Did you know that dance meditation techniques are some of the best ways to exercise your mind?
Dance is one of the healthiest hobbies there is. It’s 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.
I love it.
If you’ve tried basic movement meditation like Zen Walking, meditative dance is a great next step.
As an online meditation teacher, I often advise people to try active methods when they struggle with seated practice. Actually, many people prefer dance meditation to seated practice. Seated meditation can cause back and knee pain unless you sit with perfect posture. On the other hand, movement meditations strengthen the body and mind (and yes, the “mind-body”).
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.
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.
Let’s look at the best dance meditation exercises. And we’ll discuss why movement meditations are often better than seated practices.
5 Active Dance Meditation Techniques You Will Love
Dance meditation techniques will mkle you feel fantastic.
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 practised as a way of improving the quality of experience.”
I recommend you try the following five types of meditative dance.
1: Dance Meditation Technique (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 instead. I sometimes like to dance to fun tunes like Rhythm Is A Dancer because I’m silly. So, choose some music. But don’t play it quite yet.
- We want to relax the mind. To do this, sit comfortably with good posture. Sit with 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 you are doing this, you are reducing amygdala activity and increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity, which will make you feel relaxed.
- 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.
- 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, one of my favorite spiritual gurus, 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.
- You’ve just done a dance meditation technique! How do you feel? You might feel excited, playful, happy, optimistic… whatever you feel, acknowledge it.
Hindu Dance Meditation
Most world religions involve dance. Daoists, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus… dance is ubiquitous across world culture. Think of aboriginal trance dances and whirling dervishes. And today we have methods like Oshos’ dynamic meditations
But it started 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 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) 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.
3. Christian dance meditation
Modern Christianity uses a form of spiritual dance meditation. This is done to bring us closer to God.
Some verses of the bible say it is a sin to dance. 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 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]
There are three main types of Buddhist dance meditation techniques. 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 called the Butterfly dance because of the costume, white robes (jangsam) with drapes on the arms and a hat (gokkal). It looks like a butterfly costume. Also, the choreography looks like the movements of a butterfly.
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 meditation techniques
As well as the religious dance meditations above, many countries have popular dance meditations.
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. 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
Now some tips for dance meditation techniques and movement meditations.
- Try Zen Walking first because it will train your 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 the dance. Perform the exercise mindfully. Like Osho said, “Be. Don’t try to become.”
- When dancing, don’t try to look sexy. That’s just inhibition. 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.
Benefits of dance meditation techniques
- 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 mind and body.
- They enhance the mind-body connection.
- Powerful for changing old habits.
- They are excellent ways of awakening.
- Dance meditation techniques produce more joy than any other type of meditation.
- They make us more creative.
- Finally, they make us more playful.
Movement & Dance Meditation VS Seated Practice
You may 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. 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.
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? It makes absolutely no sense.
Therefore, active movement meditations and dance meditation techniques are often better.
Just consider dance by itself. It is one of the best hobbies for health.
There are so many 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.
When you combine meditation and dancing, things get even better. You get the benefits of both meditation and dance.
Alternatives to dance meditation techniques
As well as practising dance meditation techniques, you can meditate while doing traditional exercise.
Whether you’re doing yoga, tai chi, spiritual dancing, going for a run or walk, or performing any other safe exercise, you can do it meditatively.
There’s just one caveat: Only ever meditate when performing exercises that cannot lead to injury.
Obvious example: Running through a field? Check. Running on 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 greatly beneficial.
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. In turn, this could cause an accident. Always be safe.
Best alternative movement meditations:
- Tai Chi.
Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“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