Punya meets Savitri and gets a taste of Poi dancing.
The other day Amito came up to me and introduced me to Savitri (accent on the A!) and mentioned something about those things people swing around themselves, apparently called poi. “Wow, the things that come my way,” I thought, but then the friendly face of this almost fairy-like person convinced me to give it a try. Walking away I still could not imagine what poi swinging had to do with meditation so that we could put it in context with Osho News: “She is a sannyasin, and if she has done it for so many years and looks so beautiful, there must be something in it,” I reasoned.
Finally we meet in my office where Savitri unpacks a set of poi. A blue strip of ribbon for each handle, a 40cm stretch of coloured cord joined in the middle by a metal link that works as a swivel; a weight in form of a 5cm diametre velvet-covered ball (the contents of which are her trade secret) and then finally the tail, the real show piece in fluorescent pink (it can also be orange, yellow, white or red). We go to my backyard for a demonstration and while swinging the poi Savitri explains:
“Poi dance can be done just for fun; but it promotes many aspects in our body: a sense of rhythm, elegance of movement, coordination, concentration and balance. Poi are often used in occupational therapy, a discipline I was trained in. As you might know, in occupational therapy we always use a tool as a bridge, be it pottery, painting on silk, or basket weaving, so I have been using poi. For instance we work with disabled people maybe after a stroke or an accident, with hyperactive kids and old people with dementia.” This is the reason why Savitri regularly gives demonstrations and shows on stage with music at trade fairs for schools, fitness, physiotherapy, health and therapy, and rehab.
“From a neurological point of view we can say that the right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for the rhythmic movements and the left hemisphere for their sequence. Both hemispheres are needed for an aesthetic flow of the movements; both working together helps them integrate, promoting the flow of information across the corpus callosum, the connecting bridge between the hemispheres. And by simultaneously making different movements with the left and right half of the body we train our coordination. It works in a similar way as the Gurdjieff dances.”
“Crossing the body midline and drawing the infinity symbol is a technique long used in martial arts, but more recently in Edu-Kinesthetic (teaching of movement) or Brain Gym. It promotes the information flow between the two hemispheres of the brain. For instance if a person has a particular neurological problem they might not be able to swing the poi to the other side of the body, but then after some training they might manage to do that. This gives them not only better coordination for other tasks, which are connected to this limitation, but also gives them a new sense of perception of themselves and the world around them.
“Poi swinging is also good for meditation, it helps centering and to learn how to be in the here and now, because you cannot think and swing the poi at the same time; as soon as you start thinking you make a mistake.”
Savitri then shows me the different directions and rhythms. “You swing as if you were in a box, as if you had 6 walls around you; you have the side next to your swinging arm, the plane in front, the one behind, the one opposite your arm, the top and the bottom. These are the basics. You can swing in circles or make an 8, the infinity sign. You can alternate the rhythm of the two arms which gives a beautiful effect. Practically there are many combinations – I have described the basic figures, variations and transitions in my book – they are all based on this imaginary box, the various axes and rhythms. There are endless combinations, they are invented as we go along.”
This all sounded very complicated but when I gave it a try with my set I was doing fairly well. But I still got upset when I could not copy her perfectly and ended up with entangled tails and the ball hitting my head (glad it is soft enough that it just bounces off with a thud). “You cannot do it perfectly because you have been doing it for just 5 minutes,” she consoled me.
“I have often been teaching school teachers. They expected, like you, to know how to do it instantly. They judged themselves the same way as they mark the school work of their students. I always had to tell them to be patient and kind with themselves. During the course they experienced in their own skin how bad their students can feel when they fail while learning something new. And that they do not need to have a judge over their heads but rather encouragement and support. The teachers can also become aware that everybody has their own way of learning, their own time of learning and that, surprisingly, some learn one exercise very easily while being at a loss with another.
“It is a joy to see how even the movements of a beginner can transform: first they are stilted… but then they start to flow. Sometimes already after 10 minutes I see the back of my students straighten up, I see their breathing change and their energy collect in their hara. After a while they often tell me how they experienced no-mind and a big sense of wellbeing, bordering ecstasy. All this in such a simple and playful way.”
Then, as a treat, Savitri gives me a proper show, where she bends backwards and to the sides, poi swinging rhythmically (she says she is missing the music – we forgot to organise that), on the sides of her body, over her head, crossing over – all too fast for my mind to grasp the combination of ‘strokes’ I had just learned, but all the more appreciating her skills. It looks so easy and flowing. I admire her agility, the beautiful proportions of her body, the fluidity of the movements of body and the colourful poi tails. No wonder people pay to go and see a show – and want to learn how to do it themselves. “Poi dancing is beautiful to do and beautiful to watch, almost hypnotising!” she says.
How Savitri came to discover poi dancing has been described in the article Following the Flow, but as a reminder suffice it to say that she first discovered fire dancing and shortly afterwards re-invented the poi. We say ‘re-invented’ because the dance with poi has existed since centuries; the Maori of New Zealand dance with poi (‘poi’ is a Maori word meaning ‘ball’). They use it to train in responsiveness, flexibility and coordination. Even today, the poi are joyfully swinging in the ritual dances according to tradition as a symbol of peace.
“Poi dance can be very ecstatic. On the one hand we have to remain relaxed and on the other hand totally concentrated. When I dance and am lost in the music – those are the moments where, for me, only dance exists. The dancer has disappeared,” concludes Savitri.
Interview by Punya, May 2016
Related post: Following the Flow – Savitri talks to Punya about her poi ‘business’
Savitri was born in Germany and studied to become a paralegal and later an occupational therapist. She learned to dance with the poi in 1994. She heard of Osho for the first time in 1995, visited India in 2000 and took sannyas there the following year. Savitri now lives between Hawaii, Germany and India. www.flow-motions.net