Beyond Asana

by Christina Bodie

I spent most of my youth training to be at the top of the dance field. While I always valued having a balanced life, dance inevitably became a large part of my world, and therefore I had a deep attachment to all the things that went along with that identity. I can recognize the aspect of this that yogis would call identification with the ego. I took pride in my dance career, I strived to be noticed, and I felt the gratification that came along with praise, as well as the the judgement that came along with criticism. For many years I was attached to the all of the things that made me “Christina the dancer.”

Now, I am experiencing a shift. A desire to connect with my higher self. My decision to move to Los Angeles last June to join BODYTRAFFIC was certainly a part of this shift. Upon meeting the warm BODYTRAFFIC family, it was clear to me that the directors valued balance, both in their own lives and in the lives of their dancers. After seeing the company perform for the first time, I remember feeling that the artists allowed their life experience to inform their artistry. To me, this is the way to produce meaningful art. This is what drew me to the company.

Encouraged by the BODYTRAFFIC environment, I have been able to delve even deeper into my new spiritual awareness through yoga. As a dancer, I am inevitably drawn to the physical side of yoga. I love learning new poses, challenging myself with advanced postures, finding creative ways to sequence the poses together, and subsequently benefiting from how good my body feels after a solid practice. There are still the days where I am hard on myself, seeking the perfection in each yoga posture just like I seek perfection in my dance steps. That said, now that I have started to incorporate the philosophical element into my practice, I am learning to step back and observe my thoughts, looking at the root of my habitual patterns. The path to transformation is not just focusing on physical health, but on emotional, mental and spiritual health as well.

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Today, yoga has a vibrant presence in my life and in society. I remember a time when yoga was still new to the Western world. Now there is a studio on practically every corner, and the terms Warrior One and Downward Facing Dog are common language amongst most of us. At BODYTRAFFIC, all company members practice yoga in varying degrees, as there is no denying the cross training benefits of a yoga practice. Considering the company’s vigorous repertoire and rehearsal schedule, yoga is invaluable as a means to keeping our bodies highly tuned, balanced and functioning well. While the physical benefits of yoga are beyond question, I challenge us all to take it one step further. Many people in modern culture simply think of yoga as an alternative form of exercise, associating it with the asanas or physical postures that have gained widespread popularity in recent decades. The positive in this is that it often gets people who have never done yoga before into the studio. All the same, I think it is important to acknowledge that the overemphasis on the physical can become ego driven, and can stray us far from the concepts at the core of yoga’s true meaning.

I myself have been practicing yoga for ten years, but it wasn’t until recently, when I spent three months doing my yoga teacher training, that I truly discovered how much deeper yoga goes than just the physical postures. In Sanskrit, the word yoga means ‘union’ or ‘connection’. It is the union of body, mind and spirit, the conscious connection of the limited, egoic self with the unlimited, higher self. In the ancient Indian text The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, the great sage Pantanjali presents us with The Eight Limbs of Yoga, a blueprint for living. Having the chance to learn these philosophical roots of yoga has brought my practice to an entirely new level, and has also allowed me to approach things differently in the dance studio.

One of my favorite concepts discussed in The Yoga Sutras is that of Abhyasa (Effort) and Vairagya (Non-Attachment). These two come hand in hand. Abhyasa is effort towards steadiness of mind, the ultimate goal of yoga. If we want our minds to become clearer, steadier and stronger, it requires effort. Constant attention. A regular practice. However, as important as this devoted practice is, it must be paired with non-attachment. Practice without non-attachment can result in an inflated ego.

Like any elite athlete, a dancer doesn’t make it to the professional level without a great deal of practice and effort. Not only must we be physically strong, but we must cultivate an emotional and mental strength as well. Dance is a vulnerable profession and as dancers, we often attach ourselves to the outcome. Will we get cast in the piece? Will the choreographer give us a featured part? Does our dancing measure up to that of our colleagues? If we don’t practice Vairagya and let go of the identification with our egos, we block ourselves in reaching our full potential as artists.

Let’s take the yoga pose Adho Mukha Vrksasana, or Handstand, for example. This challenging inversion requires strength, stamina and an openness to going upside down. One does not just master this pose with no effort. One must work to build strength in the core, arms and upper back and begin to get comfortable with inverting. This requires effort and practice. Often it is a step by step process and does not happen right away. This is where Vairagya comes in. We must let go of attachment and be okay with wherever we are at in that process. Perhaps we use the wall to practice a modified version of the pose before progressing to doing the pose in the center of the room. Or perhaps the wall is where we stay and we never make it to the center of the room. Either way, we must not let our egos influence our choices, especially if it puts our bodies at risk. I love teaching yoga to BODYTRAFFIC dancers because I see them making choices based on what their bodies need on that particular day. Smart yogis I must say!

I have spent many years striving to reach perfection as many of us do, and over the course of my dance career, I have inevitably experienced challenges in the forms of uncertainty, self doubt, and a need for perfection. What has been so nurturing about yoga is that there is no perfect way to show up on my mat. I am encouraged to honor where my body is at and what it needs, remaining unattached to what a pose “should” be. Yoga for me is no longer just an experience in the studio. Yoga is a way of life.

* Photo credit: Nick Korkos