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Building Confidence #4—Conscious Relaxation

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 Ariel Bennett, ADCRG, is a teacher and judge who has been Irish dancing for 30 years.

In the last Building Confidence post, we talked about your body’s fight or flight response to stressful situations, and the way you can start to calm yourself down using deep breathing. Read it here: Building Confidence #3—Deep Breathing Exercises.

However, sometimes breathing exercises alone aren’t enough to overcome your body’s instinctive stress response. Conscious relaxation exercises are the next step in helping you take back control of your mind and body so you can dance your best.

Here is a conscious relaxation exercise you can try at home:

*Lie down on your back in a comfortable position, preferably in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.

*Close your eyes and do several deep breathing exercises. Afterwards, continue taking slow, steady breaths with your eyes closed.

*Think about your feet. Mentally examine all the parts of each foot: the toes, the arches, the ankles. Are they hurting today? Are they tired? Are any of your foot muscles tight? If the muscles feel tense, let them relax. Tell yourself that any stress you feel in your feet can melt away into the floor.

*Now think about your calves the same way. Notice if you’re feeling any pain, any tiredness, any tension. Let any tension dissolve away into the floor every time you exhale.

*Think about each muscle group in your body in turn, noticing how your muscles feel before letting them relax. Work your way up slowly from your legs to your head.

*When you get to your head, think about the muscles in your face and jaw. Notice any tightness and let it melt away. Let your mouth relax. Let your cheeks relax. Let your forehead relax. Let your eyes relax.

*Stay in this position with your eyes closed and take several deep breaths.

*When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes. Then you can slowly sit up. Notice how your body feels after the relaxation exercise.

Some people find conscious relaxation exercises difficult at first. They might fall asleep, or they might find their mind wandering when they’re supposed to be thinking about their muscles. That’s OK. Just like with your dancing, conscious relaxation takes practice.

If you need help getting started, try looking on iTunes, YouTube, or other websites for guided meditations. Guided meditations are where someone talks you through a conscious relaxation exercise as you do it. Especially at first, it can be easier to do the exercises with help, and there are lots of different options.

Ideally, you should try a conscious relaxation exercise every day. Nighttime, when you’ve just gotten into bed, is a good time, since it’s usually dark and quiet. At first, the exercises might be slow and difficult, but the more you do them, the easier and faster they will get.

Why should you do these conscious relaxation exercises? Tense muscles don’t perform the intricate moves of Irish dance as well calm, controlled muscles, and tense muscles get tired quickly, leaving you without the stamina to finish as strongly as you started. The more you practice conscious relaxation, the more your muscles will respond when you ask them to stay calm and loose, even during a stressful situation like a feis. When your muscles respond the way you want them to, the more confident you will feel in competition, and the better you will dance. Relaxation exercises are powerful tools in helping you reach your Irish dancing goals.
Photo credit: Flickr User Robert Bejil

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