most of you have heard this instruction from your teacher in class: “Drop your tailbone!” or “Coccyx forward!” Basically, it is a reminder that we should keep our hip level and not tilted forward (or in some cases, backwards).

But most of you probably have found it difficult to maintain that neutral position, having to constantly be reminded or try to remind yourself.

There is a solution to this problem. But before I share the solution, let me just explain the reason why we have anterior tilt in a simple way: Our muscles in the back are too tight from many hours of sitting. The tension of these muscles must be released before they can do their work of properly holding the upper body in the upright position.

The following picture shows how we can release those tight muscles in a very easy and relaxing way. It is free and can be done in the comfort of your home. Find a chair, a sofa or any piece of furniture that has the height of the length of your calves, such as a low coffee table. Lie down on the floor. Place your calves on the flat surface of the furniture so that your calves and thighs form a 90-degree angle. If the surface is too low, try to pad it up with a firm cushion so that you get that 90 degrees. Lastly, place your arms on the side at a 45-degree angle to your trunk. Make sure the palms are facing the ceiling.

Egoscue Exercise - Static Back

Egoscue Exercise – Static Back

Now, you’re likely going to feel some tension at the lower back at this point. Try to place your hand under your back and feel if there is a gap. If you have a gap there, it is a sign that you do have an anterior tilt. What you do next is just to lie there, deep breathe through your diaphragm (horizontal expansion of rib cage), and relax. You can listen to music, daydream, go through ballet combinations in your head, or just dose off—whatever you feel like doing in a relaxed state. Just try not to watch TV as this would strain your neck and back muscles and defeat the purpose of doing this exercise.

Gradually, you will notice the tight muscles on your back loosening up. You may feel so relaxed that naturally fall asleep! How long should you be doing this? It depends on how tight your muscles are, but check the gap under your back after 10-15 minutes. If it is still there, I suggest staying there until the gap disappears. Half an hour would be really good as a start. Of course, if you are short of time, just do whatever you can. But if you keep doing this 10-15 minutes a day, you will find a difference in your spinal alignment. This simple exercise can contribute a great deal in achieving the “aplomb” that is so important for ballet. Try it, and let me know how you feel! Off I go to do this!