Despite being a terrible dancer, writer Lisa Bowman discovered that dancing first thing in the morning was a game changer for shaping the rest of her day.
In my ongoing quest to establish a morning routine that a) gets me out of bed and b) sets me up with positivity and energy for the day ahead, I’ve decided to give dancing a go. This isn’t about trying and failing to follow along with a PopSugar dance workout; my aim has been to play a current favourite tune and quite literally dance to it – or flail my limbs about – like nobody was watching.
I’ve been doing this to hype myself up before nights out for years (albeit not entirely sober), so why not try it in the morning to hype myself up for the day?
Even though most songs are only around three minutes long, this little routine has worked a treat; it’s consistently put me in a better mood and motivated me to actually start my day. The question now is, why has it had such a powerful effect – is it the music, the dancing or a combination?
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“Why dancing is the best form of therapy”
DANCE HAS LONG BEEN USED AS THERAPY
Dance has been used as therapy since the 1940s, with a number of studies showing that dance/movement therapy may improve the effectiveness of standard mental health care, decreasing anxiety/depression levels and increasing quality of life and cognitive skills.
“Exercise provides us with a much-needed mood boost,” explains Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.
“When we get moving – whether that’s dancing or any other form of exercise – our body releases endorphins and serotonin, which are feel-good hormones that trigger positive feelings in the body.
“The body also becomes better at managing cortisol levels, the primary stress hormone. So dancing doesn’t just benefit our physical health but it also benefits our mental and emotional wellbeing too.”
OUR FAVOURITE SONGS CAN REDUCE STRESS LEVELS
Ever hit play on your favourite song and felt your mood change drastically? That’ll be the dopamine – a 2010 study found that participants’ dopamine levels increased at peak emotional arousal when listening to a track they loved.
Another study of 20 individuals currently going through a major depressive episode showed significant positive changes in patients’ symptoms when music-based intervention was coupled with their usual mental health care.
“There is substantial evidence around the positive impact of music (and singing) for improving the health, wellbeing and quality of life of people, both young and old,” explains Charlotte Miller, founder and director of Intergenerational Music Making, a non-profit community music project which is currently working with Youth Sport Trust on a project called ‘Move & Groove’, which measures participants’ cortisol levels before and after a music therapy session.
“Music intervention is used for stress reduction in a variety of settings because of the positive effects of music listening on both physiological arousal (e.g heart rate, blood pressure, and hormonal levels) and psychological stress experiences (e.g restlessness, anxiety, and nervousness).
“A study around effects of music on stress levels concluded that music interventions had an overall significant effect on stress reduction in both physiological and psychological outcomes.”
MUSIC AND MOVEMENT IS A WINNING COMBINATION
We’ve established that music and dance separately are amazing for the body and mind, so it makes sense that they’re a winning combination.
“The relationship between music and movement is as old as time,” says Miller. “There’s a close identification between physical and music responses, and a number of music therapists and physiotherapists have started working together in a variety of clinical settings to combine both their skills in the treatment of their clients. When music is used in this way, it provides emotional, physical and psychological support for the physical therapy taking place.
“Music and movement can even be effective treatment tools for people who have a range of age-related diseases, according to a recent report from the Global Council on Brain Health.
“In Parkinson’s disease, for example, the rhythmic nature of music ‘provides an external source for meter, like a pulse’ that can help activate areas of the brain responsible for movement.”
IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW YOU DANCE – JUST GET MOVING
You don’t need to be a ‘good’ dancer, or perform specific moves to get the benefits of dancing in the morning – it really is as easy as moving your limbs in whatever way you see fit.
“Dancing is not just about choreography,” explains Emma Marshall, founder of Movement is Medicine.
“We’ve been conditioned to believe it is, which makes it into a performance piece that has nothing to do with the benefits of free-flow or ecstatic movement.
“Dancing and moving your body is about tuning into what feels good, not about what looks good. When we tune into what feels good we let our body lead and start to feel the internal shifts between mind and body.
“Animals in the wild shake off stress and trauma as a natural mechanism. Humans should be doing this too, but we’ve just forgotten – dancing like no-one is watching and moving the body is our equivalent of this,” Marshall continues.
HOW TO START DANCING FOR MORE ENERGY
It really is as simple as rolling out of bed and picking the first track that comes to mind. If your brain’s a fog in the morning, why not make a playlist of uplifting songs to choose from? If you don’t want to disturb your significant other/housemates by blasting Harry Styles at 7am, then nip off to a different room and use headphones. You can even dance while brushing your teeth or making a cup of coffee, if that makes things easier.
While we’re not suggesting that dancing for three minutes will cure all your ills, science has shown that it can be a handy weapon in your self-care arsenal. I for one will be continuing to dance like a fool every day.