Updated: Oct 5, 2020
You know that blissful dancing moment when you move with your partner with such fluidity it feels like you may as well be dancing on clouds? One move blends swiftly into the next without any thought, just muscle memory and a lightness that carries you both to the sweet sounds of the violin, the march of the bandoneon, the earthiness of the bass, and the delightful frills of the piano.
This type of dancing occurs when we are completely present in the moment and in tune with the sensation of our bodies. There is no room for thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow to creep in. It is a state of pure flow.
I hope this picture I just painted did not make you too nostalgic for days when tango bliss was more readily accessible. It is wonderful that the shift to online classes has enabled us to stay connected to tango during these corona times, but you and I both know that what we really miss and crave is the magic that happens at the milonga.
I have some good news for you, though, my tango dancing friend.
While finding a flow state in tango may be out of the question for many at the moment, that doesn’t mean that it cannot exist through another type of body movement. When I started practicing yoga I was immediately drawn towards the vinyasa flow style of yoga because of its dance-like nature. I found that as my body grew strong and flexible with regular practice, I was able to move from pose to pose with more ease and grace. As my body began to familiarize itself with the poses that came up often, and I stayed present to my experience, I began to enter into a europhic flow state more and more often. When a new, unfamiliar pose came up in a class it felt just like that moment your partner throws in an unexpected, but welcome surprise in the dance. Your body has some notion of what it is to do but it is accompanied by all sorts of new sensations.
While I don’t listen to tango during my yoga practice, I often take classes where the teachers put on music, and soon the combination of the playlist in the background and their voice guiding me through the postures becomes that driving force behind the way I move - just like hearing tango music brings an eagerness to my feet.
Although in tango it is the bandoneon that acts as that “breath” which precedes motion, in vinyasa yoga, your own breath guides your movement. An inhale as you move into a pose, and an exhale as you move out of it. Inhale as you rise, exhale as you fold. This connection of breath to movement is as essential in vinyasa as are the transitions in between postures. In fact, the Sanskrit meaning of vinyasa is to place in a special way, as in the arrangement of notes in a raga, or the linking of postures in a vinyasa sequence.
Although “taking a vinyasa” refers to a specific sequence of postures that are repeated throughout, there is an infinite combination of poses that can create a sequence for a vinyasa class, just as there are an infinite amount of combinations of tango steps, each creating a new dance. Even if you repeat the same yoga sequence several times, the way it feels and what it produces in you is entirely dependent on your present state of being, just as no two dances are alike, even if you dance the same figure over and over again, with the same partner.
Now I know that the movement of two bodies together is something unique to the tango experience and unless you start doing acro-yoga you likely will not find this in your yoga practice. However, the aspect of connection we all crave from our dance experience is very much inherent in yoga. The word yoga actually means union.
While flexibility and strength are nice benefits, the actual goal of yoga is to achieve this sense of union. To put it in the most cliche terms, “to feel one with everything.” This is achieved not just through stretching or the physical asana practice, but also through mindfulness, detachment, self-study and other aspects described in Patanjali’s eight limb path to yoga.
Although this might seem daunting and perhaps impossible to dedicate ourselves to in our modern world - let’s face it, we can’t all live out the rest of our lives on a peaceful mountain top meditating for 8 hours a day - I really like Darren Main’s modern approach to the 8 limb path described in his book, Yoga and The Path of the Urban Mystic. I highly recommend this read for anyone looking for a deeper experience of yoga without a huge lifestyle change.
Feeling connection, however, does not need to be a long, complicated process. When we practice inviting emotions of compassion and gratitude into our lives as we do often in yoga, we can feel an incredible closeness with others, even if that person is not physically in our presence. Finding a sense of balance and grounding through yoga can provide us with that similar feeling of comfort and security we may find in a good tango embrace. And perhaps most importantly, connecting with ourselves by getting to know who we truly are is what creates the foundation of profound connection with another.
Do you see any other common ground between the flow of vinyasa yoga and the tango flow? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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