Monday, December 3, 2012

Body not dancing, mind dancing!

"You gotta dance. As long as the music plays... Don't even think why."

Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

The above advice was given to Haruki Murakami's protagonist in the novel Dance Dance Dance by another character. It's hard to explain the context in which the advice was given. As with many of Murakami's works, trying to explain one thing properly would involve explaining a highly complicated plot with many surreal and supernatural elements; so if you want to know the exact context, I highly recommend you read the novel, which I think is one of Murakami's better works (all of his works are good, in my opinion, but this one is, well, better).

In any case, there is at least one area of our practice to which this advice definitely does not apply: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. From what I've heard, one of Sharath's most-repeated exhortations in UHP is: No Dancing! If you are new to Ashtanga, "dancing" in the context of UHP refers to the action in which the Ashtangi, struggling to keep his or her balance, repeatedly sways from side to side or even hops around a little bit in order to prevent himself or herself from toppling over. Indeed, if you are new to Ashtanga, you may be a regular dancer even if you don't know that this is what the phenomenon is called.

Actually, you don't have to be new to Ashtanga to be a dancer in UHP. I've been a full-time Ashtangi for more than three years now (which probably still counts as "new", in the bigger picture), and I still dance in UHP. This morning, for instance, I was dancing so much on the second side that my left heel crashed onto the kitchen counter with a resounding thud; well, you might also say that I gave the kitchen counter a heel kick (the martial arts applications of yoga asanas... :-)). The kitchen counter was unharmed, but my heel certainly took a beating...

Over the last couple of years, several people have given me different perspectives on what causes dancing in UHP. Claudia told me some time ago that the antidote to dancing is simply Sharath's presence. Apparently, when you are in Sharath's presence (whether at the KPJAYI or during his world tour), you are so nervous and/or under so much pressure to perform that your legs and feet mysteriously become stronger and more able to keep your body in one point in space. I don't want to sound like a crazy brain-washed fanatic (but then again, I am an Ashtanga Fundamentalist...), but I can't help feeling that there is some truth to Claudia's view. For instance, whenever I do Sharath's led primary CD, I always find myself using so much more lower leg power to stabilize my supporting leg in UHP. The result is that (a) my UHP is always so much more stable when I am doing led primary to Sharath's count, and (b) my calves always ache for the rest of the day. I guess (b) may not be such a good thing, because if my calves are aching, this may be a sign that I am not using enough bandhas/core strength to hold the pose together, and am instead using sheer leg power. Definitely something for me to work on here. But it seems that there is some truth to what Claudia is saying here. I mean, if simply hearing Sharath's voice is enough to cause my UHP to be more stable, imagine what it would be like if I am in his presence? :-)

Kino, on the other hand, believes that dancing is often caused by a simple anatomical reason: Lack of external hip rotation when one takes one's leg out to the side in UHP B. More precisely, it is caused by the greater trochanter's not dropping down enough when you bring your leg out to the side. Which leads to instability in the posture. Which leads to dancing. The solution, then, is to drop the greater trochanter of the leg that is going out to the side more. Easier said than done, but it sounds right.

Actually, Kino also has another angle on UHP. In one of her videos, she says that UHP is an exercise in hand-eye coordination. As such, it boosts brain capacity and increases brain function. Here's the video:

Interesting, don't you think? Well, if being able to perform UHP well means that one has good hand-eye coordination and good brain capacity/function, wouldn't that mean that if one regularly dances in UHP, one must have a "dancing brain"? Or, to modify one of Guruji's famous sayings, "Body not dancing, mind dancing!"   


  1. dancing is dumb. all you need is to activate your bandhas strongly, keep chin lifted & gaze soft down, breathe long. power that standing leg. if sharath's precense is what keeps you from "dancing," maybe you are performing for him?

    that's a good boy.


    1. Well, maybe I am performing for him. After all, didn't somebody once say that all the world's a stage, and we are but actors? :-)

      But you are right that dancing is dumb. Hasn't stopped me from doing it, though...

  2. oh, i definitely dance in this pose-it is a great canary in a coal mine pose-any random, or not so random, thought i have generally leads to dancing/falling out...but once dancing..i think i am pretty well in the moment..trying not to fall and learning to fall with equanimity. seems like that is as important as learning steadiness in the pose, at least for me.

    as for the mechanics of it, my teacher told me to focus on getting the standing foot flat on the floor (easier to do this than to tell when your hips are level, after all, the floor is (hopefully) level, and also to use the hand holding your side to act as a bandha reminder and almost push your pelvis down/to lengthen up. it does help, though i usually forget to to it.

    1. Yes, UHP is definitely a canary in a coal mine for dancing mind :-) Thanks for your tips on the mechanics. Come to think of it, I think I have actually heard one of my teachers mention using the hand to act as a bandha reminder.

  3. Along with strong bandhas and standing leg, make your drishti a non-moving object in the distance and don't waver from it. Turn the leg out then turn the head out. Turn the head in then turn the leg in. This method works.

    And don't feel ashamed, Sharath dances for Guruji in this video -

    1. Thanks for the drishti tip. I'll check out the video soon :-)

  4. teaching uhp to non-astangis (something i do 6 days a week) is much different from teaching mysore students (something i used to do 6 days a week). it's much harder to teach the former imo. so i end up breaking it down & approaching it differently.

    first of all, if you have fallen arches, it's already going to be a challenging posture. i allow people to go to the wall but not use it. just touch it if needed. most never go. i apply the technique that i mentioned earlier, let people hold the leg bended for a few months. i don't usually assist anyone anymore. that seems to lead to dependency & does not necessarily give you the tools you need. this posture brings out the most amount of frustration. so i tell people, like i did in yesterdays class, just to smile. it seems to work. my success rate of non-dancers is very high. there's really no point of jumping around on one foot. it's impossible to learn balance. you must learn to relax, get a grip, work internally, & don't take yourself so seriously. i can probably write a book about the huge differences between teaching mysore students & teaching the "one day a week" astangi.