Brette Popper is the publisher and co-founder of YogaCityNYC, an online yoga magazine and directory. She is also a 500-hour certified instructor and the founder of Full Figured Yoga, a website on which she discusses her teachings and relationship to yoga as a spiritual practice. After spending 25 years in magazine publishing, Popper walked into a yoga class in 2001 and never looked back.
For Popper, yoga and dance are both similar and different. Yes, they are both founded in movement. But, if you look at their purposes, the main reason for dance is artistic self-expression, while yoga, she said, is not for self-expression but rather for self-inquiry.
But, practicing asanas — the physical postures of yoga — can aid with this process of self-inquiry, said Popper. Part of a popular theory among yoga practitioners is that if you become flexible and strong enough, you can “concentrate on the inner layers of your being,” she said. “If your container is strong, you can concentrate on your breath.” So, an emphasis on proper alignment in postures can enhance your ability to concentrate on the inner workings of your mind.
“Yoga is not creative expression. Yoga may enhance creative expression.”
Concerning classes that teach an amalgam of dance and yoga, she said that whether or not you can classify them as yoga depends on the practitioners’ intention. More often than not, she said, a dance student is not getting into positions in order to further their own “process of liberation.” They’re doing it so they can “look good for an audience, tell a story. Yoga is not about telling the story. Yoga is about getting beneath the story, and finding out what the deeper reasons for the story are.”
She added that many classes label themselves “yoga” that aren’t the true manifestation of the ancient teachings of yoga — which, for many centuries, was practiced with only a few simple asanas — because they’re strictly fitness-oriented, and don’t include spiritual aspects. These classes appeal to dancers, and many yoga teachers are dancers, because dancers are flexible and comfortable with their bodies. They look at the postures set forth by B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on Yoga, one of yoga’s seminal 20th-century works, and see that in order to do them, you have to be very flexible. Iyengar is credited with bringing yoga and its principles of alignment to the West.
“A lot of things that are called yoga, if they don’t have that aspect of self-inquiry, then it’s hard for me to see them as yoga,” said Popper. She added that while she sees health benefits in combining static yoga poses with movement, “I don’t think there’s a benefit per se to yoga poses being put into a dance performance.”