A YJ staffer tried an ecstatic dance class in Bali and it changed her yoga practice.
I’m nervously standing toward the back of the main studio at the Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali, waiting for class to start. I have no idea what to expect, but I’ve been told it could very well be “the most ecstatic experience of my life”—which is why I stood in line for three hours to secure a ticket.
I scan the room and quietly size up my fellow ecstatic dancers. The tan, long-haired guy in front of me is shirtless and wearing cropped Thai fishing pants; there’s a girl in a sports bra and short shorts who’s also wearing elbow and knee pads; there’s a 50-ish-year-old woman in a long, flowy dress right next to a 20-nothing with feathers in her hair and a glittery bra top that shows a lot of side boob. It’s my first lesson in what ecstatic dance is all about: anything goes.
The music starts and we move slowly at first, breathing deeply and warming up our necks, arms, shoulders, backs, and legs. In ecstatic dance, there’s typically some guidance from the instructor at the start of class, but then no talking—and definitely no directives on how to dance. There are no cues, and no instructor asking you to follow a choreography. Just loud, beautiful music that’s a mix between what you’d hear at a trendy vinyasa flow class and a new-age hippie rave. The dancing definitely looks like the latter, despite being a drug- and alcohol-free event.
At first, I feel like an outsider, even though I’m wearing my best harem-pants jumpsuit to at least try to fit in on the fashion front. It’s just that everyone around me looks so comfortable—like they’ve done this a million times and know that ecstasy awaits. As I start to dance, I wonder, What will everyone think when they catch a glimpse of my moves? Then, something awesome happens. Maybe it’s the music, which feels almost trance-like at times. Or the fact that when I glance around the room, lots of dancers have their eyes closed, which prompts me to close my own eyes and start moving my body however I damn well please. Within minutes of class starting, I start dancing like nobody is watching (because, as it turns out, they aren’t!) and it feels good.
My hips start gyrating as if I’d been a Latin dance pro in a past life, and my arms take on lives of their own, swirling around my head and down my body. I jump. I shake. I drop to my knees and lie on my stomach (instantly understanding the elbow and knee pads) and stretch my entire body out on the floor before rolling onto my back and then undulating up to stand. I take up more and more space and move to more areas of the room as the class goes on, and as I do that, my thoughts take up less space in my brain. I become fully present in the moment, simply moving as freely as I like, in community with a hundred other people doing the same. When class is over, I walk out feeling like I rode an epic wave of collective vibration. I feel embodied.
But the next day is when things get even more interesting. I roll out my yoga mat for a morning yoga practice and as I start doing Sun Salutations, I notice I’m less fidgety than I’ve been in about a year.
I’ve got 400 hours of yoga teacher training under my belt. Plus, I’ve learned so much from the experts and anatomists I work with at Yoga Journal. So, I find myself thinking—a lot—while holding yoga poses: are my upper arm bones externally rotating as the inner arch of my hands press down during Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)? Am I engaging—not gripping—my glutes in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)? Worthy efforts, to be sure, but I’ve found myself wishing I could trust that my body knows what to do so I can simply flow.
The morning after ecstatic dance, that’s exactly what happens. I move through those Sun Salutations—and the rest of my practice—with ease. I definitely keep all of my knowledge about good alignment in mind, but I’m also not as keenly focused on it as usual. I am out of my head and fully present in my body. And it feels downright ecstatic.
All you really need is a great music playlist. Then, simply follow these rules, set by the Ecstatic Dance Community Foundation:
- 1. Move however you wish.
- 2. No talking on the dance floor.
- 3. Respect yourself and one another.
- 4. No drugs or alcohol.
- 5. No photos or video.