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Dynamic yoga crosses paths with martial arts and Indian classical dance at Nithya Gopu’s new Natyanga class

At first glance, yoga and martial arts seem like polar opposites. One practice sees you sitting cross-legged and concentrating on breathing, while in the other you’re taking kicks to the face.

But Nithya Gopu sees the similarities. Furthermore, she knows the secret to cross-practising the disciplines that unlocks new benefits for diehard fanatics while giving newbie’s a taste of everything.

“With many of the movement forms that I’ve learnt I’ve been able to see a lot of the interconnections,” says Gopu, who is a trained Indian classical dancer and yoga teacher, and has practiced martial arts based dance and Pilates.

Gopu is launching a first-of-its-kind concept class Natyanga in Melbourne, which marries dynamic yoga with martial arts and Indian classical dance.

The class borrows movement techniques from Kerala classical dances and martial arts — like Mohiniattam and Kathakali — that have common body alignments to yoga asanas.

“It is a very intentional choice of movements and movement techniques that are truly synergistic,” she says. “It’s a way to make some of the performing arts more accessible to people who don’t have 10 years or so to commit to that learning process.”

Gopu says mixing the practices can be highly beneficial for people who’ve previously stuck to just one discipline. She noticed this after teaching basic Indian classical dance hand gestures to her yoga students one day.

“I’ve actually found that people respond to this dynamic way of moving really, really well, and there’s a lot of other theories that say when you move like that you can actually get deeper into poses,” says Gopu, who also works as a consultant in corporate philanthropy.

Gopu started learning Indian classical dance at Tara Rajkumar’s acclaimed Natya Sudha Dance School in Melbourne when she was 12 years old.

“When people learn Indian classical arts it’s a multi-year process and once you’ve gained a certain level of technical mastery you have a graduateperformance. It’s called arangetram… I was the first one of her student’s to ever do one of these in Australia in 1994,” Gopu says.

“I started being interested not just in the classical side of India dance but also in what we might be able to do with contemporary dance. We’re not going to be the ones that are doing all of the super physical things that if you’re trained in ballet you can do. But we have many other strengths that make Indian dance unique in terms of the rhythmic element, the expression of some of the body movements,” she adds.

“So for a long time I’ve been interested in what contemporary Indian dance might mean and a lot of the processes that Natya dance company went through to figure that out for ourselves has informed now what I’m going to be packaging up into this class,” she explains.

Gopu believes it’s the perfect time to launch a class like this, with Australians more open than ever before to learning practices from other cultures.

“I lived in the US for six years and when I came back in 2009 to Australia I kind of noticed that with the massive new migration of Indians to Australia something like Bollywood was becoming super mainstream,” she says.

Gopu points out that yoga has grown to be hugely popular and “demystified” in Australia. And she’s noticed the least likely people are now showing an interest in her dancing.

“Every time I post something about my dance performances on Facebook, those kind of things just get a huge amount of reaction. Even some of my male Australian friends who I wouldn’t have thought would even bother to look started ‘liking’ and giving encouraging comments and things like that,” she says.

Gopu’s new class runs on Mondays at Ihana Yoga in St Kilda.

It is suited to all skill levels, from beginner to advanced and including those managing injuries.

For more information call 0404 515 005 or visit

Published in The Indian Sun / News on Yoga in Australia

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