“Because of yoga, I have never been injured in my dance “.
Now, that is a very serious statement to make.
But when Yana Lewis ,our Artistic Director says it , you know she means it. For someone who has been a yoga practitioner for more than 30 years, finding a direct connection between yoga and dance was bound to happen.
The first connection
The hyper-active person that she is, Yana started yoga as a inward journey to calm herself and find some time to sit quietly. But she soon realized that there was more to this journey.
“ Ballet is performing for the audience. You are giving out to the audience. It is an outward art . I realized that dance is an asymmetric art form. When you are on stage you do the same steps on one side 25 times and the other side doesn’t get used. This , in the long run may lead to injuries . As dancers, we are not giving anything back to the body. Yoga helped me to see that by regular practice, one can clear out this imbalance and also give back energetically what the body needs”, she says.
The second connection
Dancers can become prone to injury due to exhaustion- physically or mentally or both. In this state , when the body is tired and you push it , you are more susceptible to injury. In order to work optimally in such conditions, you have to oxygenate the muscles. This is where yoga comes in.
“ If you have learnt to breath the yogic way- expanding the base of your lungs , you can use breath as a medium to prevent injuries. Unlike dance, where breathing is purely used in the aesthetic sense, through yoga you learn to expand the depth of your breath , which in turn helps your muscles.”.
The third connection
For a dancer, her body is her tool. Armed with an RSA in Anatomy & Physiology, Yana delved deeper into this unique connection between dance and yoga . She realised that Yoga is a whole new world of understanding.Yoga works at a deeper and subtle level with raising our consciousness.
” Many dancers use their physical form as a means of expression but through yoga, you can learn to listen to yourself, your body and bring subtle levels of awareness into performances, artistically becoming more expansive. Yoga creates awareness, thinking dancers instead of following the choreography blindly”.
She takes an example from her own life when, for the first time, she realised how yoga was transforming her body.
“ My back has been relatively flexible as a dancer. Most of the time,when we use our backs, our legs are turned out and we are in external rotation. When our legs are in external rotation and we bend back, the lumbar vertebrae are compressed together, restricting the movement of your back.”
The first lesson she picked up when she started doing yoga was that by practicing Urdhva Dhanurasana , this problem could be solved.According to her , when you are in Urdhva Dhanurasan, you actually turn the top of the thighs inward and by turning so , you release the lumbar vertebrae. The spine opens up more and the backend increases, thereby giving more freedom of movement.
“ This is something that had never ever occurred to me as a dancer because we are so used to lifting our legs up behind us , turned out.That position actually compresses the lumbar vertebrae. But once I started doing Urdhva Dhanurasan in the yogic way, the change was clearly visible”, she adds.
Yoga for dancers
Here are five Yoga poses Yana suggests for dancers/performing artists to start off with to help them raise their awareness.
Garudasana -To create more space and freedom of the sacrum
Vriksasana – To learn to balance without external rotation . (Dancers, when asked to do Vrikshana , tend to turn their standing foot out.To balance both sides equally well, they have to work on the insides of the groins.)
Adho Mukha Vriksasana – To strengthen the arms, shoulders, upper back and wrists
Utthita Trikonasana -To make the legs and the torso work together holistically.
Parivritha Trikonasana -To hold the pelvis in neutral so that you can work symmetrically. To twist the spine and free the vertebrae.
For a dancer, staying injury free and raising their awareness levels are essential to reach their highest potential. There could be no simpler way than achieving this through the union of mind, body and soul – through yoga.