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by Ramaa Bharadvaj, CA,USA
Feb 2002

I am a dancer - that's what I have been all my life. When you are a dancer from India, actually when you are anybody from India, people attribute all kinds of images to you - you are a meditating divinity, a snake charmer, a fiery curry eating dragon, a floating vision of beauty, and of course a yogic contortionist.

Having mastered all the other aspects of the image (except the snake thing!) it was only this Yoga that stood in the way of my becoming the "perfect" Indian. So you can understand my determination to attempt this as well. That was 12 years ago. Of course I had no concept of what Yoga postures were all about, but then how difficult could they be?

I had vague memories of a cousin of mine in India when I was 12 or 13. This cousin, a tall strong looking handsome man, shocked the family by having a yoga master come home and teach him. I heard that he, and his new wife, could twist their legs over their head and balance their bodies on the palm of one hand and it was a mysterious ritual that they performed early in the morning. Now that I am all grown up, I can't imagine what fun they must have had, newly married and all, if you get my drift! My widowed aunt was of course totally against this "circus" as she called it. She was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the yoga master was a pervert who entered into homes of decent Brahmin families with the sole purpose of encouraging obscenity. She grumbled and moaned that the family was surely going to the
dogs when a woman lifts her legs in the presence of a strange man, and especially because her own husband encouraged this vulgarity! "This is not for family women" she would wail. I, on the other hand, developed a secret sense of admiration for my cousin and his wife. All this conflict was sufficient to fire up my desire to one day learn this contortionist art form that would make me too be different from all those other "family women".

So 12 years ago when my husband took me to meet my first yoga teacher in Irvine, California, it was like a dream come true. I thought that it would be a course that I would learn and then I could twist and contort and magically turn my body into rubber. Such self-confidence was not entirely my fault! The others in the yoga class were mainly responsible as they looked at me with awe and murmured to each other, and with great respect I must say, that since I am a dancer and all, this yoga would be a piece of
cake for me. So you can imagine my horror and embarrassment, when I realized after the first class that all my muscles and tendons were screaming at me, calling me all kinds of names that cannot be even be
mentioned here! As my yoga teacher would say, "you will be introduced to body parts that you did not even know you had". How true!

I went off and on to yoga class, sometimes inspired, sometimes determined, sometimes because I had nothing else to do that evening. I remember the first day that my forehead could touch my knee. I felt like celebrating. I learnt all about the importance of stretching and slowly started incorporating the stretches into my own dance training for my students. I attended yoga camps and started enjoying the peace and focus that it gave me (not to mention the magnificent breakfast concoction of bean sprouts &
raisins). I am beginning to appreciate the incredible ways that yoga can help dancers with our balance, poses, flexibility, centering and most importantly our breathing.

As an Indian dancer, I have been performing a yogic dance style all my life. I have always been in tune with my body, mind and spirit coming together when I dance. Yoga is teaching me to carry that "togetherness" into other areas of my life. I have always considered the dancer's body as a sacred temple in which God is invoked with every movement and gesture, with every story and poetry. Now that I have reached the big 40, the maintenance and upkeep of the temple seems as compelling and essential as
the invocation itself. I am also dazzled by all of life's possibilities - the glorious adventures that are yet to be invoked; the myriad things that I still want to accomplish and experience; the interesting "dances" that I am yet to perform on the largest arena possible - the arena of life itself! Yoga might not magically open doors for all those experiences. But it sure can help me keep my body and spirit ship-shape for the journey.

And who knows? Maybe one day I too, like my cousin (and his wife), will learn to twist my legs over my head and balance my body on the palm of one hand. When I get there, I aim to surprise my husband in our bedroom with my acrobatics! I am saving that for my big date on my 70th birthday!

Ramaa Bharadvaj the artistic director of Angahara Ensemble in California, U.S.A, is a renowned dancer, teacher and choreographer. She is the recipient of the Lester Horton Dance Award in L.A for Outstanding Achievement in Staging Traditional Dance, and was featured on the cover of Dance Magazine, the world's most prestigious Dance publication. She is also an actress, lyricist and writer and her writings have been published in numerous journals and magazines including SRUTI and Narthaki On-Line.

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