Bharatanatyam dancer and actor Rukmini Vijayakumar shares how dance inspired her segue to yoga and how both lead to a state of higher consciousness.
As a child, when I was sent to yoga class, I repeatedly heard the phrase ‘yogaschitta vṛitti nirodhaḥ.’ It was translated to ‘restrictions of the fluctuations of the mind.’ I understood this intellectually, but I don’t believe I ever experienced what that meant for a long time in my practise of yoga. I’m not a yoga teacher or a yogi. I’m a Bharatanatyam dancer that practises yoga regularly because that is what I feel is needed for my body and mind. For the longest time, I was enamoured by the physical possibilities that yoga brought to my movement abilities as a dancer. Yoga taught me alignment, made me more flexible, made me stronger. I liked ‘doing’ yoga. It allowed me to balance on one leg and drop into splits anytime I wanted.
I learned Bharatanatyam at a time where skill was imparted without much thought into developing a body that was able to perform the skill efficiently. When I stepped into yoga class, I was suddenly excited by the possibilities. I could learn to stand on my head, balance on my elbows, and emulate the physical form of Nataraja without much effort or thought. I had a few different teachers before my teens. Then I met Guru Arun. I enjoyed his classes. They pushed me physically and I learned to be patient. He guided me at a time when I did not understand what yoga was at all. I was becoming a better dancer and I wanted to be the best that I could be, so I went almost every day to yoga class for many years. I then started dance school, and found no time to go to yoga classes as frequently. I also compared everyone to my teacher in Bangalore, and didn’t feel the need to go regularly to a yoga class. I was moving so much that I didn’t have the time to push my body anymore. I was training to be a better dancer. I had other teachers poking, prodding and correcting me all day. They were fixing my alignment and opening up the possibilities of my body. What was the need to also do yoga? I practiced stretching in the correct alignment just like my teacher had taught me. There was no need to breathe slowly and do it for hours on end. I was dancing better and getting stronger without the daily yoga classes. I had found other avenues to enhance my dancing abilities.
I went several years without practicing yoga. I stretched, danced, squatted, aligned my body and worked incessantly at balancing musculature, increasing stamina, range of motion, control, and mastering skill. I would dance all day, many hours of the night and repeat everything hundreds of times. I had focus, commitment and my mind would never waver when I practised. My thoughts would remain only on my dance. I was obsessed with getting better each day. I was also afraid of losing what I had gained. So I practiced and practiced to the exclusion of everything else. I’m quite certain I had no goal in mind. I didn’t want a specific performance or a particular thing from dance. I just wanted to get better.
I began to trust my movement without my intellect constantly judging it. I began to dance. As I danced, I began to let go of judgement and self- awareness. I started finding moments of complete surrender, such that I failed to exist.
As I got better with each practice, I began to let go of the fear and obsession that drove me. I had finished college, I had chosen to pursue Bharatanatyam instead of modern dance, and I was back in India. I continued to practice and train every day, constantly finding things to challenge my movement abilities and my body all at once. I was excited to push my body to its limits. I still am very enthused by this. I still push my body. But some things changed over the course of the past eight years. I had practised so much that my body knew the muscular pathways. I began to trust my movement without my intellect constantly judging it. I began to dance. As I danced, I began to let go of judgement and self- awareness. I started finding moments of complete surrender such that I failed to exist. Dance took over and I was no longer present. I realise now that these are the moments I was working toward. I didn’t know at the time when I practised obsessively. But I know now that this is what it means to experience the universal truth. I began to find it in brief moments of dancing, when I had no awareness of the self. I cannot even recollect my existence when I look back at those moments once they have passed. I can only remember the dance. These experiences may be brief, and passing, but I believe it is a reflection of the oneness of the universe. This unawareness of the ‘doer’ is something I yearn to extend to the material world. But, at the moment, it is something I only intellectually understand once I am outside of my dance. It is not something I am currently able to practice in life outside of dance. I can be reminded of it through intellect and mind, but it is not something that I am aware of as a being in the world.
I understand now that yoga has similar goals. The purpose of yoga is to find single-pointed concentration within the mind. The moments of mindful focus that I am able to find in dance is what is expected in yoga. Yoga aims at the practitioner becoming devoid of the sense of ‘self’. It aims to create a path for the individual to let go of the ‘ego’. The same happens in dance when you are able to surrender completely. These moments in dance that I began to experience allowed me the ability to begin on a journey of self-practice in yoga. Over the past seven or eight years, I have begun to understand the intent of yoga. I don’t believe I ever understood until I started practicing alone in silence.
Now when I practice, time passes without my awareness. I can completely be in the present, in brief moments. The words of my teachers echo in my mind. Not just my yoga teacher, Guru Arun, but also my spiritual Guru, Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Dance, yoga, and the universal truth are all interwoven. I chose dance as my path. Dance revealed yoga to me. My hope is that dance and yoga will unravel in me the ability to extend that idea of oneness to the world at large.
For now, I cherish the moments of quiet that I’m offered and those fleeting moments of surrender that allow me to experience the universal truth that I believe I’m not yet ready to receive. I will attempt to remind myself constantly to live in the present and believe in the better version of all humanity by finding myself reflected in every soul.