The concept of unification of Jivatma and Paramatma and the longing of the Jivatma for this union finds common manifestation in both dance and Yoga. Both aim to transcend the individualistic Ahamkara and evolve into the ultimate universality. The legendary pioneer Rukmini Devi, founder of Kalakshetra rightly observed that dance is a form of Yoga. She said, “It needs true Bhakti or devotion. We have no more temple dancing today, but we can bring the spirit of the temple to the stage. This will change our entire attitude towards this art and then our physical bodies will become transmuted and non-physical. Every performance becomes a means of not only making the dancer one with the higher Divine Self but the audience too. This oneness is Yoga”.
Martha Graham, one of the greatest of modern dancers was able to transcend his individuality when he said, “I am interested only in the subtle being, the subtle body beneath the gross muscles.”
The roles of the Nayaki pining for her lord are meant to portray the pining of the Jiva for the spiritual union with the Paramatma. The Sakhi, the friend who brings about this union in dance is in reality the Guru who helps the Sadhaka reach that state Ultimate Universal Unification. The legendary Balasaraswathi who became synonymous with Bharatanatyam for many a Rasika said revealingly, “Bharatanatyam is an artistic Yoga (Natya Yoga), for revealing the spiritual through the corporeal”.
CONCENTRATION AND MEDITATION:
The sixth step of Ashtanga Yoga is Dharana or concentration. This concentration when taken to its extreme leads us into the meditative state of Dhyana. Many of the concentrative practices of Yoga are based on the Mandalas that are assigned to the different elements of the manifest universe. The dancer requires a similar state of utmost concentration in order to bring about the union of Bhava, Raga and Tala in her presentation. The different aspects of Bharatanatyam such as Nritta, Nritya and Natya must be seamlessly unified with great concentrative ability for the performance to peak in its intensity. When the dancer achieves that peak of concentration in her performance she loses herself into the state of meditation. The Yogic state of Dhyana and the trance like states experienced by the dancers while performing are quite similar in their universal nature. Shri Tiruvenkatachari, an eminent dance historian (1887) compared Yoga with the dance and said that the secret is ‘forgetfulness of the individual self’. He also mentioned that dance is a means of attaining Moksha just as is Yoga.
BENEFITS OF YOGA FOR DANCERS
According to the Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeswara, the important inner qualities of the dancer (Antah Prana) are as follows.
JAVAH STIRATVAM REKHA
BRAHMARI DRISHTI ASHRAMAHA
MEDHA SHRADDHA VACHO GEETAM
JAVAH –swiftness or speed
STIRATVAM –composure or steadiness
BRAHMARI –versatility and circular movements
DRISHTI –glances of the eyes
ASHRAMAHA –ease and tirelessness
SHRADDHA –confidence and interest
VACHO –clear speech
GEETAM-capacity of song
All of these inner qualities can be developed and maintained through the practice of Yoga and in addition to the above mentioned aspects of the personality, it is important for the dancer to have numerous physical and mental qualities that can be obtained through a dedicated practice of Yoga as a way of life.
STRENGTH, BALANCE AND CONCENTRATION:
These physical qualities are essential for the dancer at all stages of their artistic career. The standing poses such as Padahastasana, Padangushtasana, Trikonasana, Natarajasana, Virasana and its variations, Garudasana, Padottanasana are especially useful to develop strength in the legs and thighs. One legged poses such as the Natarajasana, Garudasana, Vrikshasana, Vatayanasana, Eka Padasana and Ardha Chandrasana help develop an excellent sense of balance as well as improve single minded concentration.
The hand balancing poses such as Mayurasana, Titibasana, Vrichikasana, Dolasana and Hamsasana develop strength in the shoulders, arms and wrists that is essential for holding the arms up in numerous Nritta sequences such as in the Alarippu, Varnam and Tillana.
CARRIAGE AND CENTRE OF GRAVITY:
Yogasanas help develop proper carriage and back bending postures such as Ushtrasana, Bhujangasana and Chakrasana avoids the hunchbacks that are common in modern school going children from carrying heavy loads of books. Repeated practice of balancing poses on right and left sides as well as from different positions such as supine, prone, and the topsy turvy poses, the centre of gravity is improved and this leads to a perfect positioning of the body in performance of the various items.
STAMINA AND ENDURANCE:
Practices such as the solar plexus-charging Agnisara, the Hakara Kriya with the activating sound of HA and the Malla Kriya with the Nasarga Muka Bhastrika as well as the practice of Suryanamaskar help improve stamina and endurance. Padmashri Adyar K Lakshmanan, one of the most eminent Bharatanatyam masters of modern India, has often marveled at the stamina and endurance that is possessed by the students of Yoganjali Natyalayam. He attributes it to their practice of Yoga and feels that Yoga gives them abundant energy to go through the most vigorous of items without requiring any rest at all in between lines or even in between items. The hand balancing poses such as Mayurasana, Titibasana and Bakasana as well as postures such as Paschimottanasana, Navasana, Sarvangasana and Halasana help greatly in this regard. Performance of Suryanamaskar slowly with emphasis on breathing and performance of various Pranayamas such as Vibhaga and Pranava Pranayamas helps to energize the entire system. We can balance the catabolic breakdown of the body by the anabolic activities of Yoga, thus retarding the aging process and also give the dancer the invaluable gift of a longer professional life.
BUOYANCY AND AGILITY:
Various Asanas and Pranayamas are useful in developing a sense of buoyancy and improving the agility of the dancer. Practice of Pranayama helps to achieve a state of lightness of the body that can be compared to the Yogic Siddhi of Lagima or being as light as a feather. Agility is an important quality required by the dancer as there are numerous variations of gaits (Gathi Bhedhams) in Bharatanatyam and she needs to be extremely agile in order to execute them perfectly. The ten Gathi Bhedhams are usually described as Hamsee (Swan like gait), Mayooree (Peacock like gait), Mrigee (Deer like gait), Gajaleela (Elephant like gait), Thuranginee (jumping gait), Simhee (gait of the Lion), Bhujangee (snake life gait), Mandookee (frog like gait), Veera (heroic gait), Manavee (man like gait). Single leg balancing postures such as Vrikshasana, Natarajasana, Rathacharyasana, Eka Padasana, Vira Bhadrasana, Hasthapadangusthasana and Garudasana as well as the back bending poses such as Chakrasana, Dhanurasana and Ushtrasana instill great agility in the dancer.