Yoga and the Dancer
An interview with E.R. Gopala Krishnan, the author of the book 'Be A Healthy Dancer'
by Sam Kumar
The humble down-to-earth appearance belies the restless genius embodied by E.R. Gopala Krishnan. He has achieved prominence in diverse fields such as theater direction, acting, chairmanship of University Teachers Association, yoga coaching, yoga therapy practice, transcription of Patanchali's yoga treatise, Carnatic music vocal, Sanskrit scholarship, and Vedic mantra chanting. All these prolific engagements while holding fort at his day job as Professor of Economics at D.B. Jain College. One wonders if he is attempting to set a record of maximum distinctions in one lifetime.
While his contribution in propagating yoga as the former director of Yoga Mandiram is well known, his administration of yogic healing therapy over a decade is widely known within the dancing fraternity. His well researched book on yoga therapy for dancers, aptly called 'Be A Healthy Dancer', was recently released by Natyarangam at Narada Gana Sabha in Chennai. The sabha secretary Mr. R. Krishnaswami presented the first copy to veteran dance-teacher Sri N. Narasimachary. Well-known dancer Padma Subramaniam, who felicitated the author, applauded his valuable contribution to dancers.
Starting with the definition of yoga, the book deals at length with various ailments that afflict dancers in general and suggests remedies in the form of yoga asanas. The book lists specific yoga postures that will prevent common ailments. In his Foreword to the book, Professor C.V. Chandrasekhar highly recommends the book to dancers. While no book can replace a teacher, this excellent volume certainly plays the role of an excellent guide and resource material.
Note: The book is very reasonably priced. To order book postage paid, send Rs. 60 (in India) or US$6 (abroad) by Money Order to E.R. Gopala Krishnan at Yoga Maiyam, 6-D First Main Road, Indira Nagar, Chennai 600 020, India. Ph: (91-44) 442 2865. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Excerpts from an exclusive interview with the author:
did you become a yoga teacher?
When I was a college student I learnt Yoga at Yoga Brotherhood. Since I used to do even tough asanas effortlessly, I started to assist other students. Gradually I developed a strong desire to become a yoga teacher. In 1983, when I was working as a lecturer, I took a full-time teacher' training course at Yoga Brotherhood and later at YMCA College of Physical training. I also took a course at Yoga Mandiram, founded by Krishnamachary, guru of well-known yoga exponent BK Iyengar. Though Krishnamachary was nearing 100 years of age when I met him, he remained very active. Until then my yoga style was static, i.e., one remained in each asana immobile. Meeting Krishnamachary changed my perception of yoga. I took their special diploma course for yoga teachers. Soon I became a teacher at Yoga Mandiram and it was my great fortune that in a few years I became the director.
How does yoga help a dancer to be healthy as suggested by your book title?
A dancer typically uses body movements for artistic expression. To be a good dancer, there should be a smooth flow of one's body movements. To ensure this any blockage or disease in the body should be eliminated. My premise is that any problem with body structure can be removed with regular and correct practice of Yoga. I have an example in my own family. I taught my daughter yoga from the tender age of five. She started learning Bharatanatyam when she was barely six. She is full of energy even after two-hour long performances. She does not gasp or have any palpitation. Some dance teachers have told me that there is clarity in her dance movements. I attribute these two facts to her rigorous practice of yoga over the years.
Do you consider yoga therapy as one of the main alternative healing therapies?
Yes. In fact, my assertion is that yoga is the origin of many of the alternative therapies. I have conducted some research to prove this. Yoga is the mother of all therapies.
How did you get involved in Yoga therapy for dancers? Have you been successful in treating dancers?
I have great admiration and respect for dance as an art form. I have been attending all major performances over three decades. Having a dancer as daughter also helps. At Yoga Mandiram I learnt how to use Yoga as a curative discipline and practiced there for many years. For the past ten years, I have been conducting research on the therapeutic benefits of yoga for dancers. I have treated many dancers over the years. I will give you one example. Once a senior dancer, who could hardly move because of excruciating back pain, visited me. She had a major performance coming up in ten-days time. After yoga therapy she was able to perform at the show.
What are the unique ailments of dancers?
Dancers tend to exert tremendous pressure on certain parts of the body such as shoulder, hip, lower back, knees and ankles. They tend to get shoulder pain, low back pain. This can be called occupational hazard. But, while most people acknowledge health risks unique to their respective professions, dancers do not. They simply assume that since dancing is a good form of exercise it cannot do any harm. This is a fallacy.
Can you summarise the benefits of practicing yoga for a dancer?
The body is the most important instrument of expression for a dancer. It is also the source of livelihood for a few. It is vital that they take utmost care of their body. Yoga is an ideal tool since it works on the whole structure of the body, not just parts of the body. In comparison with other systems of medication and therapies available to a dancer, yoga is preferable since it is non-invasive and a low-impact regimen. Proper breathing is vital for dancers and yoga is the only system that regulates breathing. Studies have proven that breath control improves one's physical and mental health. However one should remember that Yoga is not a quick fix solution. It is a holistic system which, when practiced properly, will improve and balance the health of one's body and mind.
Sam Kumar is a Chennai based writer and photographer who loves all forms of classical art. Painting and traveling are his other passions.