This is a re-posting from August 11, 2011.
Bellydancers can benefit from including yoga into their personal fitness routine, and one way this is evident is in floor work. Floor work is an aspect of the dance that seems to be making a bit of a comeback very recently. At least, after seeing virtually zero floor work for about a decade or more, I have suddenly seen a few routines making an appearance in various shows over the last couple of years, and “how to” floor work DVDs are starting to appear on the market. Bellydancers in North America used to do floor work regularly in the 1970s & 80s. It was part of what used to be called the “standard 5- or 7-part restaurant routine. More on that in another posting.
Anyway, back to yoga. My yoga practice ebbs and flows, and sometimes I just don’t feel like working with my DVDs. Instead, I’ll spend some time on my mat just working through poses that I enjoy, trying out poses that I see in magazines or online journals, or working on poses that focus on areas I need to build strength or flexibility in (personal challenge poses). I have weak wrists, and there are some poses I simply can’t do because my wrists do not support me. I also don’t do the sword work that I’d like to do because the weight of the sword causes pain in my wrists, making practice difficult. In a fitness assessment last June, I scored low in the upper body strength category. That wasn’t a surprise, but it did cause me to refine my fitness plan. As a result, I’ve started to incorporate some movements to stretch & strengthen my wrists, arms & shoulders into my yoga routine. I’ve also added working with light weights, but I’m not as dedicated to that practice yet.
One of the personal challenge poses that I’m working on right now is the upward plank (purvottanasana). This pose strengthens the wrists, arms & hamstrings and is also a heart-opener (stretching the shoulders & chest). By the way, Purvottanasana translates as “intense Eastern stretch” in Sanskrit (the front of the body being the “eastern side” and the back of the body the “western side”). For some reason, that just tickles my little raqs sharqi (eastern dance) heart! I love word associations!
The upward plank pose is challenging for me to do with good form. Start by sitting with your legs together in front of you, toes pointed. Hands are behind you with your fingers pointed towards your bum. Press down through your hands and engage your legs to lift your hips into the air. Your wrists should be directly under your shoulders. Your arms and legs should be straight. Relax your bum without letting the hips drop, and let your hamstrings & arms do the work. Ground all 10 toes and gently tilt the head back. If you can’t do it without “cheating” & using your glutes, then sit back up and bend your knees before pressing up into reverse table top position. When you’ve built some strength in your hamstrings, you can begin work on the full upward plank again. You’ll see right away why this is a good strength builder for wrists, arms & legs!
As a bellydance floor work movement, you can layer belly rolls & flutters onto the upward plank pose, being mindful to not allow your hips to drop. To recover, lower the hips back to the floor. Cross one ankle over the other and roll towards your audience onto your side, supporting your torso with the downstage arm. From here you can lift into full or partial side plank for more isolations if you choose (another powerful arm strengthener) or keep your side-hip on the floor as you focus on performing mesmerizing hand & arm movements with your free arm. To sit up, bend the knees & swing the legs around to kneeling. (Be mindful to not offer your audience any crotch shots. Always dance side-on or at a diagonal when on the floor.)
If you are balancing something on your head such as a sword, cane or water pot, you want to be very mindful of your balance & center. So, as you roll over, be sure to start the roll from the foot. Think of it like gently “wringing out” your body. The turn starts from the ankle and then proceeds through the lower leg to the inner thigh; then the hip turns, followed by the waist, the breast, the shoulder, turning the head last.
Here is a lovely photo ofAndrameda in purvottanasana, balancing a very heavy sword on her chin. She did some stomach isolations, followed by lovely snaky cross-over steps with her feet from this position. I hope everybody was suitably impressed with the strength required to do this movement and especially with the ease and grace with which she executed it! Brava, Andra, you make it look so effortless!