Tuesday, September 04, 2007

yoga for skanks!

From my newly launched books series "...for Skanks!" Upcoming books topics include Livestock Judging and Small-Engine Repair.

Stripping is intense physical activity. Like ballet and most sports, stripping is about getting the most out of your body. That the body will wear out from use, that we will develop aches and pains and gimpy tendons and trick-joints -- the kind you can pop in and out at parties to entertain your friends -- this is all expected and tolerated.

I mean seriously, those shoes are hell -- on the knees, on the ankles, on the low back. Total hell.

My first day of dancing, I thought it was a testament to the ghetto-ocity of my club that the first girl on stage that day had on big, black elastic knee pads. I got a big chuckle out of it. By the end of the week, sure enough, my knees had swelled up like baseballs and couldn't bend enough to sit comfortably in a chair. I complained about it to a fellow dancer one day back in the dressing room. "Tell me about it," she said, pointing at the Ace bandage around her ankle. This was a club, no doubt, where old strippers came to die. But they were old like boxers are old. At forty, the flesh was already surrendering to repeated assault.

Unless you work at the kind of club that will let you dance barefoot, I don't know if there is any way to dance completely without injury. Injury can only be minimized, dealt with, and supported. But if we don't minimize, deal with, and support our bodies, we will all be walking around in our fourth decades on plastic knees with pins in our hips. So here goes. Of course, I'm only drawing on my own experience and a few others' so feel free to comment with your own stripping-related aches and pains and any remedies.

I'll start at the bottom, the feet. My feet themselves have actually held up OK. I wear open-toed shoes, so as not to smush my toes together, which I hate. Outside of the club, I walk barefoot a lot to keep my arches healthy.

The ankles are another issue. Unless you are very, very experienced at walking in six-inch platform heels, it is natural to wobble a bit. The wobbling can be slight and barely noticeable, especially since our minds are usually doing a million other things, like scanning the room for our next customer. Unlike muscle tissue, which expands and contracts readily, the ligaments and tendons in the ankle will stretch out, but will remain permanently loosened. Over time, through the repeated, minor, barely noticable stress of wobbling around, our ankle joints lose their integrity. If weakened past a certain point, the joint will begin to sprain or twist readily. The more it happens, the more likely it is to happen again.

The best way to address weakness in the ankles is to build strength and coordination in the surrounding muscles. Any yoga posture that incorporates balancing is helpful. A simple one is Vrkasana/Tree Pose.

A big concern for me is the shortening of the calf muscles. High-heeled shoes keep the toe in a permanent pointed position, which the backs of the calves shortened and contracted. If you spent too much time in heels, the muscle fibers in the calves become short and dense. Forward bending poses address this foreshortening, as do poses Warrior I and Warrior II, if one pays particular attention to pressing the full frame of the back foot into the floor.

Like the ankles, the tendons in the knees will not contract again once they have been stretched. The best thing to do is not to stress the knees at all. Any movement in which the leg is bent and the bent knee is forward of the ankle can stress the knee. In dance, this includes any of the squatting postures we may use to get up and down off the floor. Pressing the knee hard into the floor is a different kind of stress, which can cause the joint to over-produce fluid in an effort to cusion itself. While this fluid will usually go away once you stop squishing your knee joint, it is very painful and debilitating. While kneeling on the floor, press the whole of your shin and the top of the foot into the ground, rather than asking your knee joint to support the whole weight of your body. Moves that strengthen the muscles of the calves and thighs, such as Utkatasana, are supportive for the knee as well.

Low-back pain is another common issue. It's useful to try to distinguis between pain in the lumbar spine (the lower vertebrae and surrounding muscles and nerves) and the sacro-iliac joint, which is the inverted wedge-shaped plate of bone that sits between the crests of the pelvic bone and is the base support of the spine.)

If your SI joint is stressed, it may feel as though you have a V-shaped wedge of pain in your low back, around the level of the navel or a little lower. SI pain results from over-stretching in the SI joint, which is supposed to the fused to the pelvis and is only supposed to stretch during childbirth, and then only with the release of specific SI-joint-loosening hormones. The usual culprit in SI-joint pain is that we have been trying to force our hips to stretch wide than they want to go. Like if you find the splits painful, but force yourself to do them anyway, this is basically like prying at your SI joint with a crowbar. The SI joint is the foundation of the spine. If it is destabilized, there will be instability in your posture all the way up. So, stop doing the splits if they hurt, for Pete's sake. It's not that sexy anyway. If your SI joint IS destabilized, you can build up the muscle of the lower back and buttocks through poses like Salambhasana/Locust.

Lumbar pain is a complex problem that can stem from more than one cause. If there is instability in the lower body, the muscles of the lower back may be overworked in a desperate attempt to keep the body upright. For strippers, low back pain may result from the high heels tipping our pelvis forward -- that much desired "butt out, tummy in" look -- so that we may have to strain the muscle of the low back to bring the rest of our spine upright. Strengthening the muscles of the low back through poses like Salabasana may help. We also want to strengthen the abdominal muscles through poses like Navasana, and be sure to engage the abdominal muscles (pull the navel lightly up and in) as we walk, stand, and dance in our shoes.

Dancing doesn't seem to have provoked much pain in my upper body. Actually, walking with tits up and shoulders back and down not only looks good but is a fairly correct posture if not exaggerated. I suppose if you really, really exaggerated the "tits out" bit you could tweak the area between your shoulders. For this I would recommend at least the upper body part of Garundasana/Eagle Pose.

The Cat Pose/Marjyasna flexes the entire spine and is good for both upper and lower back pain, toning the organs, and relaxation.

I do occasionally get pains in my wrists if I dance for several days in a row. I beleive they come from putting my palms flat on the arms of a customer's chair as I face away from him and supporting my weight on my arms as I lower myself to brush my tush over his lap. They are similar to carpal tunnel pains, and respond well to regular stretching.

Yoga is also excellent for calming and supporting the emotions and intellect, which we could probably all use. I recommend a few poses before and after work to this effect:

Twists are great for tired back and releasing anger and tension. Some good ones to try are Ardha Matsyendrasana and Marichyasana.

Forward bends encourage relaxation. Try Uttasana, Paschimotanasana, or Child's Pose/Bhalasana.

And of course, arguably the ultimate relaxation pose: Savasana

Based on all this, I recommend the following short, 15-20 minutes sequences:

Before Work, 15 -20 minutes
1. Uttasana (3x, hold for 6-8 breaths each time)

2. Utkatasana (3x, hold for at least 3-5 breaths each time)

3. Warrior I (2x each side)

4. Warrior II (2x each side)

5. Marjaryasana (6x)

6. Salambhasana (3x, hold for 6-8 breaths)

7. Seated Twist (1x each side, hold 10-12 breaths)
8. 1 minute of focussed breathing, meditation, or visualization

After Work
1. Uttasana (3x, hold 10-12 breaths)

2. Garundasana

3. Paschimotanasana (hold 10-12 breaths)

4. Marichyasana (1x each side, hold 10-12 breaths)

5. Child's Pose (hold 1-3 minutes)
6. Savasana (hold as long as you want, or do this pose in bed and fall asleep)