Yoga is science.
Dance is art.
I had an interesting conversation with a colleague on my way home from work today. He is also a dancer (hailing from Malaysia, Singapore and now in Hong Kong) with a passion for yoga. At 23 he started his Yoga Teacher Training under a different studio and everyday at our dancers' warmup rehearsals our eyes would meet as we do our own take on yoga asanas to deepen our stretches. This of course, is different from the usual warmup for dancers as there are more twisting, binding and inverting as supplement. Sometimes we would catch each other practicing yoga in our gym during our break whereas our other colleagues are doing ballet, hiphop, jazz or contemporary classes in the main rehearsal hall. We are, after all, dancers first at work.
We both agreed ending up doing yoga in the long run as it is a more viable form of keeping active long after we choose to retire from performing. I know this to be true myself that's why I am giving myself a couple more years until I hit 30 when I finally decide to retire from the spotlight.*
My colleague, meanwhile, is five years younger than me. After dancing and teaching for many years as well as suffering from injury on both knees, he admitted that at this stage he is ready to transition to yoga and leave dancing behind. He prefers the internal aspects of the practice: inner peace, awareness, mindfulness. But make no mistake, he is capable of doing a lot of advanced poses. And as for dancing, well, he was "tired of it."
I was shocked because he was much younger than I was. I have been dancing for more than a decade and performing professionally for seven years. Dancing is tiring; and having it as a full-time job can be draining at times. It is a fact. We use the body as a tool and treat is as a machine. I've heard bodies of dancers start to decline after their mid-twenties, being more prone to injuries. In my case, doing the same routines for extended seasons and utilizing the same muscles, I have somewhat been feeling the toll that it takes on my body - my knees especially and my lower back.
This is where my yoga practice gives me an advantage. Practicing the poses that counterbalance the stresses in certain parts of my body, I can say that my lower back doesn't bother me anymore. And my knees have stopped complaining. I feel more fit than I have ever been. In fact, fitter than most of the women I know of my age.
The benefits of yoga are indisputable. Physically, mentally, spiritually. But in the course of my teacher training where I practice yoga every day, I began to notice some thing that was missing. A point that I was compelled to raise to my friend.
Self-expression. This was the important element that kept me see-sawing between yoga and dance. The more I do yoga and exhibit inner peace, the more I miss being physically expressive.
I'm taking this case as example: I went through a breakup with a guy I dated for around three months. We connected very well but realized there were things that we couldn't change about each other. How did I deal? I drowned myself in yoga training. Did it help? Not really. In the middle of meditation I was partial to ruminations. I would cry. Running was better at shaking it off.
And then one afternoon I was listening to a song. I felt myself moving, closing my eyes, rolling and turning on the floor, arching my back, swinging my head, kicking, pounding my fists. I felt so much better.
One night after I attended a contemporary class and learned a dance set to a sad, soulful song. The teacher was very encouraging and passionate as she relayed how each movement was supposed to feel. Like you want to say something, but you can't... you hold yourself like you're punched in the gut... like you're wrapping you arms around someone dearly and you're swaying together... you're alone... you're afraid....
I felt the tears well up my throat. I focused on keeping it down and instead just let it flow through my body. I danced with my eyes closed and it was cathartic.
I'm not ready to completely let go of dance just yet. There are plenty of things yoga can do, and there are plenty of things dancing can do in all the aspects of life.
I realize it now. Yoga and dance are my yin and yang.
This article was first published on June 30, 2014