The Joy of Letting Your Yoga Dance

After 30 years of exercising sporadically, I finally seem to have made movement a habit in my life, like washing my hair. I hit the gym at least three times a week to do cardio and lift weights. The changes I’ve made in my body are noticeable. And yet, my gym workouts don’t do much for my inner life.

When I do yoga, I get more than a physical workout. I stretch and strengthen my muscles, and I also strengthen my connection to myself and to the Divine. But I don’t break much of a sweat in a yoga class, and I don’t always feel mentally challenged or connected to others in my class.

It’s hard to find a form of movement that exercises all the parts of us. That’s why Let Your Yoga Dance® is intriguing.

“The mission of Let Your Yoga Dance is to spread joy and consciousness throughout the world by transmitting body health, brain health, heart health, and soul health to all populations,” says Kripalu faculty member Megha Nancy Buttenheim, the founding director of Let Your Yoga Dance and my latest Kripalu Perspectives guest.

That’s a tall order, but in Let Your Yoga Dance, it’s the norm. The body, mind, emotions—even the soul—all get a workout. Megha describes Let Your Yoga Dance as “a moving celebration of spirit: a fusion of gentle yoga, user-friendly dance, breath, and meditation in motion, with music from around the world.”

The ancient yogic chakra system—the seven invisible, spinning currents of energy that reside in and around the body—forms the foundation of Let Your Yoga Dance. Throughout classes, Megha has dancers (“Everyone is a dancer,” she says, “not necessarily a professional dancer, but a dancer nonetheless”) get into yoga postures that relate to each chakra and then move those postures.

The first chakra, for instance, relates to the element of earth and is located at the tailbone. At the beginning of a Let Your Yoga Dance class, Megha has participants focus on their feet and legs, as well as the base of the spine. She might invite everyone in class to enter Mountain Pose, and then encourage them to move their Mountains in the way that feels best. The second chakra is related to the water element and is located in the sacrum and pelvis; the movement is focused in the hips and lower back. Megha might guide her students into preparation for Bridge pose, and then invite them to “turn their yoga into a dance of yoga.”

The dancers continue to move their yoga poses through all seven chakras. The benefits to the body are obvious because of the aerobic nature of the classes, and the emotional heart is strengthened along with the physical heart. “Dancers are asked to relate to one another during class,” Megha says, “and joyous human bonds are often made.” The brain—specifically the hippocampus—gets a workout, too, because students are sometimes asked to learn steps or patterns to repeat. And the soul is engaged when students enter into a “dance prayer” in the sixth chakra, “a slow moving meditation that touches the still, small voice that dwells within each of us,” says Megha.

Students with physical challenges can participate, because Let Your Yoga Dance can be practiced balancing on or sitting in a chair. Since 2007, Megha has been teaching the form to people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. “Some of them say, ‘Let Your Yoga Dance is like a drug for Parkinson’s, but the only side effect is joy!’” she exclaims. In Kripalu’s Certificate in Positive Psychology program over the last several years, Megha taught students how to embody character strengths like gratitude, love, humor, and creativity, using Let Your Yoga Dance as a tool. She describes the many layers of Let Your Yoga Dance and how it relates to Positive Psychology in her book, Expanding Joy.

Megha first wove together yoga, dance, and the chakras back in 1986, and she continues to be inspired by her students' experiences with the practice. Some regulars appreciate the increase in flexibility or muscle tone; others remark that they have more energy. But what she appreciates most is when students tell her that they are simply happier. “Let Your Yoga Dance ups the joy quotient like no other movement experience I know,” Megha says. “We have these wonderful ‘happy hormones’ inside us waiting to be released. When we’re flying across the floor with evocative music, the body, along with the mind, heart, and spirit, get to experience delight.”

Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing for more than 15 years, as a host, reporter, writer, and producer.

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