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Self-Care for Polers

It can be hard to make time for self-care; there are abundant articles talking about how to squeeze in those few minutes of “me-time” every day and emphasizing how truly important it is to take care of yourself. All of those articles make a strong point: we aren’t our best selves when we’re worn out, stressed out, or our bodies are in need of some TLC. When it comes to pole, self-care becomes a whole new game: dry skin, fatigue, swollen bruises…we’re in need of a bit more than a 4-7-8 breathing exercise and a cup of tea (although, I’d highly recommend either as a daily practice). I’ve pulled together a list of both quick and not-so-quick self-care practices related to pole dancing to keep us rested, energetic, and ready for enjoying summertime in Michigan. Enjoy!

Bruises

Bruises start in level 1 and 2 and persist throughout your entire pole career – some will be small and fade in a few days, and some will stick around for weeks with varying degrees of discoloration and swelling. Bruises (or contusions) are actually blood vessels that are damaged or that have burst beneath our skin, and the discoloration we can see is leaked blood. While the only way for a bruise to go away is to just let it heal, there are a few things you can do to manage swelling, soreness, and discoloration while it’s on the mend:

  1. Arnica (also called wolf’s bane) is an herb that is known for reducing swelling and inflammation. You can purchase topical creams made with arnica and apply it directly to a bruise to help control inflammation and sensitivity to touch. You can also take arnica orally as a supplement, being sure to follow the dosage recommendations! Aloe Vera gel can have a similar effect to arnica creams, as well. Take a few minutes to gently apply lotion to your bruises before bed every day after class.
  2. Comfrey is another plant that has anti-inflammatory properties, and can be applied to bruises two ways: in a cream or as a leaf compress (steep the leaves in boiling water for 10 minutes, then strain out the liquid and wrap the leaves in a towel or cloth: apply it to the bruised area).
  3. Ice is always a great option for bruising: the quicker you get ice on a bruise, the better the result. Cooling the area actually slows the spread of blood into the tissue, which will keep you from developing a larger and more apparent bruise. Ice for 10-15 minutes at a time, and repeat every 20 minutes to control swelling. Watch a few episodes of your favorite show while you ice, and keep a bowl of chocolate covered nuts nearby for good measure.
  4. After your bruise is formed, it’s better to treat a bruise with heat rather than ice. Heat will boost blood flow and circulation around the bruise, helping to disperse the trapped blood, and reducing soreness/tightness around the site of the bruise. You can use a heating pad or hot water bottle, or soak in a hot bath. Adding Epsom salts to your bath will help further reduce inflammation, and adding some music and essential oil drops will get you in full relaxation mode.
  5. Pineapple contains a mix of enzymes called Bromelian – these enzymes help to reduce inflammation and have been observed to reduce the severity of a bruise. Take some self-care time by getting creative with your pineapple; just make sure it’s mostly raw to preserve those enzymes.

Sore Muscles

We get sore muscles from doing all sorts of activities, but that soreness after a good night at the studio has a special kind of “ouch” to it. There are two kinds of muscle soreness: acute and delayed. Acute is that burning sensation you feel during your workout, due to a buildup of lactic acid in your muscles. Delayed is the soreness that comes a day or two after your workout, and comes from small tears in your muscles – this pain is more intense the harder your workout is. The round-up of self-care below is going to address how to care for delayed muscle soreness; some of it is similar to managing bruises, because bruises and muscle soreness both cause a lot of inflammation!

  1. NSAIDs are almost everyone’s go-to: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen) – while these are anti-inflammatory, it’s best not to use them as treatment for muscle soreness all the time because of side-effects of long-term regular use. Instead, try anti-inflammatory foods like pineapple, ginger, berries, avocados, dark chocolate, and green tea. Eating your anti-inflammatories instead of taking a drug will give you a nice boost during the day from healthy snacks, and provide you moments to break from work for a few minutes to have something tasty.
  2. Heat therapy after a workout can drastically reduce soreness: take a hot Epsom salt bath, get a heating pad on your target area, or lay down with some microwaved damp towels on your sore spots. Try some relaxing music or a podcast while you’re resting.
  3. Cooling down after your workout with a walk or dynamic (movement based) stretching helps remove build-ups of lactic acid in your muscles, which can lessen the severity of soreness the following day.
  4. The day after your workout, switch to cold packs to keep swelling down.
  5. Massages or foam-rolling (self-massage) is a great way to loosen up stiff and sore muscles; be sure you know how to properly foam roll before trying it so you don’t increase the severity of your soreness. Scheduling a 30-60 minute massage is a great way to relieve soreness, work in some self-care, and truly relax while someone else does the work for you.

Skin Care

Dry skin, greasy skin, pulled skin, callouses, tears, bumps and redness…you name it: pole dancers have it. Try some ideas to below for relief:

  1. Exfoliate regularly with an exfoliating sponge or gentle exfoliating scrub (make sure the scrub is free from oils/lanolin, which will leave greasy residues on your skin). Make sure to exfoliate areas that you use a lot while poling: backs of legs, insides of arms, hips, etc. Be sure to exfoliate slowly and gently so you don’t damage healthy skin; you just want to remove dead skin from the surface to prevent dried out slippery skin.
  2. Wear sunscreen. Burnt skin does not like to pole. Burnt skin is not healthy skin. Burnt skin just hurts. Take those ten minutes to get protected and pair it with a cute floppy hat and cover up to show your skin some extra sun-protection love.
  3. Stay hydrated – drinking water helps keep your skin all over your body elastic and moistened! Mix it up with herbed and flavored water.
  4. Use oil-free moisturizers to hydrate dry skin, but avoid greasy residues. Be sure to moisturize slowly and gently, making sure to rub lotion in all the way to your skin. Alba Botanica carries an oil-free moisturizer in local drug stores, but you could also try something like Pole Physics, which makes non-greasy lotions specifically for pole dancers.
  5. Masking is an amazing way to hydrate skin without greasy leftovers; and masks are not just for your face – mask your chest, your buns, your thighs, or anywhere you’d like! Use those ten minutes of masking to meditate, read, or make some tea. There are a variety of masks on the market nowadays, so be sure to choose one with ingredients you’re comfortable with. Shea Moisture makes a line of amazing masking products that come in larger jars, as does Anese.

Rest Days

Most of us are terrible at resting, and we know it. We fill our days off with social engagements and weekend trips and errands and it doesn’t end up feeling like a day off at all. What’s important to recognize though, is that we all rest differently. When do you feel most energized? For me, it’s usually after I go biking or hiking – most people wouldn’t agree that either of those are restful, but both make my body and mind feel at ease in a way that other activities don’t. However, there are days that I bundle up with blankets on my balcony with a mug of tea and read the day away, making myself healthy snacks when I get hungry. Below are some ideas for valuable ways to rest easy when your body and your mind need a day off:

  1. Ride/Paddle/Walk it out: find a local trail at a state park or local county park, pack up some snacks, and LEAVE YOUR PHONE IN YOUR BAG (you should take it with you for safety if you go alone, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be on/receiving messages the whole time you’re out). Take your time on your expedition and try not to check your watch; take breaks often to appreciate the things you see, hear, smell, and feel. Make the day yours and explore for as long or as little as you want, ignoring how much time that actually takes.
  2. The Productive Rest Day (also known as the “I’m terrible at resting!”-Rest-Day): put on your comfiest clothes, grab your favorite beverage from a cute coffee shop, and take an entire day to knock out a list of errands. Go to the grocery store and don’t rush through the aisles – in fact, meander through them and look for new things to try. Get an oil change and break out the novel you’ve been wanting to crack the spine on while you wait, and don’t check to see how much time you’ve spent at the shop. Stop by the post office and smile at everyone you see waiting in line, and buy yourself a cute book of stamps to use on notes you’ll write to your friends when you get home. Clean the bathroom with a face mask on and a jazzy album blaring in your house. Take breaks in between to jam in your car, eat a muffin, or work a massage appointment in there. Come home feeling accomplished, don’t look at the clock, and take a nap.
  3. The Marathon: if you’re actually physically exhausted and your body is screaming “STOP,” this is the rest day for you. Get comfy in your living room with a heating pad and a piping hot mug of ginger citrus tea (anti-inflammatory), and get to resting. Books. Movies. Naps. Meditation. Yoga Nidra. Literally have a marathon of physically restful activities, being sure to stretch a little bit here and there. Make yourself light healthy snacks throughout the day to promote healing and recovery of your muscles – stay away from processed foods and heavy meals.
  4. Stretch & Stroll: this is your average day off, but sprinkle in some light activity to keep yourself from feeling lethargic. Plan to go for a thirty-minute walk after each meal you eat; and when you sit down to watch a movie/read/etc., passively stretch through it to keep your body moving. Check out some gentle flow yoga poses for ideas. Light movement can help our bodies recover better than being still in a lot of cases, so incorporating it into your rest day might make you feel more rested than a total day off.

It’s important to note that not all of these will work for everyone; we all have very different bodies and different needs. Try different things out and see what works best for you!

Happy self-care!
Hannah