If you love dancing, you may sometimes be tempted to turn the flow of yoga into something more rhythmical. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine swaying or bending gracefully to a beat while coming into or out of some yoga poses.
Although he didn’t dance, Patanjali was worshipped as the patron saint of India’s dancers. It is said that, after travelling to Chidambaram in South India, which boasts of the famous dancing Shiva temple, he joined other great souls, divine beings, sages and yogis to watch the cosmic dance. Apparently Shiva had directed Patanjali to pay it special attention so that he could completely understand the Maheswara aphorisms and write a proper commentary to Panini’s work.
While I have never been to Chidambaram, it’s not hard to imagine that I am dancing in the Shiva temple when I find myself in
a private Yogadance class in Byron Bay with graceful teacher Lee Purdie. Certainly the Indian lounge-style music has a feel of faraway places and, as I work my way through the sequence Purdie has choreographed, my body feels as if it is moving to ancient rhythms. The truth, of course, is that it is because Yogadance is based on time-honoured asanas.
Purdie, a lifelong dancer (jazz, tap and ballet) has been practicing yoga for 20 years but did her teacher training in 2003 and developed her Yogadance classes in 2004. These days she teaches Yogadance at private retreats and sometimes, like today, at private classes.
“I simply thought there had to be a way to combine the two things,” she says of how she brought music, dance and yoga together. “I take quite a choreographed approach to my classes—some Yogadance is a more improvised style.” It’s true that there are many variations of Yogadance taught around Australia. But, in principle, they are the same: flowing asana sequences set to music.
We warm up with preparation poses, everything from Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) to Garudasana (Eagle Pose).We do hamstring, hip and shoulder stretches, too. Once I am familiar with the basic moves, Purdie demonstrates the Yogadance routine and we set about learning it.
There’s a wonderful flow and rhythm, a feeling of the asanas melding with the universe. Since taking dancing lessons as a child—ballroom and Latin—I have always loved structured movement, perhaps the reason Iyengar Yoga is my favourite yoga style.
“I choose music with counts of two, or four, and constantly remind people what we will be doing next so that it is not confusing,” Purdie says.
She believes Yogadance has many of the same benefits as yoga itself: “It increases strength, tone, energy and flexibility. People leave feeling invigorated, light and open in mind, body and spirit.”
In Sydney, Bodytone Yoga’s Penny Balafas has been teaching her version of Yogadance since 2007. Her background is in theatre but she trained as a yoga teacher in 2005 and developed her own form of Yogadance because she believes it combines the benefits of yoga with creative expression.
“If a song moves me, we use it to explore yoga,” she says of her own process. “We have done classes to Missy Higgins and Chris Isaak—it is quite choreographed.” Balafas says music used can include everything from flamenco (for arms), Aboriginal dance tracks, jazz and Latin to R&B, pop and Indian lounge. And she emphasises that you don’t have to have any dance experience.
Classical hatha yoga teacher Jade Sterling, from Lismore in Northern NSW, has taught Yogadance formally for the past 12 months. Like Purdie and Balafas, she has a dance background and says she has always enjoyed classes that have fluid movement.
“I started off using diva music and classical but we have gone on from there to Michael Jackson and Radiohead,” Sterling says. “In Yogadance, music is much more a part of the yoga and the breath. I find it attracts women from their 20s to 40s, who want a different way of connecting with themselves.”
During the class, she says participants move through hatha yoga poses in time with music, improving physical conditioning, alignment and flexibility and increasing a sense of wellbeing.
“Sequences include simple postures aimed to stimulate the glandular, lymphatic, nervous, muscular and skeletal systems to cleanse, massage and elongate the body and eliminate toxins,” Sterling says.
But back with Purdie, we are about to complete our dance sequence and move into a warm-down. I may not be as graceful as a swan, or as limber as a monkey, but I do feel that I have tapped into a part of my brain and body that I don’t access in my usual yoga class. In fact, I am keen to experiment with using my own music in my home practice. I am just wondering if Lenny Kravitz or Stevie Wonder might be quite the right thing for Warrior Pose, but why not?
Helen Hawkes is a freelance writer and Iyengar Yoga practitioner based on the North Coast of NSW.