Did you know that dance meditation techniques are some of the best ways to exercise your mind?

You probably already know that dance is one of the most healthy hobbies there is, wonderful for exercising both the body and brain (particularly the motor cortex, somatosensory cortex, basal ganglia, and cerebellum). And of course, conscious movement exercises like Tai Chi and Qigong are excellent for you too.

But if you truly want to do an exercise that will help your mind and body, try dance meditation techniques.

There are so many benefits of dance meditation.  As a meditation teacher who gives online meditation lessons, I often instruct people to try active methods when they struggle with seated practice, and many of those people find it easier to enter a meditative state through dance.

With dance meditation exercises we can experience what is meant by the Greek word ekstasis–stepping outside ourselves.

Plus, as someone who used to take lessons in tap dance, ballet, and modern, I have to say that meditative dance techniques 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.

Dance-Meditation techniques have existed for more than 4000 years. They became popular in the last century thanks to Oshos’ dynamic techniques. [READ: Guide To Osho Methods

Most world religions involve dance. Daoists, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus… dance is ubiquitous across world culture. Think of aboriginal trance dances and whirling dervishes. Dance has long been a part of our culture. And dance meditation exercises are some of the best ways to experience the pure nature of dancing.

In a lot of ways, these dynamic, or active, movement meditations are better than the seated versions.

Why?

When you meditate while sitting, you risk developing back pain unless you sit with perfect posture. Movement meditations, on the other hand, strengthen both the body and the mind (and yes, the “mind-body” too). There’s something about the rhythm of the music, the tempo, and the way we sway and shake our bodies that makes us feel euphoric and relaxed. When you let yourself move with a non-judgmental attitude, it is extremely liberating. 

Let’s look at the best dance meditation exercises, and discuss why movement meditations are often better than seated practices.

5 Active Dance Meditation Techniques You Will Love

Dance meditation techniques are a way to increase your enjoyment of your present-moment experience. 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.”

Here are five types of meditative dance to try.

1: Dance Meditation Technique (Script)

 Here is how I personally do dance meditation.

  1. For starters, you are going to want to choose some fun music to dance meditatively to. It’s your choice. You could go with some classical Indian dance music for the traditional aspect, or you could use something fun and modern like electronica instead. Choose a piece. Play it but then hit pause for now. 
  2. Before we begin our dance meditation technique we want to relax the mind. To do this, sit comfortably with good posture and practice breathing mindfully for five minutes. Sit with your feet at 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. Now breathe deeply through the nose, doing diaphragmatic breathing. Observe your breath for five minutes, letting your thoughts come and go as they will. While you are doing this you are reducing amygdala activity and increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity, which will make you feel relaxed. 
  3. Play your music. Listen to the beat. Now 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. 
  4. For the next ten to twenty minutes you are going to be dancing. The key in dancing meditation technique is to let your body dictate your movements. Like Osho says, “Be thr dance”. If you want to throw your arms up in the air, do it. If you want to shake your booty, do it. If you want to tap your feet, do it. Let your body dictate the movement, and 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”.
  5. 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. 
  6. You’ve just done a dance meditation technique! How do you feel? You might feel excited, playful, happy, optimistic, or what the Greeks called ekstasis, a feeling of stepping outside yourself … whatever you feel, acknowledge it. 

More Type Of Dance Meditation Exercises 

2. Hindu

hindu dance meditation nataraja

As with many spiritual practices, dance meditation finds its roots in 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 23 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, where devadasi’s (girls dedicated to worship) worshipped 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.

3. Christian  

Modern Christianity uses a form of spiritual dance meditation. This is done to bring us closer to God.  

Though some verses of the bible describe dancing as a sin, 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, churches have used music and dancing as a means of worship.

Judaism also involves a spiritual dance meditation: the messianic dance or Davidic dance (5) (in reference to King David, who is said to have danced before the Ark of the Covenant).

4. Buddhist Dance Meditation Techniques 

Dance meditation techniques are traditional in Buddhism [READ: Buddhist Techniques]

buddhist dance

Buddhist dance dates back many thousands of years.

The three main types of Buddhist dance meditation techniques are the butterfly dance, the cymbal dance, and the T’aju (eight-fold path dance).

Butterfly Dance (Nabichum)

The Nabichum, or “butterfly dance”, is a Korean Buddhist dance. It’s called the Butterfly dance because of the costume–a white robes (jangsam) with drapes on the arm and a hat (gokkal) that make it look like a butterfly costume. The choreography also looks like the movements of a butterly.

Cymbal Dance (Para Ch’um)

The Cymbal dance 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 dance.

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 spiritual dance meditations

whirling dirvish

As well as the religious dance meditations above, there are many countries that have popular dance meditations.  

In Japan, for instance, one very popular type of exercise is Katsugen Undo (regenerating exercise) (7). Katsugen Undo is a wonderful exercise in which you give up conscious control of your body and allow your body to heal itself.

In China, similar exercises called Zifagong, Re-do and Zi Ran Qigong are also popular.

Iran and Turkey use similar unconscious movement and spiritual dancing meditation exercises. The Mevlevi Dervish, for instance, is a spontaneous type of movement that, like Katsugen Undo, involves giving up control of the body.

These Sufi movements are said to have been created when Rumi was walking through a marketplace one day. 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, a movement meditation system devised by Dunya Dianne McPherson that fuses art with somatics and Sufi mysticism.  This is usually practiced in groups—so if you’ve been wondering if you can practice dance meditation with friends: Yes, you can!  And if you like DanceMeditation you can even become certified to teach it at Movement Monastery.  

 

Tips For Meditative Dancing & Exercise

There are a few things you need to know when you’re using traditional exercise or dance as meditation.

  1. I highly recommend trying Zen Walking first because it will train your mind to be mindful while exercising.
  2. For starters when you meditate on an exercise you are not burning calories. You’re not losing weight. You’re not getting in shape. You do not have an end destination. When you’re meditating on an exercise you are the exercise. Your mind is one with your body and your body is the exercise.
  3. 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 the dance. Perform the exercise mindfully. Like Osho said, “Be. Don’t try to become.” 
  4. When dancing, don’t try to look sexy. That’s just inhibition (and inhibition is not sexy). Liberate yourself. Connect with the energy inside your body. Make your mind that energy. Be it. That’s divine dancing. That’s what the devadasi’s in the sacred temples of India do. That’s what’s best for you when you practice meditative dancing.

Benefits of dance meditation techniques

Movement meditations are great for both the mind and body. And they are thoroughly enjoyable.

 

Movement & Dance Meditation VS Seated Practice

You may have heard: There are over 100 benefits of meditation.

But if you’re expecting seated meditation to perform some sort of miracle in your life, you will probably end up disappointed, unless you balance it out with active movement meditations or dance meditation techniques.

Listen:

Many people think meditation is a cure-all. They turn to meditation because it is a quick and relatively easy way to solve a lot of health problems, among them being anxiety, depression, and stress.

No question mindfulness and meditation are attractive choices for the individual looking to boost their health. But meditation is not everything. And seated meditation postures are most definitely not everything. In fact, they can be harmful.

The average person spends 7.7 hours every day sitting down.

That is a staggering amount of time. It adds up to 2810 hours a year sitting.

The American Medical Association states that sitting for extended periods of time can cause serious health issues. And a series of scientific studies have shown that sitting down for too long can cause many serious illnesses.

Spending too long sitting down can cause:

So why the hell would you want to spend even more time sitting down when you’re meditating? It makes absolutely no sense.

This is why active movement meditations, and dance meditation techniques, are often better.

Just consider dance by itself. It is actually one of the best hobbies for happiness.

There are so many benefits of dancing.

When you combine mindfulness with this, things get even better. Dance meditations (mindful dancing, for instance), offer so many health benefits.

More Types Of Active Movement Meditation

As well as practicing these dance 

meditation techniques, you can also meditate while doing traditional exercise. One of the best examples is tai chi, which is incredibly good for you.

Whether you’re doing yoga, tai chi, spiritual dancing, going for a run or walk, or performing any other safe exercise, you can quickly convert that exercise into a meditation technique.

There’s just one caveat: Only ever meditate when performing exercises that cannot possibly lead to serious injury.

Obvious example: Running through a field? Check. Running next to a busy road? Scratch.

In fact, if you do enjoy running you should definitely try meditating while running. Science shows that running while meditating is one of the very best things you can do for your mind and body.

Just always make sure your movement meditations are safe.

When you meditate you often forget where you are and become what you’re doing. That can potentially lead you to be unaware of your surroundings, which could cause an accident. Always be safe, and when in doubt check with a professional before continuing.

Best alternative exercises to use as movement meditations:

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Written by Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.