I recently was asked to contribute an article for a Magazine here in Guadalajara, Mexico called “Dancers Voice”
I’m really happy about this opportunity and although the magazine is in spanish,
I thought I would share the translated version of the article with you here.
Quieting the Mind, DANCING FROM THE HEART
– exploring the power of moving meditation for dancers by guest writer Ashley Meeder for DANCERS VOICE, GUADALAJARA
What is MEDIATATION?
Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Many religions and cultures throughout time have cultivated meditation techniques, the Buddhist Traditions of Meditation date back to over 2,500 years ago.
Meditation is a practice that cultivates consciousness. The idea behind meditation is to observe the mind, to allow your thoughts to settle. The benefits of meditation are many – working with the mind and our thoughts can be very powerful. They often affect our emotional health, relationships, productivity, focus, wellbeing etc.
I often say that for me, meditating is like getting rid of the monkeys in my brain. Sometimes the mind feels like a fast moving train, everything is a blur. One benefit of meditation is not exactly that our thoughts go away, but that we are able to see the SPACES between the train cars, the SPACES between our thoughts. Meditation helps us to CHOOSE our thoughts, or even allow NEW ideas to enter the mind. When we create space and stillness in the mind, we can cultivate enhanced creativity, spiritual growth, true presence, emotional healing, understanding, focus, deep relaxation, peace and clarity.
The easiest way to begin, is to sit in a quiet place and close your eyes. Try doing this right when you get up in the morning before the world starts zooming around you. Just focus on your breath for 5 minutes, perhaps pausing between each inhale and each exhale. Observe your mind, your breath and your body. Allow yourself to be present. As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us how to become truly present, he says breath, and “allow your mind to come home to your body.”
If you are a dancer, you probably practice some kind of meditation without even realizing it. When you focus inward, concentrate on your breathing, or become present in your body before entering onstage, these are ways to enter into a meditative state.
So what is a moving meditation and WHAT does it have to do with DANCE?
I have developed moving meditations in my work for a number of reasons. Many choreographers and teachers use them as a tool to bring the body and the mind into a connected state.
Research has found that the ideal state for learning is when the brain is in a relaxed, but aware state. When we meditate, we transition our brain into an Alpha- wave state, where our brain is relaxed, calm, focused, receptive and aware. This is the most ideal state a student can have in their learning process. Dancers cultivate how to remain in this relaxed, connected, deeply conscious state, while still moving and maintaining an active body. Allowing for some of the most beautiful, creative and productive learning comes forth from the body.
Images, colors, ideas, music and guided processes can be used in movement meditations. They often start in a lying down or standing position with the eyes closed. A guided meditation in stillness can begin the process, and then slowly change to incorporate movement and dance explorations into the process.
One of the most interesting techniques of where I see this process being used is in the Isreali Dance Technique GAGA, where dancers are guided through sometimes hours of images to get the body and mind into a present and creative state. What is unique about GAGA is that the students are asked to keep their eyes open, and try to still deeply connect from within. This technique is useful because it is what we as dancers are asked of onstage: to become deeply connected, feel our bodies, to translate internal ideas into an outward performance.
Through cultivating work with Movement Meditations we can simultaneously process information in a relaxed state, actively respond, and make subtle shifts and changes while maintaining a deep connection to oneself.
This work doesn’t always come easily. I know when I am teaching beginners when I start to lead a meditation and, as I change the theme or ask the dancers to move, open their eyes or change their movement, some students will stop completely what they are doing and look up and stare at me, disconnecting from their experience. I sometimes laugh and say “Keep going!” “Don’t stop!” “Try to process the information I am giving you while you continue to move.” Many students haven’t yet explored this unique Alpha-state in motion. As the dancer develops this ability she, develops an invaluable tool, becoming more agile, present, responsive, receptive, quickly able to shift and react, more connected.
Letting go of Judgement: the BODYMIND.
Another benefit of Moving Mediations is that they can help us to let go of judgement. Many times movement activities and exercises in classes are built around the students “wanting to please the teacher” or “doing what is correct” or “looking for an example, shape or movement to copy or follow.” Through movement meditations we encounter the bodymind, where we transcend the fear of judgement or the need of approval from a teacher, and begin to dance from within.
The idea of the bodymind comes from techniques based in Somatic principles, recognizing the body of the student as the primary source of knowledge and growth. Somatic education and movement techniques focus on creating greater consciousness and awareness in the body. It puts the power in the body AND the mind of the student to make their own discoveries. It is what Dr. Sondra Fraleigh, founder of the Eastwest Somatics Institute calls, SHIN. SHIN is a ZEN word meaning: center, core, heart, body, mind, sprit, and tree trunk, bringing attention to that which is already one. Dr Fraleigh teaches that the body and the mind can truly work in harmony. Its our own culture that puts a separation between the two. The miracle of dance as an art form is that it reminds us the bodymind endlessly united. This is what I call grace.
When we give attention and connect to the bodymind, to the shin, we no longer need to worry about what is correct or what our teacher wants. We move from within. We are creativity in motion. We invent. We discover. We play. We dance from the heart.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER:
“But if I just ‘dance from within’, won’t I lose my technique? I wont do well in auditions!”
As dancers we have many ideas and training styles in our bodies. From a performance perspective you can think of it like having a canvas that is already full of paint. As a choreographer when I see dancers that already have their canvas “full of paint”, well, it is hard to create something new on top of it.
Meditation and Movement Meditations, help to clear the canvas, clear the mind and also the body to be in a present, neutral state. From there we often have more options and more possibilities in our body. Neutral doesn´t mean that you forget everything you know and have ever learned. Dr. George Russell, movement coach and chiropractor for dancers and actors in New York City explains it as a ¨cultivated neutrality¨ in which the we bring ourselves into the present moment and let go of any postural patterns or tensions. Dr. Russell describes it as “shaking the etch-a-sketch…” Our potential for all expression is there, but we return to neutrality to remember. Then move from there.
In any audition, class or performance, I think most of us can agree that it’s the people that are truly connected, who dance from within, that we don’t want to take our eyes off of. Movement mediations allow us to reorganize ourselves, our bodies, let go of old patterns, discover new ones, let go of judgement, trust the bodymind, deeply connect, playfully discover, be in the moment and dance from the heart.