Finding stillness is a major draw for many people who practice yoga. While practicing, holding a pose, it’s not just the monkey mind that stops. The world seems to slow down. Ask anyone who’s held a Plank pose for 90 seconds. That kind of downshift away from life at light speed is a big reason why 20.4 million Americans (that’s 8.7% of the adult population) study yoga (according to the 2012 “Yoga in America” survey by Yoga Journal).
But, as with all things relating to yoga, there is also another side to consider. The classically linear approach to asana practice is just one tool for finding balance and unity. Even the most loyal Hatha practioner can benefit from the occasional class that jumps off the grid and starts everyone moving. After all, you started your life rocking and rolling inside your mother. Think back to your childhood. Were you ever still? And, when you were, didn’t you long to get up and get outside, play a sport or walk to your favorite “secret place”? You didn’t have to work at bringing together mind/body/spirit; you didn’t know any other way of life. (below photo credit http://bmacstudio.com/ Dan Schmidt)
Yoga that moves can help you get reconnected with that physical joy. More and more studios are offering dance-infused yoga classes that invite students to let go of their expectations about perfect form and get in touch with their bodies. You can’t compare yourself to anyone else because every student hears the music a little differently and responds in his or her unique way. To get some inspiration, watch any of Shiva Rea’s trance dance sequences. No one cares whether the person next to him or her is swaying faster or has arms that are more extended. Each student has gone deeply within and let that inner dancer take over.
Adding an element of dance into your practice can be a fun way to explore the carefree side of yoga. The poses build on what you’ve put so much time into mastering, but there’s a twist. Where you might be used to just holding a pose in yoga, the dance element means you are constantly moving through many of those positions, creating a fluid flow with your body. Your body instinctively starts to move with the music. And, as you relax into that rhythm, your muscles warm up, loosen up and may open up poses you couldn’t access from a more contracted foundation. Since you don’t know what to expect, you’ll go into the class without the usual metrics in your mind of how close your head is to the floor or whether today is the day you’ll fly in Bakasana (Crow Pose).
This practice is also a great release for your mind. You might find yourself feeling awkward or self-conscious as you circle your body and isolate your rib cage in a side-to-side slide. As you practice, consciously let go of that negativity. Learn from your body’s wisdom. In most of these poses, you will feel balanced and secure if you are using correct alignment. Let that guide you.
Here are some poses to try as you start to enter into the dance:
Benefits: This sinuous version of the staple pose lets you experiment with controlling and releasing your body at the same time. How to do it: Come to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). On an inhale, bring your body forward so that your hands are under your shoulders and your body forms a straight line from your head to your feet. Keeping your core engaged, slowly make a circle with your hips, starting by bringing your hips to the right and down. Complete one circle, then reverse. Repeat three times in each direction.
Benefits: Moving your arms in this balance pose helps you learn to stabilize one part of your body while freeing another. How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Shift your weight onto your left foot, making sure all four corners of your left foot are equally engaged. Lift your right leg and turn it out from the hip. Place your right foot on your inner left thigh (you can reach down to clasp it and pull it up if needed). Raise your arms above your head. On an exhale, start to sway your hands from side to side. After a few breaths, gradually involve your arms and shoulders. Continue this for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: This flowing version of the pose lets you stretch muscles around your hip cradle that often get tense during daily life and practice. How to do it: Start on your hands and knees. On an exhale, stretch your knees away from the floor and shift your weight back slightly. Inhale here. On the next exhale, stretch your heels onto or toward the floor. Inhale and on your next exhale, circle your hips to the right and then to the left. Make sure you articulate the side part of the circle. Repeat three times on each side, then release.
Engage your core. Even when you are moving your hips, holding your center and back engaged will help you stay on balance. Staying strong in your center allows you move your limbs more freely as well. But, don’t confuse engagement with holding yourself rigid. Still let your body move. For fun, the next time you’re sitting on your mat or on the floor, just start lightly twisting your torso from side to side, slowly raising your arms with each twist until they meet above your head with your palms sealed.
Coordinate Your Movement and Breath. In this kind of practice, your breath provides the metronome for the flows in each pose. Keep your breath calm and steady. Try to visualize that the beginning of each movement starts with your breath and flows outward from the center of your body.
And, remember, there is no exact “right” way to do any of the poses listed here. Let your body move and find out how you feel best. Maybe you tend to move in smaller, more controlled ways. Maybe you like to let yourself flow through big, bold shapes. It’s all good. And, yes, do try this at home!