Dancing Yoga for Carnival
Carnival is a Catholic influenced European folk culture holiday celebrated all around the world. It’s an opportunity to indulge and have fun before the forty-day period of fasting for Lent.
To fast is to choose to go for periods of time without eating and/or drinking. Modern-day practitioners choose what they would like to give up, such as meat, caffeine, chocolate, or alcohol. Although some more serious believers will consume only water for this entire time period. In effort to deepen their spiritual practice, many Christians choose the time period of Lent, leading up to Easter, to observe the forty days that Jesus fasted in the desert.
Fasting is also a unifying practice of many ancient cultures including Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism. Fasting usually involves a moral commitment to purify the body and soul as well as increase God-consciousness. Now, modern-day science is confirming its power to transform us by boosting the immune system and detoxifying the body, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Saucha is one of the Niyamas from the Eight Limbs of Yoga, discussed in the ancient Indian text Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Saucha means cleanliness. Cleanliness indicates a sense of self-respect. On a basic physical level it applies to how we clean ourselves. This cleanliness also applies to they types of food and drink that we ingest inside of our bodies. We’ve all heard the popular phrase, “You are what you eat,” so the cleaner our food is, the cleaner we’re going to be inside and out. If you suffer from headaches, constipation, diarrhea, skin troubles, fatigue, irritability, excess weight, bloating or any other number of symptoms, your body needs to cleanse.
Historically, during the traditional cleansing forty days of Lent, partying and eating pleasurable foods like meat, sugar, fats, or alcohol are prohibited. Therefore, as early as the tenth century in Venice, Italy, before the abstention, entire communities came together to consume all of their remaining milk, butter, animal products, desserts, and alcohols so that they wouldn’t expire and go to waste during the fast.
This evolved into a festive time called Carnevale, which translates to “farewell to meat.” What is yin without the yang? Lent is a time for rejecting the body’s desires, but Carnival, like Tantra philosophy, involves embracing and merging the material and spiritual worlds. Carnevale celebrations grew throughout Europe during the middle ages and Renaissance. The indulgence begins on the Tuesday before the Sunday that Lent commences and has been given the name “Fat Tuesday” or “Mardi Gras” by the French.
Carnival typically involves lots of parades and parties. During this reversal ritual, standards about ideal social roles and conducts and are postponed. Extravagant costumes and masks allow folks to set aside their everyday personality and experience a heightened sense of social unity.
The Carnaval festival in Brazil is the most popular event of the year. In Rio de Janeiro it is “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Masquerade balls featuring the waltz and polka of the late ninetieth century evolved into the Samba through African slaves reveling in refuge from harsh conditions. The name samba comes from the Portuguese word sambar, which means ‘to dance to rhythm.’ It is a free-flowing style that can be performed solo or with a partner and to a variety of music. Now the Samba is the national dance of Brazil. Carnival is a chance for Samba schools of dancers to compete through elaborate routines that tell themed stories. Over a million spectators join together at the Sambadrome to observe, dance, and party on these days leading up to Lent each year.
The asana or postures portion of the yoga practice can feel like a dance. Vinyasa yoga connects movement with breath in flowing sequences of poses. When one flows through a conscious movement with complete concentration, the intention manifests and aligns through the divine within and around. Likewise Swami Kriyananda states, “yoga postures are the outward expressions of the inner movements of the soul.”
Practicing Bhakti Yoga, Yoga of Heart’s Devotion (or union of love and devotion), helps to tap into the inspiration to dance and move the body with the breath. A senior Anusara Yoga teacher, Sianna Sherman states, “Bhakti means whatever strikes your heart with beauty, whatever hits the mark of your heart and inspires you to just feel the love." It’s about creating a dynamic flow of energy from the heart chakra; to be motivated by love and the desire to live more in the heart.
Dance and Samba related yoga postures