The more I write these blogs the more apparent it has become to me that they turn out to be a great way for me to confess all sorts. So here goes my latest confession........my name is Bandhana and I watch Strictly Come Dancing (SCD).
I have even begun to notice a pattern. The contestants are announced, many of whom I don’t recognise, so I decide to give it a miss this year. Then comes SCD week 1 and I find myself alone in a darkened room, curtains shut, sitting at the edge of my seat with anticipation wearing an off the shoulder red dress made of tassels and sequins.
I am addicted to many things about this show, the cringe worthiness of Bruce and Tess, the dresses, the make up, the bodies (the professional bodies that is), the effort and the energy involved, the judges, especially Craig Revel Horwood and the transformations from novice to someone who knows that guapacha timing is an alternative rhythm of various basic cha-cha steps and not cold soup.
Most of all, I am seduced by the similarity between dance and yoga. Of course, there is no perfect posture in yoga, no competition and certainly no judging. There are no ‘seVENs’. But when it comes to yoga, the judges’ comments could just as well be directed to describing Warrior II as the Viennese Waltz.
So food for thought, I have listed some of the judges’ comments from Series 11 (2013) that could apply to yoga.
Starting with one of my favourite comments and one that came up time and time again on the show, ‘Your head at times did not look like it belonged to your body’ and staying with the head ‘What lets you down in the Tango is the direction of your head’ and ‘Your chin got stuck to your chest’. I have observed this many times in yoga, in Savasana (corpse pose) when the head is not in line with the midline of the body and it is tilted either to the left or the right or the chin is too high or too low, creating tension in the neck. In standing forward bends where occasionally there is a fear of letting go of the head, in Trikonasana (triangle) and in other twists where the head looks disconnected.
Another key area is the top-line, where there are some great judges’ comments. Apologies in advance for any that sound un-yogic but remember these are not my comments:
‘You looked like the hunchback of Notre-Dame’ referring to the posture in hold,
‘Your posture was ghastly, you looked like the leaning tower of Pisa’
‘You do have to fix the top-line, so you do not get any bounce in the top-line’, (Deborah’s Quick Step)
‘Only your top-line is letting you down.....lovely extensions but use your shoulders and upper body so that you get more stretch’
‘Open up the shoulders and give yourself more ability to use the neck’
‘Lift out of the waist and ribs’,
‘Your butt stuck out, your shoulders were up which resulted in a lost neck’
‘Your loosing your neck - don’t turn into a tortoise’,
‘Slide those shoulder blades down, that would create much better form’,
‘You are squashed in your frame, pull out of your waist by lifting your diaphragm’,
Here the judges could be referring to a number of postures like Mountain Pose, Warrior I & II. As a yoga teacher, in class I might ask you to lengthen and extend your spine away from your hips (stretched upper body), raise your arms and melt your shoulders away from your ears, drop your shoulders (Slide those shoulder blades down, that would create much better form). In most, if not all yoga classes, you will hear the yoga teacher repeatedly ask you to ‘melt the shoulder blades down your back’. Downward dog, Warrior I, Warrior II, Triangle, Upside Down handstand, to name a few.
And then there are the shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. Judges’ comments included:
‘Your right thumb looked odd. Hand shaping needs attention’,
‘When the arm goes up don’t raise the shoulder so you look like you have no neck’,
‘Hands are a bit spastic’,
‘When you turn you use the right shoulder - try to use the whole of the back’,
‘Work on the details - feet, hands’,
‘Be careful with the free hand’
‘Arms loose discipline a bit’,
‘Your wrists looked like they were broken - they should be flat’,
‘Hands - you need to know where they are’,
‘Starting to extend some lovely lines’,
‘Free arm placement is much better’,
‘Arms - much cleaner, more precise’,
‘You have to work on your hands - they are absolutely ruining the line of the dance’, (Mark: American Smooth),
‘You over-extend the arms - bring it in a bit’,
‘Your left hand looked like the wrist was broken - you need to straighten that out’,
‘Extend those lines, go with the flow’,
Here’s one comment that once it clicks for you will make a huge difference to the spacious you create inside your body and to the way you gracefully move into a posture:
‘When the arm extends out - the shoulder instigates the move - then lead through the elbow to the wrist’.
This gives me the opportunity to use a big word, proprioception. The web definition is ‘the ability to sense the position and location and orientation and movement of the body and its part’ or in other words proprioception is having a sense or an awareness of your body in space without looking. Most of us have lost this ability because we have, for whatever reason, disconnected from our physical bodies. Yoga helps us to reconnect. Taking one of my favourite postures, Warrior II, once you have your foot placement, you have to think about the pelvis, the torso, has it moved forward? Where’s the front knee, where are shoulders, do you need to melt the shoulder blades down your back? Where are the arms, the front arm is easy as you can see it but where is the back arm, what about the back wrist and hand? Are you starting to extend some lovely lines?
If you have ever watched SCD, you will know it is as much about skimpy outfits and shirtless men as it is about dancing and who can blame them when you have a ‘six pack’ or washboard abs.
Three comments from the judges’ jumped out at me:
‘Use your core strength for transitions’
‘It goes unstable’
‘You looked like a gorgeous rag doll, there was absolutely no control. The worse thing is your balance. It looks like your going to drop any minute. You need to work on your core strength’.
When I tell people I am a yoga teacher, I get two standard responses. The first one ‘I am not flexible enough to come to yoga’ and the second one ‘oh yoga, just some stretching and people sitting around breathing’. However, anyone who has practiced yoga will know how much core strength you need to transition from Plank to Four-limb Staff posture. That’s the one when you come half way down from plank without falling flat on your face! Or how much core strength you need to balance in Half Moon and indeed all balances including Headstand and Handstand. Yoga gets the ‘fire in the belly’ firing from deep inside out, giving you a more defined ‘six pack’ than a hundred sit-ups a day.
From belly to the hips, knees and feet, Judges’ comments include:
‘More hip action’,
‘You cannot step your feet.....you need to drive through the feet’,
‘You need to be sharper on the kicks and flicks - one comes from the hip and one from the knee’,
‘It was very laboured. You need to be lighter on the feet’,
‘Hip action drives the foot placement’,
‘Very flat footed - no hip action’,
‘No swivel on the feet’,
‘Get on the balls of your feet’,
‘Need to point your toes’,
‘Stepping out on the ball rather than the heel of the foot’,
‘Better placement of your feet’,
‘Straighten your legs’,
‘Soften the knees for more glide’,
‘Your feet are in the wrong place at all the wrong times’,
‘Good isolation on the bum rolls’,
‘feet flexed, they should be pointed’,
‘Kicks and flicks need to be sharper. You nee core’,
‘Drive through the dance - keep the flow’,
‘Good leg action, nice feet’,
‘Don’t lower your knees - you need to keep knees in same place, plonking your body down very heavily on all the finishes’,
‘Loosen up a bit’, Ben (Rumba)
‘I saw areas of fluidity and even a little hip rotation’,
‘It needed a little more double bounce action’,
‘Good technique with the foot work’,
‘You messed up your foot work and you sometimes stopped driving the dance’,
‘Hip rolls were great’,
‘Occasionally heavy on the feet’,
‘Fantastic rise and fall full of grace and elegance’,
In yoga, everything starts from the foundation and moves upwards. The feet or more to the point the four corners of the feet. Grounding through these points rebounds the energy back up through the feet to the knees to the hips. Driving through the feet is the difference between a standing posture full of vitality and one that is lacklustre or one that looks stuck in the hips.
A couple of great judges’ comments:
‘You have to have confidence in yourself - faith in yourself - its all there’. This is yoga.
‘The look of concentration in your face was startling - you need to smile’.
And some beautiful comments:
‘You speak with the whole of your body’,
‘Fluidity and expressiveness of hands and arms, flicker of wrist , every move has a story’,
‘You capture the essence of the dance’,
And finally to end with a quote,
'Yoga is a dance between control and surrender - between pushing and letting go - and when to push and when to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your being' Joel Kramer, author of The Passionate Mind : A Manual for Living Creatively with One's Self.