I needed stillness. My dance needed it, I was told by Amma. It had something to do with my mind. Thoughts came and went in an endless stream, taking me away from dance one moment and bringing me back in the next. Amma says it doesn’t quite work like that. You’ve got to be all there, all the time.
Distracted, distraught at being distracted and disturbed that it was affecting my dance, I sought peace, calm, answers and that dancer’s holy grail – stillness in movement. Perhaps, it’s a sort of poise.
Developing it is a process and an immersion into a realm I never really thought I would.
On our sandy shores one day, I saw a mat rolled out and a framed figure folding and unfolding into shapes I’ve only seen the most flexible, strong, swift dancers incorporate into movement.
She looked serene as a pond, the perfect juxtaposition to a harsh yet charming sea. And she really held these poses, before letting them go, before letting something of her go.
I don’t reckon a body can hold movement without letting weight of all kinds go – trivial or significant.
I walked up to her because she seemed to have what I was seeking. And because she would share, I have Yoga. It has me.
But before my dance had it, I had to understand it. And so, there, on and off that mat, Ritika Varshney enlightened me and lightened me, all at once.
Where does Yoga meet Peace?
“The very goal of Yoga is peace, stillness and a cessation of thoughts. The process of getting there as well as that very end goal is Yoga itself.
A centuries old compilation on Yoga called Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lists down the 8 limbs of Yoga as a means to achieve Samadhi or a perpetual state of bliss. Meant to be practiced in a step by step order, the Guru claims this is a sure shot way to Moksha (liberation) achieved over lifetimes.
Today, surrounded by distractions of all kinds as we are – physical and mental, the importance of Yoga becomes paramount. An hour on the mat allows us to reset our emotions, freshen the mind and improve our physical wellbeing. The practice of pranayama and focusing on the breath during postures are aimed are relaxing the mind, bringing in peace, even though initially it may seem only temporary.”
Is there an easy explanation of its philosophy?
“The philosophy of Yoga teaches us to remain balanced through extremities like joy and sorrow, through highs and lows, loss and gain; to reduce expectations because expectations are pretty much the root cause of disappointment.
Yoga teaches us detachment too. Detaching yourself from your sensory pleasures, situations and even people. All of these help to stabilise the mind, thereby bringing in peace and calm.
A line in the Bhagavad Gita – ‘Samatvam Yog Uchyate’ – directly translates to “equanimity in mind” indicating that the very word ‘Yoga’ stands in for equanimity.”
Yoga as a catharsis.
“Yoga in its traditional form has never aimed at release, in fact it urges you to exercise control and detachment from your feelings. However, modern problems require a modern approach. Over time, man has changed a lot in mind, biology and physiology. Emotional trauma, baggage and a general sensitivity towards external pressure have escalated, turning man into a ‘complicated’ being.
Before you move towards quietening the mind, you first need to address what is troubling the mind. All that is repressed, has to first be released and movement coupled with meditation tremendously help with that. Over time, studies have shown that emotions get trapped in our joints. For instance, if you are someone who takes the worry of the world on your head, you might occasionally suffer from shoulder pain or spondylitis. If you have a lot of pent up anger or emotional baggage, you might have very stiff hips. Continued anxiety can lead to spinal issues.
Through the practice of Yoga Asanas however, you open up your joints, release the stress trapped in the muscles surrounding the joints. A lot of instances have been recorded of people breaking down while doing a certain pose for no apparent reason at all except that they can “feel” that release or that catharsis. One of the main benefits of Yoga Asana practice is lightness, in both body and mind and when you have a cathartic experience, you do feel it.”
Moving to Yoga.
“Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an ancient text lists down 3 main benefits of Asana practice:
One, Steadiness in body & mind.
Two, Ridding the physical body and energy channels of disease.
Three, Lightness in body & mind.
With ergonomic & lifestyle diseases on the rise with every generation, the importance of physical asanas is only increasing. As the third limb of Ashtanga Yoga, Asana practice readies you for pranayama that requires one to sit in a meditative posture with the spine erect for prolonged periods of time, with the mind focused on the breath.”
The Art of Yoga. And much more.
“Yoga is more of a science than an art form. A step by step process aimed at achieving Moksha. Over centuries, the science has only gotten more refined to include more Asanas (physical practice) or Pranayamas (breathing variations) as per the needs of a generation. However, Yoga has never aimed at expression, it prompts you to go deeper within yourself. Catharsis through movement, or piecing together Asanas to create a beautiful flow may seem like art or art therapy and can even be used for the same, however, there will come a time when you will have to detach yourself from the art & its expression to delve deeper into your practice aimed at the mind. The experiences one has then cannot be expressed but only felt. Because Art too makes you feel inexpressibly, there are parallels with the Performing Arts that involve movement – such as Dance.”
Yoga in moments, on a journey.
“My Yoga journey simply began with the need to create a behavioural and lifestyle change. I turned to Yoga with help from my mother at a time when life felt quite like it was falling apart.
I was swinging between extremities of pain and joy, sleeping very late, eating way too much junk, staying out late, partying too often. The change was neither instantaneous and nor did I immediately fall in love with the practice.
I had paid for a 3-month beginner course and that motivated me to see it through till the end. Through those 3 months though, I could see progress. It encouraged me to continue my practice.
2 years later, I could see a marked difference in health – both physical and mental and a huge improvement in my overall well-being. By then, I already knew I was in love with Yoga.
Doing a teachers training course helped me understand the practice at a deeper level and share the joy with others. Both teaching and my own practice are anchors that keep me grounded and sane. It has been a journey far from instant gratification.
This also stands true for my day to day practice. Showing up on my mat is no longer an obligation towards my health, it has turned into an essential habit like brushing or eating and one that I absolutely enjoy and look forward to every day.”
What the practice means to a dancer or an athlete.
“The benefits of Yoga are multi-fold. To list a few – flexibility & strength in muscles, healthy joints, well-functioning organ systems, hormonal balance, improved focus, clarity in thought, relaxed nervous system, a calmer more collected mind. Who wouldn’t benefit from these?
Be it dance, that requires a combination of flexibility, strength and balance to a sport like power lifting that requires a strong back and healthy joints, to running where you need to condition the muscles post a strenuous workout, Yoga benefits all! With reduced risk of injury, improved muscle & joint range of motion, reduction in recovery time, better muscle endurance and better control over your breathing, Yoga can in fact help improve the performance of a dancer or sportsperson and be that game changer for them. Mental sports can particularly benefit as Yoga helps improve focus, bringing in more clarity in thought.”
When I told Ritika, I think of Shiva when I dance, she taught me to meditate upon him when I Yoga. He was the first Dancer and the first Yogi. Practicing for my poise, it didn’t surprise me that both those roles were assumed by one divine being. He knew first that he needed stillness in order to move.
Ritika Varshney taught Kaali that Yoga is a dance between control and surrender – between pushing and letting go – and when to push and when to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your being.
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