If you’re looking for a different way to meditate, try dance meditation.
I’ve always thought that dance is one of the healthiest hobbies there is. I mean, it’s wonderful for exercising both the body and the brain. And in my experience, dancing as a form of mindfulness simply makes things better.
As an online meditation teacher, I often advise people to try active meditation when they struggle with seated practice. This could be a slow-paced movement meditation like Zen Walking. Or it could be something more active like mindful running, yoga, or dancing.
There are many different types of meditative dance. Let me show you.
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5 Types of Dance Meditation
1: This Minsful Dancing Script
- Choose some fun music to dance meditatively to. You could go with some classical Indian dance music for the traditional aspect. Or you could use something fun and modern like electronica. Heck, I sometimes even do it to fun tunes like Rhythm Is A Dancer because I’m silly. So, choose some music. But don’t play it quite yet.
- I like to relax before I start. To do this, sit comfortably with good posture, your feet shoulder-width apart. Let your weight sink into the chair (or ground). Elongate your spine a little. Tuck your chin down slightly to lengthen your neck.
- Breathe mindfully for five minutes. Meanwhile, let thoughts come and go as they will. While we do this, we are reducing amygdala activity and increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity. In turn, this will make us feel relaxed.
- Play your music. Listen to the beat.
- Notice when you feel an inclination to move your body. Meditate on that sensation, on the desire to move.
- Now start to move your body.
- For the next ten to twenty minutes, you are going to be dancing. The key to meditative dance is to let your body dictate your movements. As Osho, says, “Be the dance”. If you want to throw your arms up in the air, do it. If you want to shake your booty, do it. Feel like tapping your feet? Do it. Let your body dictate the movement. Simply watch yourself move. Religious scholar Karen Armstrong describes the state of meditative dance as when “dancer becomes inseparable from the dance”. You should have what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “Flow”.
- Whenever you are ready to stop dancing, stop. Lie down in Shavasana. To do this, lie on your back with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your hands by your side, palms up. Let your neck and back relax. Breathe into your diaphragm. Continue mindful breathing for five minutes.
- Notice how you feel. I usually feel excited, playful, happy, and optimistic… whatever you feel, acknowledge it.
2: Hindu Dance Meditation
Most world religions involve dance. Daoism, Buddhism, Christianity, … dance is ubiquitous across world culture. But it started with Hinduism.
Hindus believe that the entire universe is the manifestation of the Supreme Dancer Nataraja (1).
Nataraja performs the Ananda Tandava, the movements through which the universe is created, maintained, and dissolved.
Dancing is so important to Hinduism that all Hindu gods have their own dancing style.
There are twenty-three celestial Apsaras—beings whose dancing pleases the gods and who express the supreme truths via their movements.
In temples throughout India, and particularly in East and South India, meditative dancing used to be a part of a sacred ritual. Devadasi’s (girls dedicated to worship) would worship the divine through a complex system of gestures (mudras) and mimes.
This sacred ritual evolved to become the South Indian Classical Dance (2), which is still practised today.
Modern Christianity uses a form of spiritual dance. This is done to bring us closer to God.
Some verses of the bible say dancing is a sin. But Christians have started dancing more commonly over the past few decades.
Beginning in the latter half of the 20th Century with the modernisation of Christianity, dancing has been a popular form of worship in churches.
Judaism also involves a spiritual dance: the messianic dance or Davidic dance (5) (in reference to King David, who is said to have danced before the Ark of the Covenant).
Dance meditations are traditional in Buddhism [READ: Buddhist Meditation Techniques]
There are three main types of Buddhist dance. Firstly, the butterfly dance. Also, the cymbal dance. And finally, the T’aju (eight-fold path dance).
Butterfly Dance (Nabichum)
The Nabichum, or “butterfly dance”, is a Korean Buddhist dance. It’s gets its name from the costume: White robes (jangsam) with drapes on the arms and a hat (gokkal), which all together look like a butterfly costume. Also, the choreography looks like the movements of a butterfly.
Cymbal Dance (Para Ch’um)
This is one of the most important of all Buddhist dances. It is like a carnival festival with drums, gongs, and cymbals. The dancers hold the cymbals and use them as part of the choreography.
The sound of the cymbals is said to drive away worldly desires.
T’aju (Eight-Fold Path Dance)
The T’aju represents the Eight-Fold Path, the Buddhist path leading to enlightenment.
In the book A Dance History Reader, Ann Dils says:
“In the Dance of the Eightfold Path (T’aju), an octagonal box with inscriptions on each side—representing the eightfold way of the Buddha— is placed on the ground between two dancers. Each holds a long, thin stick, and gently taps the top of the box as he moves around it.”
5: Other forms
As well as the religious dances above, many countries have popular dance meditations. I was researching this lately and I found some wonderful exercises.
In Japan, for instance, one popular type of exercise is Katsugen Undo (regenerating exercise) (7). In Katsugen Undo, we give up conscious control of the body and allow ourselves to heal.
In China, similar exercises called Zifagong, Re-do and Zi Ran Qigong are popular.
Iran and Turkey use similar unconscious movement and spiritual dancing meditation exercises. For instance, the Mevlevi Dervish. This is a spontaneous type of movement. Like Katsugen Undo, it involves giving up control of the body.
Rumi created these Sufi movements. One day, he was walking through a marketplace. He heard the goldbeaters hammering rhythmically away. And, in a state of bliss, he spontaneously started spinning in a circle.
I’d also like to mention DanceMeditation. It’s a movement meditation system devised by Dunya Dianne McPherson. This practice fuses art with somatics and Sufi mysticism. Usually, this is practised in groups.
- In my lessons I recommend that my students do Zen Walking first because it trains the mind to be mindful while exercising.
- When you meditate on an exercise you are not burning calories. You’re not losing weight or getting in shape. You do not have an end goal. When you’re meditating on an exercise you are the exercise. Your mind is one with your body and your body is the exercise.
- When dancing, be the dance. As Karen Armstrong [The Case for God] says, “Become the dance.” Don’t be the person trying to look good or following choreography. Make it more divine than that. Make your mind and body one. Perform the exercise mindfully. Like Osho said, “Be. Don’t try to become.”
- When dancing, don’t try to look sexy. Okay, I could never actually look sexy. If you can, great. But dont worry about it. Liberate yourself. Connect with the energy inside your body. Make your mind that energy. Be it. That’s true meditative dancing. That’s what the devadasi’s in the temples of India do.
- I find that Movement meditations make it easier to focus.
- They are active. Many people live too sedentary lives. Actually, that’s why seated meditations are often a bad idea.
- Dance meditations exercise both the mind and body.
- They enhance the mind-body connection. I always feel more “whole” after I’ve been dancing.
- Powerful for changing old habits.
- They are excellent ways of awakening.
- They produce more joy than arguably any other type of meditation.
- They make us more creative.
- Finally, they make us more playful.
Movement Meditation VS Seated Practice
You might have heard: There are over one hundred benefits of meditation.
But if you expect seated meditation to perform miracles, you might be disappointed. I recommend that you balance sitting with active movement meditations.
The average person spends 7.7 hours every day sitting down anyway. That is a staggering amount of time. It adds up to 2810 hours a year sitting. And the American Medical Association states that sitting for extended periods of time can cause serious health issues.
Spending too long sitting down can cause:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- And more
So why the hell would you want to spend even more time sitting down when you’re meditating? Doesn’t make sense to me. Therefore, active movement meditations are often better.
Just consider the benefits of dancing:
- Improve social skills.
- Helps with weight loss.
- Promotes happiness and joy.
- Improves cardiovascular health.
- Releases inhibition.
- Improves self-confidence.
- Boosts creativity.
- Improves cognitive skills.
- Healthier than sitting.
- Tai Chi.
Dance meditations are a wonderful alternative to seated practice.
Plus, as someone who used to take lessons in tap, ballet, and modern, I have to say that meditative dances are some of my favourite forms of dancing. Yes, simply letting my body dictate my dancing is so much more fun than all those Assemblés, Pirouettes, and shuffles.
With dance meditation exercises we experience what is meant by the Greek word ekstasis (stepping outside ourselves). When you do it you will feel a sense of freedom. You have to experience it to believe it.
Plus, there’s the effect of music.
As Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said, “From the most isolated New Guinea tribe to the polished troupes of the Bolshoi Ballet, the response of the body to music is widely practiced as a way of improving the quality of experience.”
So get dancing. And feel the ecstasy.
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison