The discovery of dance and yoga
When I first stepped into a dance class, I felt extremely self conscious. Whether it was that I was too old, too tall or too chubby, my own self confidence went on for years feeling like, and pretty much being, the awkward girl at the back on stage at the yearly dance recital. Still though, I’ve always loved to dance and kept picking it up again throughout the years, signing up for classes and generally feeling like I was sucking at it.
As I got into yoga and meditation in my early twenties, I came into an understanding of long-held emotional patterns within my body that kept me from achieving my goals in life. Words and feelings of stress and self-consciousness were slowly worked out through Vinyasa series and Pigeon poses. Deep meditations uncovered unhealthy mental patterns, and yoga workshops helped me to journal new mantras and healthier mindsets. All of this uplifted me into a more graceful, relaxed and pleasantly optimistic individual.
And once again, in time, I went back to my first love; dance.
If yogis are defined as flexible, then try to see them get loose and dance. The two ancient practices of dance and yoga have carried throughout humanity since the beginning of time while differing greatly in perspective and experience.
Both offer a physical release and satisfaction in gains towards enlightenment while differing greatly in practice and appearance. Yoga stands out with written texts in philosophy, seeking inner peace through the discovery of the mind, an internal self-discovery. Dance interacts with the environment artistically in form through a cultural significance in experience of music and expression. I’ve taken to asking some educators on dance and yoga, to figure out exactly what brings us to fully let go into each practice mentally, spiritually and physically.
The Draw of the Physical
“I remember losing my mind and dancing at school dances, in battles, where the smell of sweat and the enveloping bass took over my body and soul before I turned 10. I have been chasing movement and sound ever since.” Rise Ashen, a practiced house dancer, DJ and yoga instructor.
Each practice helps to develop body consciousness. Learning from your left to right, you teach your body how to float, whether it be jumping through to bakasana, (crow pose) or nailing a smooth quick step on the floor. They both enhance your daily experience through aiding the body in evading injury and obtaining balance and grace.
Yoga develops consciousness to bend safely and balance. Dance helps lighten the feet so you can catch yourself quickly if you are to fall. Both help to engage the core, strengthen and engage the body in physical movement.
Intensity of the Mental
“I started dancing at age 3, I call dance my first language. At 19 yoga found me, I took it on like a form of therapy, movement as meditation. I loved the discipline, the structure and challenge of astanga yoga.” says Amber J, owner of Misfits Studio in Toronto.
There are high days and low days in life, while dance and yoga keep the balance throughout. The leg and arm movements mimic one another in each form. Dance and yoga are moving through history with great discovery and development internationally. Whether it be Breaking or Russian folk dance, Anusara yoga or restorative, the body positions transition the same but always uniquely different.
The Vitruvian Man, by Leonardo Davinci, shows a man within his full range of motion. What I believe brings up the life changing movement within the man through any position he could potentially take, is meditation. Meditation is the focus point within the movement of the extremities. The challenge of yoga, is the focus on relaxation and alignment; with dance it is about connection to the music and personal style.
“Repetition, the beginner’s mind, just copying… it is not pleasing to the ego, it is not comfortable. There are no colourful belts or badges, no diplomas, it requires commitment and hard work and it is not easy. Yoga and dance are amazing practices, they require crazy commitment and in so many ways they are deep and wide ranging.” says Rise. He has been teaching dance for around six years and yoga for two. “When we start to develop an art form it is really hard on the ego. We have a vision inside of what we want to create, but our taste is better than our aptitudes. The Nataraj depicts Shiva as a dancer because dance is the ultimate destruction of the ego. You have to rebuild from nothing and to feel like nothing isn't very easy.”
As I took my yoga philosophy into my dance classes, I began to lose my mind. In Osho, it is a form of meditation to dance wildly to allow the body to feel its existence, and then to sit in meditation. The feeling of embodying music completely is exhilarating and yet also very scary. Sitting in meditation afterwards, heavy breathe and sweat dripping, transcends beauty and connection with the divine.
Connecting to the Source
Each are an individual vibration, while yoga has seemed to have tumbled out of the mountains, dance has grown its roots deep from the earth.
“I feel empowered in my body in movement while deeply connected to source. I allow the breath to be the rhythm that I ride… It is a blessing that finds a unique way of moving organically and it just comes to me. I am grateful every day that I get to teach the magic of movement.” says Amber J.
When I turned my attention more closely to the cultural art form of dance, I began to notice some incredible similarities between it and yoga. No movement was created by any specific person, yet throughout the years, yoga and dance have been exchanged between the bodies of teachers for generations.
Each practice has touched many, some seeking to bring a closer connection to God. Whether it be at a Native American Pow Wow or viewing traditional Sufis Whirling, both hold a form and structure in respective lineage.
The Energy of Dance
Amber J describes “The ways in which yoga and dance are similar are many to me. I find being both a dancer and a yogi, its that desperately we all want to dance. I think this is partly why yoga has become so popular. It is freedom, expression, re-connection and riding the journey of grace.”
It is a wonder why humans are so expressive while we dance. We can express anything in this artform... happiness, sadness, anger and the continous struggle in seeking a healthy escape to personal mental, physical and spiritual freedom and peace. The jail cells birthed Brazilian martial art and dance form of Capoeira through coping through the rough times.
“Every ounce of energy we put into dance comes back to us if we stick with it. Just like yoga, it is a great cultural gift that is handed down from the dancers before… I can’t imagine life without it…” Rise reveals.
Both practices are in the expression of present time through the mastering of bodily form while addressing still world culture and history. All I am learning at this point is that you have to ditch trying to find the balance, to find your balance in yoga and dance. I learn and continue to learn to let go and be inspired by the movement and the music to find and deepen my soul. There'll always be someone better than me as well as someone worse and it most often will not always be easy, but I have to keep trying. To me each practice together are about pushing through the difficulties and the mental nuances to enjoy the simple freedom of the body within each movement, leaving the mind to relax and just be with what is.