Yesterday we had a 'refresher' talk from NSCD's specialist osteopath, and lecturer, Pete Dunlevey. Basically, there were concerns that we weren't clear with injuries/treatment of injuries/how to get the most out of osteopaths and physiotherapists etc, so Pete reminded us of some correct anatomical language, how to deal with getting treatment, the responsibility we have in the treatment process and also the importance of understanding our bodies at a fundamental level. As he pointed out, our bodies are our tools, so we have to understand how to they work in order to care for them correctly.
Its true, and Pete's talk yesterday made realise I need to go and get some anatomy books out of the library and get some knowledge about what might be happening in my body to cause certain niggles and difficulties, instead of 1. relying on someone else to tell me 2. hoping it will go away.
Also, it related directly to some experiences I have had with my own body recently, which I feel are important to talk about in a dance context.
The first is a very common, but devalued and undiscussed topic - period pain. Like many women I have always suffered with bad period pains, as well as the accompanying symptoms such as fatigue and lightheadedness. Often, on the second day of a period the pain is so bad it puts me on the verge of blacking out and I end up in bed.
Last friday was one of these days. I woke up knowing that by lunch time I'd be home, but I thought 'you can't miss class Hannah so go in and see how long you last.' (For an interesting article given to me by my release teacher concerning the somatic language vs the rational brain click here) I lasted ten minutes of practically doing release class, and thirty minutes watching. I left feeling frustrated and upset with my body. Why does it let me down like this? And what am I going to do in the 'real' world...ask a company to plan performances around my periods?
I discussed my concerns (i.e this is a normal function why can't my body cope?) with my release teacher, Jennifer Lynn, a source of so much body knowledge its astounding (a ultra example of what Pete was talking about when he says dancers have to understand how the body works), and possible causes. We discussed physical causes such tight a psoas muscle or twists in the pelvis causing muscles to pull on the uterus (its self a big muscle) making contractions painful, possible emotional causes, as well as treatments such as acupuncture. She suggested that it would be worth while for me to do some more investigations in to what was causing the pain.
As a twenty four year old I am past the age where I can dismiss problems as my body 'sorting itself out', so now its my job to to get the knowledge I need to get the best treatment I need and resolve the issue. As a dancer it made me reflect on the fact that what we do means every 'problem' in our body effects our training, our job, our practise, and that this is a double edged sword. On one hand it can pose us with struggles, cause frustration and cost money. On the other hand it teaches us and helps us improve our bodies, thus our dancing.
Secondly, not so long ago I went to see a nutritionist, Peter Clark, for numerous reasons, including suspected polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is when there are underdeveloped follicles in the ovaries, and it has many negative side effects. Research has led to the belief that PCOS is related to blood sugar management as insulin resistance is a common finding among sufferers of normal weight as well as those who are overweight.
Part of his advice to me was to introducing me to Glycemic Load or 'GL diet'. This looks at the way carbohydrates and starches are broken down in to sugars and is a tool to tell you how a particular food/meal will effect your blood sugars, and therefore by knowing which food release sugar more slowly you can maintain a constant blood sugar level, which is important for the management of PCOS.
As a 'patient' this was very insightful, and hopefully will benefit me. But it was also hugely significant for me as a dancer. As a student of dance I think that nutrition is sadly an under taught topic. At NSCD we had one nutrition lecture in the first year.
Living in the western world we are also surrounded by vast quantities of processed food that masquerades as 'healthy', conflicting information about what is good for us, constant advertising bombardments and the luxury of choice - chocolate/crisps/drinks a ready supply anywhere we go. We have way more food than we need and I think this detaches us from its importance. Generally speaking here is a huge gap of knowledge in regards to nutrition. There have been many times when I have wondered how people manage to function on the diet they have. Diet is of course fundamentally important to everyone, but even more so to dancers.
On a whole I have always eaten well, but having visited the nutritionist I realised that this wasn't enough. By learning about the glycemic load and the importance of food combining I have noticed my energy levels are much more constant, which is of course beneficial to my dance. When people discover I am a dancer they often ask me if there are issues with food in a dance school, my general response is that food is our fuel, so that in itself is an issue, an important one. Therefore its vital to know what fuel is best. But choosing the right fuel is more complex than it seems, and I think a lot of us are lacking knowledge.
My nutritionist recommended 'The Holford Low-GL Diet Cookbook', by Patrick Holford and Fiona McDonald Joyce. If you buy one cook book in your entire student life make it this one.
My advice, as someone who is coming to the end of my 'official' training is don't put off dealing with issues in your body, or settle for living with them. Through the process of resolving them you can learn a lot.