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ABHYAS SOMATICS       |       BARPS        |        YOGA

What is Abhyas Somatics?

Somatics is derived from the Greek word ‘soma’, meaning ‘the body in its wholeness’. The somatic practice developed by Navtej Johar at Studio Abhyas, firstly involves a fine scanning of the body to register sensory-prompts that are constantly erupting within the body.

And then to see how these random promptsmay in turn effect shape, stance, posture, feeling, breath, gaze, and subsequently affect. Recognizing and playing with the correspondence that pertains between shape and emotionality on one hand and,the psychological condition and spirituality on the other, lies at the core of this practice.

The somatic practice at Abhyas draws from both yoga andIndian dance. It is modelled upon the yogic vision of the ever-changing body, a body made up of the five elements (bhootas), comprising of gunas, doshas, vayusor tendencies and energies, each causing the body to move and shift in accordance to their specific proclivities.  And entails the effective tempering of these variablesin order to orchestrate a condition of sukhaor a pleasurablerepose within the body-mind.  Johar considers this condition of sensorial sukhaas a prerequisite to transformation. The sukha experience within this practice, however, is also parallelly contingent upon rasa,the aesthetic experience, that is born out of suggestion. Thus, the flow of word-imagery is integral to it.

The method involves the guiding of attention in an unhurried and uncensored manner upon the never-still body, suggesting shapes, chance-movements, awareness, emotion and affect all toflow in tandem.  Apart from fostering wellbeing,it also hopes to allow the practitioner the felicity to craft an authentic movement vocabulary, engendering a “sensory authority” that makes the practioner move with adhikar or autonomy and ownership.
Bracing: Just as pranayama is described as “mindful breathing”, we define asana as “mindful contact with the floor”. Our first objective is to brace one end of the body firmly against the floor, offering it sthirata or anchorage so it can be effectively elasticised by being stretched in the opposite direction.

Aligning: The pull in the opposite direction, however, requires alignment of the joints in order for the stretch to be safe and effective. For this the major joints that are involved in the construction of the asana need to be strung together and the vertebrae to be stacked one atop the other with some measure of precision and alignment.

Rotating: Joints are knob shaped and have a tendency to rotate at will depending upon the slack or tautness in the musculature of the body. It is important to become aware of their proclivity and orientation within the constraints of a specific shape or asana, and then learn to subtly self-regulate their rotation order to tease and ease the body deeper into the asana. This skill and freedom, to self-regulate the shape and efficacy of an asana from the inside, fosters autonomy in asana.

Poising: The articulation of a stretch finally requires a determined moment of poise, a still “look before you leap” moment. It is exactly here that the mind and the breath may be gently ushered into the asana, making the practice more attentive, attuned, absorptive, spacious, and reposeful.

Stretching: The body anchored, aligned and autonomously calibrated, and the breath and mind reflexively poised, the cohesive unit comprising of body, breath and mind is ready to commandingly stretch and establish the breathing-body in a safe, fulsome and pleasurable asana.

The aim of the BARPS® method is to ensure safety, promote efficacy of the asana, and to offer the body/mind promised experience of sukha and sthira. And, most of all, make the practitioner the master of her/his practice!

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Why Somatics?

“Somatics is the field which studies the soma: namely the body as perceived from within by first-person perception” (Thomas Hanna, 1995). Ofcourse, it is much more than that, but let us just stick to this definition for now as it is highly pertinent.

One of the main reasons that I have been invested in devising and now propose to offer an Indian somatic practice is because I strongly feel that the self has been systematically evicted out of our embodied practices of yoga and dance (I here refer to what I know best, i.e. Bharatanatyam and yoga). Both the practices have been categorically cleansed and reconstructed as per the norms of Victorian morality as well as acquired modernity not more than a century ago; and subliminally invested with an “idea” of India that is “imagined” and moralistically-spiritual, as opposed to being paradoxically or amorally spiritual.

Dance of course became far more entrenched in this mechanism of nation-building as it became India’s prime object of cultural exhibition. And today yoga is following suit! If a dancer is dancing with the self-consciousness of being a cultural ambassador of India or upholding the lost laurels of an imagined/fabricated past, then the centre-of-her-initiative is already prescribed and even open to cultural policing. However, the very idea of an embodied practice such as yoga or an art form such as Bharatanatyam, in my view, is to autonomously occupy the centre-of-initiative in order to self-regulate, calibrate and distil the materiality of the body to arrive at a desired emotional, psychological or spiritual condition.

In our post-industrial societies, there is a certain mechanism that operates with clockwork precision, which is forever inventing new ways of making the body available to a variety of machinations. Within more upwardly-mobile societies or social circles, these also include a variety of machinations of self-improvement that range from grooming to spiritual self-care.Today, our embodied practices of both dance and yoga have fully lent themselves to these machinations. The modern-day delusion of independence, freedom and neo- spirituality actually robs the body of autonomy and distorts its ability and right to rely upon itself.  Thus, the very practices that are designed to instil autonomy and self-hood have gotten redefined to become agencies and tools of taming, domesticating, control and dociling the body.   Both the BARPS method of asana practice and the Somatics practice being offered at Studio Abhyas attempt to challenge this mechanism through the sheer technique of self-regulatory practice.  

Studio Abhyas offers weekly classes in Somatics, including workshops and retreats, that are open to all, performers and non-performers alike.

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