A weekend of Nrtta Sadhana

Last weekend I spent three mornings at an introductory workshop for Nrtta Sadhana with Emma Balnaves. Nrtta (pronounced sort of like nritta) Sadhana, developed and taught by Zhander Remete and Emma, is a yoga style that can be considered a progression from Shadow Yoga; Emma was very careful to describe N.S. as a separate practice to Shadow Yoga (in no way able to be combined in a single practice) but at the same time something like "a next step" after it.

I would describe nrtta sadhana as subtle, close, introspective — in comparison to shadow yoga being gross, wide, expansive. Etc. Some of those words were Emma's and I can't really do justice to the explanation she gave. The gist is that having worked on the outer body, focussing on large movements, the next step is to move inwards, using smaller and closer physical movements to keep the mind more tightly focused.

But what does it mean to say that nrtta sadhana is a progression from shadow yoga? Frequently throughout the workshop, Emma referenced to and used as analogy aspects of the shadow yoga prelude forms to describe how a nrtta pose should work or feel. And as sibling practices, overlaps in style means anyone who is comfortable in shadow yoga should appreciate the flow of nrtta sadhana. Strengths obtained in shadow yoga are used in nrtta sadhana and weaknesses not yet overcome will reveal themselves.

Nrtta Sadhana consists of some 32–36 forms, which share little in common with what is generally found in current western yoga practices. Nrtta Sadhana was taught to Zhander by a sadhu in India, and its forms are depicted in ancient temples there; Nrtta Sadhana can be considered a reincarnation of an ancient practise rather than a new form of yoga. Not plucked out of thin air, so to speak.

It doesn't make sense to try and write down a description of the physical aspects of nrtta sadhana; aside from its complexity, it is something that can only be learned in person. In broads terms, though, one major component in nrtta sadhana is in careful and delicate movements and placement of the upper extremities, which are often neglected in other yoga practices. As one might expect, this brings a very different "energy" to the practice over other forms of yoga (incl. shadow yoga); I am distinctly aware of this difference in my own practice even in my limited exposure so far.

The introductory workshop taught us three complete forms which I understand are the first three "palms" of the eight palms workshop, which are taught over nine days in more comprehensive workshops. Other nrtta sadhana forms again are taught in complementary workshops. It's not clear to me whether anyone knows the complete set besides Emma and Zhander. (I didn't want to ask too many questions on my first time.)

Indeed, this is a concern that's been expressed to me by some shadow yoga students I've spoken to — what's the point of doing a nrtta sadhana workshop if you can't attend classes for it except when Emma or Zhander is in town? There are two responses to this: firstly, (and these are my own words, here) since nrtta sadhana is so introspective I believe the benefit of self practice is of far more import. Secondly, I'm pleased to report that from circa 2013 Emma and Zhander are allowing select of their shadow yoga instructors to also teach nrtta sadhana. Whether Your-Local-Shadow-Yoga-Teacher will add it to their teaching repertoire is another question, but it opens the horizons for the practice.

So what was the workshop like as an attendee? Exhausting. Fantastic. The first day was the most physically demanding, and the last day the most mentally. As I mentioned above, I can't attempt to describe the different activities performed and practised, but a summary could be:

  • Day one: introduction and warm-ups
  • Day two: form one and half of forms two and three
  • Day three: forms two and three and putting them all together

We were instructed/encouraged/impelled to practise on our own each afternoon except after the last day (nice to have a rest!), and then every morning for two weeks to allow the work to properly sink in. Surprisingly to me, it actually has managed to imprint itself quite well in my brain already, and I'm enthusiastic to keep up the practice. After a few days on my own, I'm still recalling details that I'd seemingly forgotten.

Emma Balnaves is an excellent teacher. Clear and passionate, she guided each session (physical and discussion) with humour while keeping all firmly on track. I would love the privilege to take another workshop with her in the future. Unfortunately, my schedule doesn't line up with theirs for the entire year! So it may have to be some time before I can.

On a personal note, I found I had two main areas of weakness: the flexibility of my hips (of course; as always) and the flexibility of my big toe (!). By all accounts these areas of the body are energetically linked, so I expect both to loosen up in tandem with (lots and lots of) work.

My year in 2012 is going to be hectic and exciting, and I'm hoping to use nrtta sadhana to keep me sane and energised. Thanks once again to Emma for having me at such a fine workshop.