January 15, 2014

The Little Dance Your Body Does

I’m still working on getting a regular rhythm down for yoga, but I am getting in at least one full session with the video a week, and am trying to integrate the 20-minute warmup from the video more often. It’s not only less time to set aside, but I can do it and go straight to bed, where the full hour and a quarter (which includes both centering and meditation) gives me a burst of energy and must be done a couple of hours before I go to bed, and I have to have a fairly solid meal afterwards, too. I have a hard time breaking myself away from whatever I’m doing, partly because depression lends itself to inertia and partly because the things I’m usually doing have few natural stopping points.

But yoga feels really really good to me.

Megan, the teacher on the video, talks about “the little dance your body does” to stay in a pose that requires balance. The small twitches, sways, and corrections necessary to hold those poses, like table balance and tree pose. Over time, my core muscles and others will strengthen from that, but the balance is always dynamic and always includes some motion, even if it’s not necessarily visible to anyone watching. Or not as visible as it is with a beginner.

That little dance, that dynamic tension and balance, that push and pull, is meaningful to me symbolically as well as physically. Last week, I spent a day on the Deuces in my lateral tarot study, and that balance and tension is a part of those cards. It’s also a part of keeping one’s life in balance — a balance I’ve never been very good at, and it’s all the more meaningful to me for that.

In high school, the students who had been previously tracked into “gifted” classes suddenly just had seminars ever couple of months. The teacher who gave them was the wife of the man who had taught history in junior high to many of us, and she knew who we were and had heard many stories about us. Her first seminar, she tried to teach us juggling, as a metaphor for how difficult it might be for us to keep everything going now. It was one of those “foolproof” methods that supposedly anyone could learn, and it all started with learning to drop the ball — or, since this was Florida, a piece of citrus fruit; with my little hands, a lemon — in just the right way. And I couldn’t do it. I could not get over the basic must not drop things impulse in order to let that damn lemon fall out of my hand. And so I could not learn to juggle. The teacher just could not get over it. I was the only person she had ever met who could not learn to drop a piece of fruit competently. The next day, by chance, she visited her husband’s class, and my brother was in it. She told him, “Your sister is the only person I have ever met who could not learn to juggle. At all.” And he just went, “Yep, that’s my sister.” I laughed that night when he told me, too.

But that’s an accurate extension of the metaphor. I am not good at juggling many things in my life, not good at finding a good balance, although I work at it. I tend to throw myself into one thing to the exclusion of others. Either I work full time and more, and that’s nearly all I do, or I’m very social, and that’s nearly all I do, or I’m home and depressed and barely go out or see anyone, or whatever. Running the restaurant, which consumed everything and left an enormous hole in me when it closed, was only the most extreme example of this. It’s not good for me, but it’s what I tend to do. I struggle against it as much as I can, but it’s very tiring for me.

That’s not all the “little dance” means to me.

According to Euripides and other sources, the first Maenads, the first women who followed Dionysos and performed the ecstatic Bacchic rites, came out of India with him, where he had been exiled for a time (and where he eventually went back, and conquered some people, and built a bridge, and other things). When he came back to Magna Graeca, the area over which the Greek culture extended, through not only Greece but also Turkey and a number of places between and around, they were the ones who taught the mysteries and the sacred dances to the Hellenic women who came to follow. This would have been long before Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutra, but not before the first disciplines of yoga were created and practiced. Surely some of those first Maenads knew them, and likely tantric practices as well. I like to think so.

This gives me a way to connect a yoga practice to my worship of Dionysos. It’s somewhat problematic, of course, since it’s taking yoga out of its own context and connecting it with a European one, and because of the story of Dionysos being a conquerer in India (although he did not stay or hold any part of India, but gave it back; I still haven’t tracked down why he did it). Still, I feel that I can honor the background of those first Maenads, my spiritual forebears, by attempting to practice as they might have, and to grasp for some small part of what they brought to the worship of the new young god. It is not a thing that I would teach, or write for a wide audience about, or even write very deeply about except for myself. But it’s there, a part of my private practice.

And so I try to see that “little dance” as a Dionysian dance, an ecstatic dance in my god’s honor, a dance that feeds my body and soul as one. It strengthens my body for other dances, yes, but it is a dance in its own right, a dance of celebration and release. In the midst of the struggle to hold the posture correctly, making sure that the right muscles are engaged, working not to fall over, it can be hard to keep track of. But when I am done, I can feel the satisfaction, cleansing and joy that comes with having been dancing for Bacchus.