Originally written by Zara M on 14 August 2013
I have to say that I found this week’s Yoga4Tango class to be somewhat more challenging than the first week. The experience of the class is so focused and intense, not to mention strenuous and fast-paced, that it is essential to bring your mind and your body to the class at their optimum levels of alertness. I was both hungover and fatigued from a socially hectic weekend, and I had blisters on the soles of my feet from dancing too much Tango in shoes that don’t agree with me!
Despite having to struggle through the class, I was glad to have experienced this because it brought to my attention the fact that engaging the mind and the body doesn’t just happen, you have to consciously work at it. It is hard work, and distractions can easily take over and make it easier to give up your focus.
When you come to a Yoga4Tango class you are dedicating your mind and your body to an hour and a half of focused and disciplined exercise, muscle engagement and relaxation. I find it quite strange to place the words ‘exercise’ and ‘relaxation’ in the same context, and especially strange to refer to ‘relaxation’ in terms of ‘focus’ and ‘discipline’. But I guess I am learning how to be relaxed yet conscious and present at the same time; alert and yet still; and how to engage my muscles to create strength and grounding, while also opening up my body and mind to enter a realm that is separate from the one I usually exist in (the one with all the external and internal noise I was talking about last week!) None of this is possible or easy when your mind is focusing on perceived weaknesses such as blisters on feet when you are trying to balance on them; it is about moving your mind past this, because it is not just feet we are balancing on, we are using the muscles in our legs and stomach, and aligning our bodies to create a sense of harmonic tension with the environment around us; and always breathing.
This week’s class began with the focus on developing our breathing technique, and understanding more about the concept of ‘grounding’ and being in control of the mind. The instructor acknowledged that as Tango dancers we are happy to project our minds and be creative, but it is important to be able to control the mind and rein it back in. Breathing helps to bring the body into the space the mind inhabits, and vice versa. When I was doing the breathing exercises I found that my attention shifted from the pain I was experiencing in my feet, and spread out to an awareness of other parts of my body. It felt like spreading out my attention almost diluted the once-magnified pain I thought I was experiencing. Interesting eh?
Developing a strong core is also important for good grounding, and learning to be aware of the various muscles in our bodies, especially the core muscles, when we are moving, helps to keep us balanced and strong. I find that because I am a fairly light person, I find it difficult to imagine that I can have any sort of presence or contribute any significant weight when I am dancing. Many partners have told me that I’m so light they can just whip me around the dance floor. I don’t particularly want to be whipped around the dance floor though! I would love to be able to stand my ground and be a force that is part of the dance, and that contributes towards it, rather than just being taken for a ride. Weight doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how grounded you are or how much force and presence you have when you are dancing.
For example, you might be on the heavier side and just “drop” into each step with your weight making you feel a lot more work to dance with, or you might be like me, much more feathery, but your partner will feel like they are dancing by themselves. When you dance Tango, you want to feel a connection with your partner. It might be a very subtle connection, or it might contain a lot more springy energy, but either way, there are fibers of energy connecting you both which is what makes a Tango dance feel wonderful. Yoga4Tango is making me realise that I don’t need to be a passive dancer just because I am lighter in weight, I just need to be more mindful of what I have at my disposal – I can control my body by grounding it with my mind and being aware of the muscles I am using, and also the space my body is inhabiting and how my body uses its muscles to move through that space and interact with anything it comes into contact with.
An important and rather interesting point I picked up on in the class is that the necessity for having a strong core and working the muscles in your stomach in Tango in order to remain grounded and be able to move fluidly is debatable. The instructor suggested instead that our balance and movement comes from how we align and ground our bodies, which is where the exercises we have been practicing come in.
I was also inspired by the instructor’s encouragement for us to use gravity to ground our bodies into the earth Often the instructor’s assistant who circles the room helping to correct people’s poses and body alignment, will come along and spread my fingers wide and push the palms of my hands firmly into the ground with her own, or she will pull my feet and stretch the joints to extend my limbs and encourage me to take up all the space my body has at its disposal. It reminds me of how good it feels when I am dancing Tango and I remember to extend the whole of my leg, engaging the muscles in my thighs and using them them to push my weight into the step when I am being walked backwards around the dance floor. It feels good because I am asserting my presence and taking up the space that is mine, and I don’t have to be particularly heavy or strong to do this, just confident and open, using gravity and the energy in and around me.
Which also relates to something else the instructor mentioned in the class. He told us to feed off the energy in the room, and explained that it is less challenging to practice Yoga in a class full of other people doing the same thing than it is if you are by yourself, because you have the energy bouncing around the room from everyone else. Sharing energy when dancing is essential to create connection and rhythm and lots of yummy springy movement, so I am not surprised that you can also feed off other people’s energy when practising Yoga.
I could probably write a lot more on these topics, but I have to round it up now. I will leave you with one more inspiring comment the instructor made which has allowed me to view things differently. He said that you can get to the stage where you can practice yoga without having mirrors surrounding you to check the positioning of your body, because it is more about “feeling” the pose and “listening” to your body. When I dance Tango and I am truly absorbed and engaged with my partner and the movement of our bodies, I dance with my eyes closed, and you know what? It always works far better! This goes to prove that the mind and the body have a very special relationship indeed. I can’t wait for next week’s class – I will be bringing my mind and my body to it in perfect condition this time!