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Yoga and dance
- Srimathy Gopalakrishnan

December 29, 2016

Perhaps the only all pervading truth is that everything has a beginning, a primordial source that causes Genesis. So it is with art forms, be it dance, yoga, or any other martial art. The 108 dance forms of Lord Shiva form the basis for both Yoga and Dance. Moreover, the ultimate purpose of both Dance and Yoga is the same- Union with the higher self, with the Supreme, The Divine. For both the Yogi, and the dancer, limitations of time are dissolved and they go beyond worldliness to transcend one's individual self. To speak of Dance and Yoga in separate terms would thus be a trifle ignorant.

From a performance enhancing perspective, it is important to recognize that Yoga and Dance are complementary art forms. Be it flexibility or stamina, strength or suppleness, abhinaya or balance, Yoga can be used with great efficacy to improve one's performance remarkably. The 4 fold awareness that Yoga brings - that of the body from asanas, of breath through Pranayama, of the mind through Dharana, and of the self by going beyond meditation and transcending ego - augments a dancer's performance.

From a physical perspective, it is paramount for a dancer to have a resilient, yet lithe back, strong legs and an agile body. An asana practice tailor-made for dancers helps keep the spine supple and yet strong and erect through the effective use of backbends and restorative counterposes; all forward bends and twists increase the flexibility of the dancer's body making each movement or posture during a performance graceful and fluid. The effective practice of balancing postures enhances the dancer's focus, or ekagrata, while simultaneously increasing strength of the legs.

If Yoga enhances performance, it plays an equally effective recuperative role in not just maintaining, but also improving the physical, physiological, and emotional health of a dancer. Long standing hours and extended aramandi cause hip tightness and fatigue of the lower limbs. Moreover, gravity pulls on internal organs causing displacement and possible complications as the dancer ages. Inversions such as Sarvangasana and Sirsasana and their respective variations help to relax the legs, increase hip mobility and restore the internal organs to their original positions. Inversions also play an extremely important role in preserving youth and maintaining the grace on a dancer's face.

The Vinyasa karma of AshtangaYoga, that is synchronizing breath with movement, is consummate in ensuring tremendous stamina that stands a dancer in good stead both during rigorous hours of practice and exhausting performances on stage. The art of extending one's breath to last an entire movement can be perfected with the regular practice of vinyasa yoga. Furthermore, manipulation of the breath with appropriate Pranayama techniques adds to increasing endurance, while simultaneously bringing the artiste's mind within his or her control.

An art form is not mere recreation or entertainment; it is discipline and hard work. Yoga through its eight-fold path, including the Yamas and Niyamas, prescribes the supreme and absolute path to perfection. None of the above would bear fruit without the strict adherence to a regulated lifestyle followed even while not actively engaged in the art form. This is as important, if not more in ensuring that a dancer stays fit, is injury free, and that his or her craft stands the test of time.

A dedicated and devoted alliance of Yoga with Dance is guaranteed to reap rich benefits in performance. While a non specific practice can be reasonably useful, the beauty of Yoga, like Ayurveda, lies in its adaptability. This adaptability, also known as Viniyoga, when customized to each individual's Prakriti or constitution, taking into consideration individual strengths and weaknesses, yields the best results. Under the able tutelage of the right guru, practicing Yoga can enhance dance in hitherto unimagined ways.

A post-graduate diploma holder in Yoga Studies from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM), Srimathy Gopalakrishnan's association with yoga began nearly 14 years ago. In 2003, after a long stint as a teacher in KYM, Srimathy began learning and practicing the classic Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Having learnt the ropes from Guruji himself, now continuing to study with Sharath Jois and Saraswathy, Srimathy is a thorough practitioner and teacher of this unique style of yoga. She has learned Vedic chanting from T.D. Krishnamachari, a scholar of Sanskrit and Vaishnavism.

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