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Archive of Health Tips featured in the Narthaki monthly newsletters

The role of symmetry and balance in dance is another aspect which sets it apart from other exercises such as aerobics. Indian classical dance, patterned along the complex lines of Yoga both in its training as well as its performance, uses symmetry and balance to create poise. Like the bee which vibrates its wings thousands of times a minute, the birds which fly at great heights for unbelievably long spans of time, the monkeys which climb trees and swing from branch to branch, it is symmetry which is at the heart of the motion. In Bharatanatyam and indeed all Indian classical dance styles, whatever movement is done on the left is done on the right also.  There is equal involvement of the arms and the legs. In each limb, every joint is involved. There is a rhythm and regularity in each set of movements.
In a three minute piece with which the Bharatanatyam recital normally opens, the Alarippu (literally, the unfolding of petals) there is vigorous exercise of each limb, symmetrical on both sides, complete with bending, jumping, stretching and exercising the torso, the waist, the feet, the heels and the toes, besides the face and the neck. There are a total of 238 movements of the body in this one quick piece, along with moving the eyebrows, the eyes and the facial muscles in synchronicity with the rest of the dance.  A child of six or seven can easily perform this while enjoying the crisp beat and the joyous movements, finishing with a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment.  Bones and muscles never degenerate when used regularly and their growth slowly gets accelerated.
- Shanta Serbjeet Singh
(‘Why we need Performing Arts Education,’ Sahapedia, March 2014)

- Children who are taught Indian classical dance forms develop extraordinary powers of observation, expression and stamina and stay with dance through most of their adult life. Moreover, recent research has shown that learning a classical dance style like Bharatanatyam can actually repair common eye defects like far-sightedness and near-sightedness. Most youngsters who are short-sighted, due either to genetic predisposition or excessive strain to the eyes have no relief for this condition except by wearing glasses. Indeed, the condition can only worsen and lead to increasingly powered lenses as time goes by. But experience has shown that the eye movements done in the course of the dance have, in many cases, made distinct improvements and many youngsters have been able to discard their glasses over time.

Again, the question may be asked, can’t simple eye exercises achieve the same results?  Why not? The only problem is that unless a child’s creative faculties are involved in the exercise and unless he/she is given the pill in a sugar-coated way, chances are that he/she will not do those exercises consistently. However, make it a part of play and it is a different thing altogether.
- Shanta Serbjeet Singh
(‘Why we need Performing Arts Education,’ Sahapedia, March 2014)

- 7 reasons you are lucky to be a dancer by Nichelle Suzanne
Being a dancer isn’t all rainbows. Learning to dance well takes years of hard work and there’s typically no pot of gold awaiting you, either – sore, callused feet are more likely.

- What is so special about the movements and canons of dance, which are usually seen simply as exercise?  To answer this fully, we need to look at the attributes of an ideal system of exercise.  These, according to manuals like Dance: A Basic Educational Technique (1941) by Frederick Rand Rogers, share three elements described as the three S’s, namely suppleness, strength and stamina. Further, they are required to fulfill the conditions below:
*Make exercise an enjoyable experience, fulfilling the urge for self-expression and becoming a habit that stays with one for a lifetime.
*Partake of the element of play, even as it makes the body supple, tones up the muscles and the nervous system.
*Provide symmetry of movement and due exercise to each and every part of the body in proper proportion. This should address each and every muscle, tissue and cell and do so in a speedy manner, to suit today’s severe limitations of time.
*It should strengthen the heart, improve blood circulation and increase the capacity of the lungs
*Further, it should involve the brain, challenge the nervous system and push both to their outer limits so as to quicken the reflexes and sharpen the development of a sound body and an alert mind.
All Indian classical dances, being based on yoga, fulfill these criteria.
- Shanta Serbjeet Singh
(‘Why we need Performing Arts Education,’ Sahapedia, March 2014)

What the Yuck: Hot yoga or hot mess?
Too embarrassed to ask your doctor about sex, body quirks, or the latest celeb health fad? In a regular feature and a new book, "What the Yuck?!," Health magazine medical editor Dr. Roshini Raj tackles your most personal and provocative questions. Send 'em to Dr. Raj at
Q: My friend keeps trying to drag me to her hot yoga class, but could it be hazardous?
A: It could be. Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga, takes place in a room that is 100 to 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity. Exercising in such a warm room can cause dehydration or heat stroke, so be sure to drink plenty of water (at least 16 ounces) before and during hot yoga.
Also, these conditions can be stressful on your heart, so if you have heart disease, stay away. Others who should steer clear of Bikram: children, the elderly, and pregnant women.
If you decide to give hot yoga a whirl but start to feel dizzy, faint, nauseous, or sick in any way, stop right away because you could be heading toward heat stroke. Also, if you take any prescription medication or have a serious health condition of any kind, talk to your doctor first before taking this kind of class.
Yoga is meant to be a relaxing, meditative activity, so my personal feeling is why do it in uncomfortable, potentially dangerous conditions?
(Copyright Health Magazine 2010)

If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.
Cooking for yourself is the only sure way to take back control of your diet from the food scientists and food processors.
Stop eating before you’re full.
No snacks, no seconds, no sweets - except on days that begin with the letter S.
- Michael Pollan, author of 'Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual'

How are Bharatanatyam and acupressure integrated as a healing modality or therapy?
The connection is unique. Bharatanatyam is a unique dance that is performed barefoot. Extensive research has proved that this dance form has a distinct advantage as it acts on the principles of acupressure. The process of this dancing is like having regular acupressure treatment. It helps to contribute to the conversion of nutrients. The eye movements in this dance form help improve myopia. The whole dance exercise improves neuro-motor coordination. Psychologists declare that children, whose neuro-motor abilities are w ell matched, are achievers in today’s society! Thus Bharatanatyam has found its niche in the field of holistic therapies.
(‘The healing science of dance: Integration of Bharatanatyam and Acupressure’ by Anandi Ramachandran, Nartanam, Aug-Oct 2007)

For many conditioning enthusiasts, a good warm up is more than a dance ritual. A good warm-up increases the core temperature of the body, the heart rate and blood flow to the muscles, the breathing rate and lubrication of the joints. As a result, muscles will be more resilient and pliable, the cardiopulmonary system will be able to meet the increased demand for oxygen and the stress of rapid or sudden movements in the joints will be reduced.
(‘Conditioning’ by Gigi Berardi, Dance Magazine Nov 2000)

While many athletes subscribe to the adage that one warms up to stretch, not the other way round, Marjorie Thompson sees things a little differently. “All dancers seem to need to stretch before they can begin a class, as a way of warming up” says Thompson. “These may not be the same stretches they do after they are already warm. Before a class, you want to coax your body into its comfort zone and make sure that certain parts of you are already warm before your teacher starts giving exercises that may not focus on your specific needs.”
(‘Conditioning’ by Gigi Berardi, Dance Magazine Nov 2000)

Structures made of bamboo boosts the body’s immunity. According to ayurveda and yoga, prana is the life force that sustains all life. The higher the prana in your body, the better your health and the greater your immunity. We recharge our prana from food, water, sunshine and fresh air. In bamboo structures, because of the uninterrupted flow of fresh air, the atmosphere is constantly and automatically recharged with prana, which in turn, is absorbed by our bodies.
(‘House of Bamboo’ by Ratna Rajaiah , The New Sunday Express, Sept 25, 2005)

Water is a major enhancer of performance. People who go around chronically dehydrated are always tired.
(‘Taking on water’ by Jan Ellen Spiegel in Dance Magazine July 1999)

Warning: Wearing plastic ‘sauna’ pants in class or rehearsal and sweating in a real sauna does not reduce body fat, only water. Rehydrate as soon as possible.
(‘Taking on water’ by Jan Ellen Spiegel in Dance Magazine July 1999)

Ideally you should drink (water) a couple of hours before extensive activity so that the fluid will get into your system. Some dancers are able to drink again before a performance; some are not comfortable drinking prior to going onstage or drinking during a performance every 15 or 20 minutes. The advantage of doing so is that the body would never lose more than 2% of weight at one time. (It’s an old wives tale that drinking during activity will cause cramps; ice water however, may cause cramps for some dancers.)
(‘Taking on water’ by Jan Ellen Spiegel in Dance Magazine July 1999)

Dancers have discovered that the healing potential of yoga is not limited to realigning the skeleton and muscles. The rebalancing extends into the mind, bringing a centered quality to performance. The breath becomes even and strong, giving efficiency of movement. The added flexibility keeps the body from seizing up in fear when injury threatens. The opening of the mind to new possibilities keeps us creative.
(‘Dancers discover yoga benefits’ by Lori Brungard, Dance Magazine Nov 2000)

Physiologists at the Oregon Research Institute found cobblestone-walking, an activity rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, leads to significant reductions in blood pressure and improvements in balance. It is thought that the uneven surface may stimulate acupressure points on the soles of the feet, thereby regulating blood pressure.
(‘Getting the most out of walking’ by Peta Bee in The Hindu, June 1, 2006)

Maintaining flexibility by stretching can help you avert many of the minor strains from activities of daily life that take a toll on you over time. There’s also a meditative element to it that helps you focus and relax. In that sense, stretching has value not as a preamble to exercise but as an independent, good-for-you activity in itself. So feel free to separate the two. You don’t have to exercise and then stretch or vice versa.
(Mehmet Oz, heart surgeon and co-author of ‘You: The Smart Patient,’ in Esquire, Sept 2006)

Pilates exercises sometimes used an acronym for Proximal Integrating Latent Agile Toning Exercise; it aims to stretch and to strengthen your body that is why most contortionists and ballet dancers get into it. But just because people are taking it for physical improvement, and weight loss, it doesn’t mean that a Pilates exercise is a cardiovascular exercise. Pilates is basically a low intensity exercise, but you could still exert a bit, but not like how much you exert during an aerobics class. Most instructors recommend Pilates with aerobics and other forms of exercise for best effects.
(‘The basics of Pilates Exercise’ Source: Internet)

Professional dancers Martha Graham and George Balanchine first recognized the benefits of the Pilates for dancers. They were the first among the dance profession to realize that Pilates' deliberate and controlled movements, coupled with controlled breathing and a strong emphasis on alignment, could serve to enhance flexibility and strengthen the entire body. The dancers achieved wonderful results: strong, flexible bodies without bulky muscle structure.
(Source: Internet)

At the Natya Darshan V seminar, Dec 2005

Is it OK to drink water in-between class?
Drinking water in-between classes is alright. Body gets dehydrated, you lose electrolyte, so have some liquid/water before you start a practice session, in-between or after dance. Don’t wait for thirst.
(Anisa, Food & Nutrition specialist)

Iron is important for every dancer. It increases during 11 – 16 years for girls. A dancer needs more nutrition and iron to avoid cramps and anemia.

Does one eat or not before dance?
I advocate more of carbohydrate intake, more of fluids like glucose. One can take 6 small meals on the day of a performance. You can eat 2 ˝ hours before a show. Half an hour before the performance, you can have anything that’s high in sugar for energy.

Skeleton is more important than limbs. So it is important for the teacher to give correct instructions to a child on how to execute the movements. Important thing is not to overstrain a child. During periods, some girls cannot function, but there’s no need to attach extra importance. Leave it to the girl to decide. There are asanas to relieve the pain.
(Dr. Sridara, Community Health Doctor / dancer)

Anything done well is art. When you walk, it’s a therapy. Music is a therapy. Mind is hyper active, the body is not. Mind is the master, body is the servant. Mind is always sending messages, but the body cannot cope with the demands. At any age one can dance, but one should take things at a good pace.
(Dr. Sridara)

In spite of heavy exercise, why do dancers have thin arms, but develop heavy hips and paunch?
After 25, downward degeneration starts. Dance is not perfect exercise. We only use convenient movements. There are genetic problems also. Dance is limited range of exercise, so dancers develop a paunch.
(Dr. Sridara)

We hit/strike our feet…it is good for dance but not good for health. And teermanams are getting longer. How do we solve this?
Take into consideration, the body and its capacity, the dancer’s age and well being and the rasa aspect. Of course, we cannot over write the fitness part. Take it as a strong point of contact instead of stamping. Banging for the sake of sound is tricky. One could add a few extra bells for the sound instead of stamping too hard.
For instance, araimandi is not a normal position of the body. It is not how much you sit but how much your hips can open. Anything beyond one’s physical capacity will result in injury, and this is where teachers should guide.
(Dr. Sridara)

Common injuries occur in lower back, knee and foot. Performance on concrete floors puts strain on feet. Prevention is important, recognize the injury, see to it that there’s proper warm up and cool down. Muscles have to be stretched and strengthened. Any asana stretches, so do simple asanas to stretch the muscles and spine. Warm up an hour before your show, do your makeup, then more simple stretches before the program. Light intensity moves increases heart rate to optimum performance level. Cooling down is similar to warming up. Add a bit of yoga or tai-chi and relax.
Cold shower is better than hot shower, but after stretching.
(Dr. Ernest Vijay, Sports Physiotherapist and Fitness specialist)

Dancers are like sports persons; both have high level of injuries and demands. In dance, you go beyond natural limits - expressivity, extreme range of emotions, cardio vascular and muscular demands on dance. So, dancers need a mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercises.
(Dr. Ernest Vijay)

Dance has become highly competitive and stressful in the quest for excellence. So dancers should take adequate rest between seasons and continue to stay fit through out the year, including off season.
(Dr. Ernest Vijay)

How do you differentiate a pain? When do you know you have to approach a doctor?
General soreness comes after 48 hours. When you are injured, a particular part feels sore, then you know you have injured the part.
(Dr. Ernest Vijay)

Environment and dietary factors have to be taken into account. Taking dance to lose weight without proper diet does not work. 90% of women start gym to reduce hips. As long as your energy input and output is same, your weight remains the same. Abdominal crunches or hip exercises are not really necessary to lose tummy fat. It also has to do with genetics. One important factor is diet. Eat and expend. Dance is a mix of high intense movement. However hard you train, you need to follow a proper diet, do aerobic exercise and overall exercises for the body to stay trim and healthy. But one must be aware of one’s physical limits.
(Dr. Ernest Vijay)

Since muscle imbalance happens, it has to be stretched and strengthened. Be aware of one’s physical limits and take adequate protection to prevent injury. Listen to your body. It sends warning signals. Refrain from what’s hurting you. Check your training technique and modify it. Reduce frequency of dancing. A physiotherapist can advice you on what best to do to strengthen your muscles and avoid further injury.
(Dr. Ernest Vijay)

To be a good performer, yoga helps in better coordination, strength, endurance, clarity of footwork, arm movements, jumps and turns, improved stamina for dancing. Yoga breathing exercises help you relax during movements. Yoga improves concentration and gives better flexibility.
(Dr. Venkat Ganesh, yoga expert)

Health tips by Dr. Krishna Raman
At the Natya Kala Conference 2004

Health comes first, then art.
It is very necessary to have
- A good diet - to be weight conscious is important for an artiste.
- Sufficient sleep
- Beneficial body massage

To perform on a stage, every dancer must practice introversion of the senses.
The doer and done must vanish.
Keep your mind under control, so your body is under control.

Do some yoga warm-ups before a performance / practice. Also do some warm down exercises after a performance / practice.
Yoga is necessary pre-dance and post-dance.
Even if you have done your day’s exercises or yoga, a 5 minute stretching /yoga exercise
is a must to avoid cramps during a performance.

Should a dance free day also be yoga free?
Yogic art is static, all others are dynamic. So do your yoga.

Try to avoid
- program / practice during menstrual cycle.
- too frequent practice
- over practice per session
- too little rest / sleep

Isn’t dance considered exercise in itself?
Dance alone does not constitute exercise. Additional gym workouts are beneficial.
Most doctors recommend walking as an exercise.
Walking is not holistic exercise. It is not great for circulation. So walking alone as an ideal form of exercise is not sufficient. One must exercise to take care of all the body parts in a total dimension.
For spinal exercises, yoga is most ideal.
Asanas actually open cardiac blocks according to a recent study.

If I try to warm up before a performance, I get tired. I dance better without warm up.
Do your exercises first, then dance. There is no need to tire oneself. Just a couple of asanas to warm your shoulders, wrists and elbows will suffice. Hold each asana for about half a minute and it helps to avoid cramps during performance.

I finish my practice in the morning and the warm up exercises to go with it. If I have a performance at 6.30pm, is it still necessary to do my warm ups?
The day has gone by, you have done your dance practice and household chores, you have undergone salt loss in your body, you have traveled to the venue … so many activities since the morning. So, even if you have done your yoga / exercises in the morning, yoga practice is necessary pre-dance and post-dance.
A minimum of 5-minute yoga asanas or stretching exercises is a must in order to avoid cramps during the performance.

To handle pain
Learn to differentiate between healthy pain and unhealthy pain.
Do not immediately swallow a painkiller. Live with the pain and dance.
Do not use ice cap. It kills blood circulation, though it momentarily kills the pain.

Don’t ignore warning signs. Listen to your body inside as well as your body outside.
What is discomfort today could become a disease tomorrow. The limitation should not be allowed to mature.
Be perceptive, if your fear is in your body or your mind.

Common problems
Dance floors – for performance or practice – should be converted into wooden surface to make it safe for dancers. On a wooden floor, the floor absorbs the impact, on a concrete floor, the body does. For some handy solutions:
Use a large wooden plank over a concrete floor.
Spread out lots of yoga mats.
Wear heel pads during practice.