Pushing Too Hard

As a dancer, pushing hard is second nature, part of the lifestyle. Discipline and hard work are essential to perfect technique, gain strength, get to the next performance level and interpret the choreographer’s vision both physically and emotionally. Dance is not alone in the need for pushing hard. Almost anything worthwhile requires this kind of drive at times. Most of us understand this.


However what’s more difficult to comprehend is when does pushing hard become too much? Usually we don’t know we’re going over the line. When we’re in the middle of the challenge we just want to keep going until we complete that proposal, meet the deadline, or master those triple turns. Getting to the finish line is all we are focusing on.


Along the way we may do more harm than good. We might not recognize it until the next day when we have a splitting headache or we’ve got a cold or physical injury. Maybe it would have been better to take a break or even leave the dance studio or office and go home and sleep. Or socialize. Or go to a movie. Sometimes we just need to relax and breathe deeply and let it all go.


Stretching is a good example of a place where sometimes less is actually more. Like a rubber band that is overused, muscles can also lose their elasticity from overuse. If muscles are constantly being tensed as they are exercised, they tend to “break” as in a pulled hamstring or a tear in the Achilles tendon. When these injuries heal, if we go back to the same regimen of pushing too hard, the stage is set for a repeat injury.


This is why I teach stretch classes from a stance of transformation. I aim to transform the perspective of students from pushing too hard to breathing and relaxing into flexibility. Students learn to deepen a stretch through relaxing and breathing into a movement that works for them, as opposed to pushing into an idealized position.


Re-patterning the way we extend and lengthen our limbs, spines and necks will teach us to listen to our bodies. We want to be able to recognize when we should stop or when we should put more effort into deepening a stretch. By centering on our breathing, we remain focused on ourselves which helps us better judge how we are feeling at that exact moment. Our effort level may change from day to day because how we feel is constantly in flux. By breathing and focusing we know how far to go and we don’t wind up pushing too hard.


© 2010 by Sheila Peters. All rights reserved.