From Yoga To Dance... Another Perspective
By Kareena

Originally appeared in the March-April 1999 issue of YOGAChicago

In our last issue we printed a teacher profile, "From Dance to Yoga," about a dancer who became a yoga teacher. For yoga and dance teacher Kareena, it was the other way around. She tells her story.

My first introduction to yoga came in 1963-64 through a book entitled 28 Days to Yoga by Richard Hitleman.Then a senior at the University of Illinois working toward a degree in journalism and communications, I found time morning and evenings to study Mr. Hittleman's book and develop my own personal yoga practice.

After receiving my degree, I set out to explore the world. Packed my yoga practice in my bags and began a journey that would last about ten years and take me to Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Southeast Asia. I felt like a was on grant form the universe. Guides appeared when needed , taking me thru the deepest jungles of Borneo and the Amazon , into crowded bazaars and markets, to remote mountain top villages, allowing me to experience the multiude of realities that comprise our global village.

And one day in a village called Zuleta, high in the Equadorian Andes a brightly clad Indian woman whispered one simple sentence that would change my life.. "Eso es la realidad.." This is reality. She was referring to her village people dancing in their festival costumes. These hard-working people were observing their spring ritual, a time for celebration. Drunk and crazy from a week of revelry thier long hair flowed freely as they circled their bodies and stomped their feet to the beat of crude tambourines. and reed flutes. My brain was impregnated with a new idea... dance as path to self-realization.

Kareena strikes a Balinese "cat dance" pose where strict attention is paid to minute details. Even eye and finger movements are choreographed.

From the bare realities of South America my guides - in the form of fellow travelers and other fortuitous encounters - took me to the island of Bali where the movements of the dance were so mystical, divine and refined that I defied authorities to unofficially prolong my visit for two years. Classes in Bali were held in open wall huts. Everyone danced barefoot. Tea and clove cigarettes were offered at class breaks which were numerous. Village children snickered at my mistakes, politely covering their mouths. I dealt well with the snickering but the bad drinking water and spicey fried foods were getting to my liver. In spite of waning health I continued on with my obsession to master the dance and learn the secret to the supple, graceful Balinese spine.

I gave up my obsession with Bali, after the Indonesian authorities jailed me for overstaying my visa. So I traveled to Seville, Spain to study gypsy dances. I arrived in traditional Balinese sarong and kebbya, topped by long flowing hair and a white Panama hat, much like the ones worn by South American Indians. I was applauded with cheers and "Viva La Flamenca." The passion, fire and ego of gypsy dances were a real turnaround from the contained, non-personal dances of Bali. Another aspect of our global village. Dance with pride. Express laughter, sorrow, joy, love and anger...without shame. Be who you are. The path of self-realization. I began to understand how dance expressed cultural beliefs. My dream was to travel on to Senegal, Africa to experience yet another reality, but my ailing liver screamed....take me home.

Back in the U.S.A. I studied with African dance masters in California. My body would sweat profusely as my feet and torso danced out the rhythm of the drums. Africans dance was pumping chi through my liver and cleansing my lymph system. And it was lifting my buttocks and thighs as well as my spirits. My energy level was rising. To learn more about the energic system, I studied the Chinese Tao and chakras. I discovered that rhythm precedes breath. Africans bow to the drum as the great father that gives us life. Further studies of alternative health systems would soon prove to me that African dance is a powerful wellness technique.

Carrying substantial weight on the head helps lift the rib cage and straighten the middle spine, an remedial activity for spines hunched over from hours of driving or computer work.
I took my eclectic views to the mountains of Malibu and started teaching yoga and dance. Most of my clients were physically fit and had studied yoga. But many experienced difficulty with torso movements and rhythmic footwork. They wanted to improve their co-ordination. So I taught them how to isolate shoulder, neck and hips to the hypnotic sounds of a heart-like drumbeat combined with soothing ocean surf. The drumbeat relaxed their minds and opened their primal cortex. I added more isolations for the eyes, wrists, ankles fingers and every other joint the body owns. The completed program was called Yoga to Conga Drums.

Mastering middle torso isolations was the most challenging aspect of Yoga to Conga Drums. Mobilizing the chest and rib cage to open the heart chakra was difficult for bodies that had been taught to live mostly in their heads. For spines hunched over from endless driving and hours of computer work. So, I employed a basket carrying technique. My clients learned to wrap towels a la Balinese-style to balance baskets of fruits on their heads. Carrying substantial weight on their heads forced my clients to lift their rib cage to straiten the middle spine and take advantage of their full human potential...the ability to stand and sit strait. They vitalized their heart chakras and began mastering the graceful arm and hand movements of Balinese dance.

My client's progress showed me that an eclectic approach works best for the body, mind and spirit. No one ever gets bored. And everyone has fun. Rhythmic movement releases body tension by sending energy out. Yoga regenerates the vital organs by bringing energy in. Dance makes you happy. Yoga makes you calm. Dance is communal. Yoga is private. Dance is giving. Yoga is receiving. And life is a balance between the yang of giving and the yin of receiving. Yoga and dance are totally compatible.

In addition to teaching yoga-dance privately and at health clubs, I instruct at senior retirement homes. Seniors are my favorite. They attend with regularity and are more focused than the young and middle aged. They also have less ego, which enables them to enjoy yoga-dance more. Even those confined to wheelchairs tap their feet and sway with the music like children. And that's ultimately what spiritual paths are about....losing the ego and experiencing the bliss of just being you....."Eso es la realidad."

Kareena's classes in Santa Monica, Calif. at Hot Tub Fever circa 1980

click to view video Yoga to Conga Class

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