One of the important physical attributes required by a dancer is flexibility of the body. Jattis and other practices of the Shetali Karana Vyayama, spinal twists such as Ardha Matsyendrasana and Vakrasana, back bending Asanas like Laghu Vajrasana, Rajakapotasana, Chakrasana and Dhanurasana and forward bending Asanas such as Padahasthasana, Paschimottanasana, and Halasana ensure flexibility of the body. The body can then be a supple and well-tuned instrument that allows her to perform any movement that she wishes effortlessly and gracefully while dancing. This effortlessness is essential for a dancer because, when she makes any movement with strain, not only does she suffer but the sensitive Rasikas are also jarred out of the smooth harmony that had been earlier effected in them by her easy and flowing movements.
Practice of Suryanamaskar, alternate nostril breathing Pranayamas such as Nadi Shuddhi and Loma Viloma as well as various Jattis help to develop right–left coordination and balance in the dancer. Asanas wherein the hands are joined to the feet like Padahasthasana, Janasirasasana, Paschimottanasana and Akarna Dhanurasana are very useful to develop hand-foot as well as right-left coordination, very essential for a smooth performance. Yoga is isometric and internal. It is a contest between our inherent inertia and the power of the will. Parts of the body are pitted against one another and a unique harmony of body, mind and breath is developed. This internal struggle when handled successfully deepens the consciousness of not only the working of the body but also of the mind and emotions.
Right-left brain function is improved by Pranayamas as right nostril breathing stimulates the left-brain and vice versa. This helps improve coordination between the two halves of the body and thus produce an artistic and perfect symmetry, essential for a good dancer.
A regular practice of Yoga helps the dancer avoid hip, back, shoulder, neck and knee related problems that are rampant in the modern dance world. Practices such as Baddha Konasana, Jatara Parivrittaanasana, Hanumanasana, Trikonasana, Padotannasana, Upavishta Konasana, and Mandukasana are good for the hips and legs. Vajrasana and its variations as well as the Garudasana are good for the feet while Chatus Padasana, Bhujangasana, Kaya Kriya, Shalabhasana and Ushtrasana are excellent for the back. Even in dancers suffering from these musculoskeletal disorders, Yoga can help them recover faster and better as well as limit the morbidity and disability that may otherwise result from over use and misuse of these parts of the body. Brahma Mudra, Kaya Kriya, Tala Kriya and Dridha Kriya are extremely beneficial for health of the entire musculoskeletal system.
Yoga helps develop all systems of the human body (cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, eliminative, endocrine, nervous and musculoskeletal) thus strengthening, cleansing and purifying the human body so that it is brought under our conscious will. This is vital for the dancers.
Yoga stimulates and strengthens the neuro-endocrine system and it counteracts the body stiffness, changes in skin tone and hair loss, which are common problems due to glandular imbalance. Youthfulness that is essential for a dancer is the byproduct of neuro-endocrine health and this can be attained by a regular Yoga practice.
All round health is developed which will stand the dancer in good stead even after retirement, saving them the ‘post retirement blues and breakdowns’.
In the science of Yoga, body movement and breath must be synchronized. The body is lifted on the incoming breath and lowered on the outgoing breath. Bhastrika or the ‘bellows breath’ activate the solar plexus, which is an energy reservoir, as well as strengthens the diaphragm thus producing strength, vitality and endurance. Pranayamas such as Mukha Bhastrika stimulate the internal cleansing of toxins. Breath is directly related to energy levels, life span, quality of emotions, state of mind and the clarity and subtlety of thoughts. This use of breath power with the body movements brings about revolutionary effects on the performance of the dancers. This synchronicity of breath and movement also improves their state of mind, control of emotions and all round physical and psychological health. Laya Yoga practices such as the Mantralaya as well as Pranayamas like the Kapalabhati, Surya Pranayama and Surya Bhedana and other practices such as Surya Namaskar, Paschimottanasana, Nauli and Agnisara help to create an energy reservoir that can be tapped into at will.
According to Yogamaharishi Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj, Yoga is four fold awareness. We become aware of the body through Asanas. We become aware of the emotions through Pranayama and thorough the meditative practices we can become aware of the mind. When we transcend the individualistic ego, we become aware of awareness itself. A Yogi sits in a cave, but feels himself all pervading and eternal. Similarly in drama and dance, the limitation of time is dissolved. The experience of a dancer and a Yogi is the same – to go beyond worldliness and to transcend one’s individual self.
STRESS AND RELAXATION:
Yoga has a lot to offer in terms of stress reduction. Dancers face a lot of stress in terms of preparation for performances and high expectations of the teachers, friends, relatives and the audience. Critics and other writers also tend to increase the pressures on the dancer.
Yogic Asanas, Pranayamas and Jnana Yoga Kriyas, work on the various Koshas of our body and clear up all the subconscious ‘quirks’ in our brain from the billions of years of evolution from animal to the human state. An understanding of these ‘quirks’ helps us to understand our reaction to various situations and helps to prevent our ‘stress response’ to them. ‘Stress Relievers’ from Hatha Yoga and Jnana Yoga are of immense benefit in relieving pent up emotions and tempering our reactions to stressful situations.
Yoga has a lot to offer to dancers through the field of relaxation. In the dance world, all is PUSH, PUSH and PUSH. There is little room for relaxation in the arena. Yoga teaches us that there has to be balance.
The Yogic concept of ‘Spandha-Nishpandha’ or ‘exertion-relaxation-exertion-relaxation’ in an alternating rhythm is unique to the Yogic art of relaxation and provides a counterfoil to the extreme stress of competitive and performance related pressures, thus fostering mental, emotional and physical health.
Pranayamas such as Brahmari, Pranava, Shetali and Sitkari are excellent stress relievers. Shavasana with a great variety of relaxation practices as well as the Bhujangini Mudra and Pavana Mukta Kriyas are an excellent foil against stress. Yoga Nidra and the performance of Savitri Pranayama in Shavasana can help produce total relaxation at all levels.
PROVIDING ANSWERS TO DEEPER YEARNINGS:
The philosophy of Yoga helps the dancer to come to grips with many questions that pop up in their life. Classical dance in ancient times was associated with high levels of moral and ethical codes of behavior. The modern day dance world has gone a long way astray from such ideals and the inculcation of Yogic values such as Yama and Niyama can go a long way in bringing back such ideals in to the world of dance. This will stimulate modern dancers to have a second look at their decadent life styles and try to change for the better. The Yamas when practiced provide much mental solace and ethical strength to the dancers while the Niyamas produce the stoic qualities necessary for high-tension situations. The whole philosophy of Yoga can constitute a ‘touch stone’ for those who find themselves lost when the spotlight dims or shifts its focus to another performer. A more conscious and aware outlook of the whole phenomenon of human life on earth will make the dancer a more valuable member of the human social unit.
The regular practice of Yoga as a ‘Way of Life’ helps reduce the levels of physical, mental and emotional stress. This Yogic ‘way of life’ lays emphasis on right thought, right action, right reaction and right attitude. “To have the will to change that which can be changed, the strength to accept that which can not be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference” is the attitude that needs to the cultivated. An attitude of letting go of the worries, the problems and a greater understanding of our mental process helps to create a harmony in our body, mind whose disharmony is the main cause of ‘Aadi – Vyadhi’ or the psychosomatic disorders.
The practice of Pranayama helps to regulate our emotions and stabilize the mind, which is said to be as restless as a ‘drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion’. Animals that breathe slowly are of less excitable nature than those that breathe rapidly and a similar observation holds true for humans. Even when we get angry, we can experience that our breathing becomes rapid and it is slower when we are cool and relaxed. Thus the slow, rhythmic and controlled breathing in Pranayamas leads to the emotional control seen in many Yoga Sadhaks.