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Steps to health and healing

Saturday, 20 October 2012 08:09

A city used to dance as culture, worship and entertainment, now rediscovers it as therapy

Ramya Tirtha was told by her doctor to practise yoga for her hypertension. “But when I approached my yoga instructor, she suggested I take up dance therapy,” she says. That is how she became a student of Shristi’s Institute of Dance Therapy in Bangalore.


Many who thought dance was about entertainment, leisure, culture and worship, have realised it can offer much more. Certain forms of dance, if practised continuously, are believed to cure or mitigate diabetes, arthritis, obesity, polio, chronic pain, and depression. Dance slows down ageing, alleviates stress, and reduces feelings of isolation and fear.


Dance as therapy is still nascent in Bangalore. Therapists like Dr A V Satyanarayana and Tripura Kashyap are trying to promote awareness about its therapeutic and cathartic values.


Satyanarayana is the director of Shristi Institute of Dance Therapy. An exponent of Bharatnatyam and Kathak, he says, “As a dancer with 40 years’ experience, I have created steps to treat diabetes, marital discord, polio and obesity.”


At Shristi, the emphasis is on Indian classical and folk movements. Gestures and movements from Bharatanatyam, Kathak and yoga are blended with animal movements. Satyanaryana claims, for example, that ‘peacock dance’ movements are beneficial for lung and spine problems while ‘snake dance’ movements help people control obesity.


Many pregnant women take dance therapy. “A pregnant woman needs to keep her body and limbs supple to ensure easy labour. I have designed movements imitating age old domestic chores,” says Satyanarayana. He cautions that pregnant women should practise movements only for 10 minutes a day, and women with heart problems should not take up dance.


His ‘sex symphony’ therapy is meant for couples who have lost interest in each other. “Urbanisation and stressful lifestyles affect people’s sex lives. I have created beautiful dance movements to help them put the romance back in their lives,” he says.


The American Dance Therapy Association (AITA) defines dance therapy as the psychotherapeutic use of movement, as a process that furthers furthers emotional, cognitive, and physical integration in individuals.


Dance therapists encourage participants to evolve a personal movement language to achieve holistic growth and healthier functioning.


Tripura Kashyap, choreographer and trained dance therapist from the Hancock Center in Wisconsin, conducts workshops and classes on contemporary and creative dance, physical theatre, and dance in education.


Children living in rehabilitation centres and the visually impaired have seen improvement through her therapy. Not everyone is comfortable expressing themselves verbally, Tripura says. “Through my therapy, I help them come up with their own movements.”


Tripura combines Indian and Western dance theatre moves in her classes. She emphasises movements that can be done from a single position. “I don’t believe in classical or folk movements in my therapy. It’s foolish to use structured, classical movements as many handicapped children can’t execute it,” Tripura told Talk.


“I always knew dancing could work wonders in the lives of people, especially those suffering from incurable ailments. My brother, a patient of polio-meningitis, gave me the confidence to take up dance therapy as a profession as his body showed improvement whenever we taught him some movements,” recalls Tripura, who lost her brother ten years ago.


As a student of Kalakshetra in Chennai, Tripura has collaborated with dancers, filmmakers, visual artists, theatre directors and musicians on several cross-art projects and performances.


Tripura has also choreographed ‘site-specific’ dances in a large dry well, a pub, a low lying table, and on ladders against a wall. She travelled to Sri Lanka as part of the ‘Teertha’ International artistes’ residency’ programme in which she created dances to merge with paintings, sculptures and art installations.


Tripura is the author of a book titled, My Body, My Wisdom: A handbook of creative hand therapy and presently runs a school in Bangalore called Apoorva Dance Theatre. She is also the co-coordinator of Bhoomika Creative Dance Theatre, Pune, where she teaches, choreographs and performs with her students.


As the Austrian writer Vicki Baum puts it, “There are short-cuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.” It looks like dance can also be a short-cut to good health.


Published in HEALTH


Friday, 12 April 2013 16:54


Our instincts, Dr Nandita Shah avers, is to pluck and eat fruits, vegetables and nuts, but “never to pounce on a chicken”

Published in HEALTH

The Spicy Rasam Story

Thursday, 26 July 2012 07:35

Saaru, sathumadam or chaar? Or is it the tony ‘mulligatawny’ that we have in mind? Turns out the rasam isn’t such a simple affair after all

Story- According to Lizzie Collingham in her book, Curry of Cooks and Conquerors, when the British took up residence in the Madras Presidency and asked their cooks (who were locals) to rustle up a soup for starters, this is what happened. Since the concept of soup is an alien one to Indian cuisine and necessity is the Amma of Invention, the clever ‘Madrassis’ took rasam, tweaked it around by adding rice, vegetables and meat and served it – probably a little nervously - to their British…dare I say “masters”? The result was such a hit that very soon, no “Anglo-Indian” dinner party or ball was considered complete if “very hot mullagatani soup” was not on the menu. And the by then “Madrassi British” quaffed it in such large quantities that they earned the nickname “Mulls”!

So, while South Indians will sneer at this question, it is one that begs to be asked.

Not ‘South Indian soup’

Well, the most common description that I have come across is “a South Indian soup.” Which is tantamount to saying that Lata Mangeshkar is a singer.

Because there are rasams and there are rasams. So many of them that you could say that “rasam” is actually a entire continent, populated with thousands of rasam gotrams. Some are minimalists – just water, delicately but fabulously infused with the souls of a few, select spices and a souring agent. (The term “mullagatani’ or “mulligatawny” is a corruption of the Tamil “milugai tanni”, meaning pepper water.) Other are more complex and robust, made by boiling a dal, then flavouring and seasoning it in all manner of ways. Some are flamboyantly fiery, others more subtle and sly in their sting. Most rasams are tart, but a few are sweet-and-sour, the most famous example being “obattu saaru” (or “holige saaru”) in Karnataka, a by-product of “obattus” or puranpolis! Some are made in a matter of minutes, others choose to slowly simmer and seethe for hours before they are ready. And some are not even called rasam. For example, in Karnataka, the term used is ‘saaru’, in Andhra Pradesh it is ‘chaaru’ and even in Tamil Nadu where the term “rasam” is supposed to have originated, there are variants like “sathamudhu” and “pulichaar”.

So, what is rasam?

Perhaps the answer is in the etymology of the word “rasam”. It is derived from the Tamil ‘irasam’ and the Sanskrit “rasa” both of which mean ‘essence’ or ‘extract’. And so, if one were to look for an inclusive description, this is basically what rasam is. A set of ingredients cooked together so that they give up their signature flavours to mingle and marry into a fabulously redolent, delicious…well, what should be called a symphony but I’ll settle for the more mundane ‘soup’. 

Naturally, the next question is - what are those ingredients?

Ah. It is one almost as difficult to answer as “what is rasam?”. Because the crafty rasam cook can extract a rasam from almost anything. Dals of every kind. (Though tuvar dal is the most commonly used.) Tomato. Tamarind. Pineapple. Ginger. Kokum. Lime. Citron. Curry Leaves. Garlic. Even kanji - the excess water remaining after rice has been cooked – is cleverly seasoned to become a rasam that you will find in the Udupi region of Karnataka. There is also a rasam made out of neem flowers -  vepampoo rasam, prepared especially during the Tamil New Year, when the neem trees are in full bloom. In fact, I’d like to think that the first rasam was the brainwave of a desperate cook forced to feed unexpected guests with a larder that was almost bare and I am reminded of that story of the man who made soup out of stones. So, who knows? Maybe there is a rasam that is indeed made out of stones!

But stone or water, no rasam is possible without the presence of its star performers – spices. The array is impressive and one that reaffirms the South Indian cook’s reputation of being a master (or should that be mistress?!) of spices. Red dried chillies, black pepper, coriander, cumin, methi and mustard seeds, asafoetida - to name the more popular ones. Some roasted, often with dals; some broiled in a little oil. Sometimes ground into paste, but more often than not combined in hundreds of permutations and combinations and then powdered to become those maddeningly aromatic, jealously guarded secrets called “rasam powder” that are passed on from one generation to another and considered almost as precious as the family jewels!




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