Kathak Yoga: Meditation in motion

This new-age kathak is a fusion of dance, exercise and spirituality

Pt Chitresh Das in a Kathak Yoga poseKathak yoga is an innovation within the tradition of kathak. It is a new concept and I have been experimenting and practising it for the last 12 years. Normally, a dancer dances with accompanists who play the instruments. In kathak yoga, the dancer is empowered, as s/he recites the tala, plays the tabla and executes with precision the complicated footwork—all at the same time.

It's a union of the mind, body and soul and hence the name kathak yoga. Just dancing to the percussions of a tabla is different. But picking up a 2.3kg dumbbell and lifting it above the head in place of a damaru hastak [hand gesture] while playing the tabla is something no other dance form involves.

You can even throw in a challenge, like I do—I throw the dumbbell up on a beat and catch it on the following beat. This is difficult, but it builds tremendous endurance and stamina and you need to possess the determination and will to achieve this.

Exercise with self-expression

Kathak yoga is a perfect example of mind-body co-ordination. It is a cardiovascular exercise which engages every cell in the body. When the dancer is singing, keeping a steady pace and the mind is completely focused and relaxed, the heart starts pounding along with the feet. And when you raise your arms above your head, especially when I am holding a 2.3kg dumbbell; the heart rate automatically speeds up. It is not just a cardiovascular exercise, but also a breathing exercise as it requires the dancer to concentrate and control the breathing because s/he is singing. When you perform, you start perspiring, thus eliminating toxins out of your system. You start feeling light and that is where the healing process begins. Then you slowly begin to go into a meditative state. Kathak yoga is currently the subject of a doctoral dissertation at Harvard University by Dr Sarah Morelli.

Dance, not just a workout

Although it incorporates exercise, it is more dance than a workout. It is an art form as it involves dance and self-expression. It is yogic in the sense that it was inspired by the great yogis and sanyasis. As a child, I once saw a yogi standing in the cold water of river Ganga on one leg holding a stone above his head. I derived great inspiration from him.

Kathak yoga is difficult and requires a lot of practise. Hence currently, there are few who are doing it and it is slowly gaining popularity. However, the form is not restricted to people who know kathak, it can be learned by anyone. In fact, even a person with disability [depending on what the disability is] can learn it as it can be modified. Although the feet are the focal point in kathak yoga, the dance form can also be practised with other body parts such as the face—I sometimes use only the eyebrows and abhinaya [acting]. But you can tap your toes even while sitting. It is a co-ordination of the left and the right, breathing, and organic mental mathematics.

Mind and soul

Kathak yoga is a complete mind, body and spirit experience. With the contemplation of precise footwork and breathing, you are in complete harmony with self.  That is where the dance becomes a form of meditation and the process of transformation begins. I feel it is pure bhakti [devotion].

This was first published in the August 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Pandit Chitresh Das
Pandit Chitresh Das is popularly known as 'fastest feet in rhythm'. He has received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts-the highest honour bestowed by the US government for a traditional artist [2009]. He was featured in the BBC Series "Eighty Treasures Around the World", and in the PBS series "Indians in America".

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