Leave Your Shyness in Shavasana!

Via Jahnavi Harrison
on Feb 7, 2012
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Shiva Rea @ examiner.com

Why it makes a difference to your soul if you get your asana moving…

On the flight home to London yesterday, I watched the remake of Footloose. If you don’t know the story, there’s not much to it: James Dean-esque boy relocates to Nowheresville, USA, and meets the hand of the law and the preacher’s daughter, when he challenges the town’s ‘no public dancing’ rule.

Most of the movie plays out in a flurry of too much makeup, melodrama and lovingly styled sweat. In the town hall showdown, the pastor condemns the desire of the young ‘uns to krump and bootyshake in public, arguing that it has a deep impact on their moral and spiritual values. Of course, we’re supposed to roll our eyes — there’s practically a pause for it written into the script.

But I couldn’t help agreeing with him a little. Pretty much every dance scene seemed like a thinly veiled mating ritual. Of course, teenagers will be teenagers, and it could be argued that our modern day body language allows for more implied sexuality without necessarily intending it all to end in a tumble in the bushes. Whether yay or nay, it’s no surprise that dance and movement provoke powerful responses. Early modern dance pioneer, Ruth St. Denis, said,

“I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find words for.”

Dance has the power to send messages outward, as well as inward, just as the movements of the mind can create both speech and habit.

Audiences at  the 2011 TEDx Burning Man got to hear yoga ambassador and movement anthropologist, Shiva Rea give a 20 minute lowdown on the repression of free movement in the Western world. Apart from her enthusiasm of delivery and the huge dance off at the end, it was sobering viewing. In her thesis, over the centuries the freedom to express through movement has been heavily impacted by stringent religious and cultural impositions. Usually the idea that dance encouraged alcoholism, and free sexual expression was enough to set the collective teeth of the church authorities on edge, and they responded accordingly.

image @ British Museum

Chaitanya took chunks of India by storm when he broke the practice of sacred song and dance out of the temples

So, we come back to our Footloose pastor’s verdict. There is another side to the story of dancing in public though.

Dance as a spiritual practice has kept a stronger place in Eastern cultures. In the 1400s, revolutionary saint and avatar, Sri Chaitanya, took chunks of India by storm when he broke the practice of sacred song and dance out of the temples, where it was being carefully guarded as an exclusive practice of the priestly caste. Historical accounts describe sacred street processions with hundreds of participants from every caste and religious background. When they passed through a town or marketplace the numbers would swell. Most controversial at the time were the out-castes and Muslims who joined the so called ‘Hindu’ movement. The point of it all was universal.

Chaitanya left only eight short verses as a written legacy, but ignited a powerful movement through song and dance. His message called attention to a worldwide identity crisis — we think we are the temporary body, but we are actually all eternal souls, longing for reunion with the Divine.

I wonder how the fate of the Wall Street Occupiers might have changed if they had been able to sing and dance with the head honchos of the finance world.

It’s a long shot, but Chaitanya did, through his song and dance, accomplish a remarkable feat of interfaith dialogue with the local Muslim ruler, Chand Kazi, who had ordered a violent arrest on all practicing this dancing revolt, and consequently changed the course of history.

Song & dance revolution: The Mayapuris (l) vs. As Kindred Spirits (r)

Dance can make us more or less self conscious, just as yoga can be performed for tighter abs or something much deeper. The effect of anything we do is more about our motivation. The power of free movement as an offering — liberated from the thought of whether Yoga Guy or Girl is checking us out mid-kirtan — is immense. When combined with mantra, the body, mind, and voice are engaged in a moving, singing prayer.

Perhaps our Footloose hero could’ve quoted Rumi: ‘Whosoever knoweth the power of the dance, dwelleth in God.’

Movement as Prayer – Ideas For Daily Dance

  1. Bring a light, playful quality to your yoga practice. Experiment with free flow vinyasa between poses.
  2. Practice investing movement with intention. Start with your yoga class, but allow this to seep into your everyday movement. Do your grocery shopping with a hop in your step.
  3. Next time you have an opportunity to dance with others, observe your motivations and the feelings that arise. Create an experiment and offer your movement without a desire for any kind of result.
  4. If you normally sit during a meditation practice, try dancing — especially during kirtan. One of the most beautiful movements in kirtan is to raise both hands to the sky while you sing, saranagati asana, or “surrender with your hands raised.” Experience the deep transformation that this simple movement brings.

~ posted @ elephant journal by Braja Sorensen


About Jahnavi Harrison

I was born into a family of Krishna devotees in London, and grew up in the mansion/temple in the countryside that was given to the Hare Krishna community by George Harrison, still known as "The Manor." Days were filled with devotional music and long hours playing with the cows after school! I was fortunate to have a deep exposure to the philosophy of bhakti yoga – the path to God that emphasises love, service, and kirtan, which is the call and response singing of sacred names. Initially, this was the soundtrack to my life, but as I grew older, I listened to all sorts and collected music I loved. Aged 12, I buried my nose in jazz and blues and got in trouble for making up my own versions of my violin pieces. A dusty freebie cassette from an Indian grocery introduced me to South Indian violin, and it wasn’t long before I switched to learning this style. One BA in Linguistics later, I was touring the world with sacred music group As Kindred Spirits. From Johannesburg to Mumbai, we tried to translate the stories, music, and dance of Vedic India into something fresh and relevant. I now work between New York and London, and try to see all my art as an offering, hoping that it will inspire, nourish and uplift.


22 Responses to “Leave Your Shyness in Shavasana!”

  1. Jahnavi!! Wow, thank you soooo much for this. xoxo

  2. Double that 🙂 Beautiful, Jahnavi…welcome to ej and keep writing! love it….

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  3. Thaddeus1 says:

    So very excited to have Jahnavi a part of elephant! I am looking forward to many more finely tailored contributions just like this one.

    Posting to Elephant Bhakti. Like Elephant Bhakti on Facebook.

  4. […] Rumi’s expression came through poetry and the written word, Chaitanya’s was through song and dance (which would have warmed Rumi’s Dervish heart), his life dedicated to chanting the Hare […]

  5. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  6. […] writer Jahnavi Harrison arrived at elephant journal today: see her article Dance Revolution! in Featured […]

  7. Congratulations, Jahnavi…your timing is perfect….you're the first author ever on our brand new category….

    Just posted to "Special Picks" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  8. karlsaliter says:

    Great article Jahnavi, welcome to our strange family!

    I go on Thusday evenings to the seashore in nearby Tulum, Mexico, where the band "Bole" plays sitar, fiddle and guitar on the sand, with an open fire. It is heaven. We all sit listening, grateful. The only thing missing so far is dancing. Maybe tomorrow night, that will change.

  9. Eric says:

    I can dig it. But how do you explain the "Elaine Dance" from "Seinfeld"?? 🙂

  10. Wonderful article and what a great new unique voice you bring to elephant.

    Thanks to both Jahnavi and Braja.

    Bob W. Associate Publisher & Head Coach
    elephant journal
    facebook, twitter, linkedIn
    Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

  11. ha!! Uh….pure magic?


  12. karlsaliter says:

    Just posted to Elephant Spirituality on Facebook.

  13. Love this Jahnavi! Dancing is one of my favorite things…can't imagine going a whole day without it!

  14. Julie says:

    great article!

  15. Vision_Quest2 says:

    If, like me, you have some slight mobility problems, and don't know where to start … I heartily recommend joining the 5 Rhythms movement modality practice. I have been practicing 5 Rhythms regularly for about 9 months now, occasionally taking a class in it (I can't afford much – it is, pretty much, priced just like yoga is).

    It is the ONLY movement (actually a prayer form–I feel like I am dancing the dance of the sages) that is actually keeping me practicing yoga.

  16. Vision_Quest2 says:

    It is dance based, but not a form of dance-exercise.

    Nia, which I can't do, IS.

  17. Leela says:

    Another technique into the pot: authentic movement is a very accessible form of movement/dance. I learned it as part of massage therapy training and it taught me a whole lot about moving how/when/if it feels good. It is a partnered movement form, generally practiced in a group, but only half of each pair moves at a time.

  18. jahnavi says:

    Thanks for all your comments and encouragement everyone – it's an honour to be posting here 🙂

  19. […] A little challenge can be good at times, but this practice is not about pushing. Advancement in asana comes slowly, millimeter by millimeter. Yoga is a practice, not a […]

  20. […] Especially in the bhakti tradition, which is best represented by Chaitanya, who sang and danced his way through India, heartfelt singing is believe to transform consciousness in the most powerful […]

  21. […] spirit and good vibrations of kirtan are beginning to be felt far and wide and as the path of yoga prescribed for the age of […]