During my yoga teacher training we talked about holding space. A teacher in front of a class of yoga students needs to find an authentic way to hold space. This is not about having all your sequencing and cues memorized… it’s much deeper and more subtle.
It’s about letting go of planning. It’s about expanding into vulnerability. It’s about allowing the heart to open to those who have gathered for your class. It’s about becoming an empty channel for the divine to flow through you and embrace everyone there.
For me, it’s much easier to write about than to do.
In my online Bharatanatyam class this morning, my teacher touched on this concept from his point of view as a performer on stage. Each dance gesture needs to be expansive, to fill the space and create connection with the rasikas (literally, the tasters, or audience). He mentioned too that, for him, Bharatanatyam is a sadhana. It’s a sacred path to moksha, or liberation. This is not an overlay, but rather at the core of what it is to dance…
…and at the core of what it is to teach or practice yoga, or maybe just to serve tea to a friend.
Samputa, in the exquisite gestural language of Bharatanatyam, is one of the double hand gestures. The right and left hands are cupped together to create a container. A little treasure box.
I find the image apt for many of the traditional Sanskrit names given to the poses in Yogāsana. For example, Vīrabhadrāsanaencodes the whole story of the death of Lord Śiva’s beloved wife Satī. Overcome with grief and rage, Śiva rips out one of His dreadlocks, throws it to the ground, and the fearsome Vīrabhadra arises, ready to avenge Satī’s death.
Investigation into the stories behind the names of the poses can take our practice of yogāsana to another level. Taking Vīrabhadrāsana – literally “Blessed Hero” – again as an example, how might this familiar pose transform if we allow ourselves to embody the dharmic or righteous rage of this avenger? What does it mean to take dharmic action in the world?
The sadhana of yogāsana is a treasure box freely bequeathed to us from the rich culture of India, its birthplace. Do we have the courage to open it up and investigate what lies within?
On this day, the 72nd celebration of the Republic of India, I offer my heartfelt thanks to the land of Bharat for the priceless treasure of yogāsana!
My main sadhana, for many years, has been yogāsana. I practice, like most hatha yoga practitioners, on a yoga mat. About 68 by 24 inches. A container. A sacred space. A safe space.
But today, I rolled it up, and stood in the middle of the floor in my practice space. I was starting class #14 with my Bharatanatyam teacher, Supratim Talukder, via Zoom. Today’s class focused on improvisatory movement prompted by various types of cues: situational, musical, emotional… Once I allowed myself to surrender to the process, it felt incredibly liberating. 75 minutes spun by. And afterwards – I felt like I had let go of a lot of stuff. You know – all the individual and collective angst related to this pandemic and life in general. I just – danced it out! It felt so cleansing – like I had just breathed in a truckload of fresh air. Without a mask.
I followed my class up by getting back on my mat and doing some asana. It felt – quite different. There was more space in my body. Familiar poses felt new.
I’ve been working on some improvisatory movement around the theme of the lotus with my Bharatanatyam teacher, Supratim Talukder. I’m realizing that this is not easy work. I keep falling into movement that is over-articulated, or cliché, or just not connecting… My teacher, while kindly encouraging, is also uncompromising. You need to find your inner movement, I’m advised. Find your inner lotus. But –
This morning, as I sat for my prānāyāma practice, I let my awareness settle on grounding – on the muladhara. The muck that we are all rooted in. Tentative rootlets insinuating, exploring down.
Then, gradually moving up to that liquid space of generative creativity. Of water. From the root, finding the gentle caress of flow.
And all the climbing energy centres echoing this watery origin of movement, of sway. Svadhisthana.
After introducing a new step or hand position, my Bharatanatyam teacher, Supratim Talukder, always seems to ask me this. I understand his meaning: do I understand the new step? But the way he phrases it generally pushes me to an existential level: do I have any doubts?
Well, um, yes.
When I wake up greeted by grey skies hiding the sun… When I read another pandemic related article in the newspaper… When I reflect on the many ways the current lockdown is impacting lives…
But today the sun, reflected by white snow, turned the world bright. A safely distanced walk with friends rekindled life-giving communion. And I learned some new dance steps in my class – Natya Adavus 1, 2 & 3!
Doubt transformed into delight, hope, and joy.
Life continually offers possibilities that have the potential to banish all doubt. We swim in beauty. Possibilities for connection are endless, transformative, and absolutely life-giving. So many blessings, so much to be thankful for! I leave you with a dance that celebrates that beauty – in the enchanted world of Vrindavan.
My new fascination with Bharatanatyam dance is flowering out in multiple directions. My recent browsing history: Tagore, Ramakrishna, Uday Shankar, asamyukta hasta mudras…
The centrifugal force of a new passion!
My challenge is to keep grounded and not jump ahead of myself. But it truly is exciting to discover new territory, to shift out of set patterns… I can feel shifts in my practice of yogāsana. I feel stronger as new muscle memory is being created.
It really is positively exhilarating that at 61, the potential for growth, for evolution, and revolution is still there! It’s always there.
Interesting territory today. He asked me to use my own movement vocabulary to explore the theme of birthing.
This takes me into some pretty deep waters. My own experiences birthing my four children, of course. And… the birth of my first grandchild! – and the rebirth of the light at the imminent solstice – and a friend’s story of a woman pregnant and on the road during the first months of the lockdown in India, giving birth – and the Christ, born into poverty in a stable –
– and the Earth Mother groaning to birth our world.
And the ways we’ve systematically destroyed Her creation…
It will be interesting to see where this takes me.
“Life is short,” my husband’s words struck me forcibly today.
I am on the cusp of a new adventure – 61 year old me taking Zoom classes in Bharatanatyam dance with a very accomplished young dancer from Kolkata, West Bengal. Starting TOMORROW MORNING.
My mind has been flooded with a mix of doubt, euphoria, and everything in between. But life IS short, and so why not, WHY NOT take on a new adventure? The following lines from Tennyson’s Ulysses come to mind:
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades For ever and for ever when I move.
As that archway of new experience hoves into view, I am trying to ground myself in the here and now. Trying to cultivate the open awareness of beginner’s mind. Trying to embrace the intense beauty of life and all it offers.
I’ll report back in after class # 1. And below is a link to a dance cover by the extraordinary Supratim Talukder – that started this adventure rolling.
Today I connected, via Zoom, with my new Bharatanatyam teacher for the first time.
A miracle of connection in a time of isolation!
As it turns out, Supratim Talukder is not only a brilliant dancer, but a talented and engaging teacher as well. Oh, and did I say patient? Because between nervousness and the newness of this art form for me, I was a little slow on the uptake. Being thrust into raw beginner mode – it’s very humbling, to say the least. And oh so good for putting that troublesome ego into its place!
I am really looking forward to my next lessons. A blessing of connection in a pandemic that has touched us all: from Kolkata to Ottawa, and everywhere in between.
I’ll leave you with a video my teacher (wow! I can say that now: my teacher) created as a kind of public service announcement called Isolation.