There are countless forms of meditation practices, traditional and contemporary, being practiced today.
That does not delegitimize any of these practices, but shows that the way a meditative state is attained is just a tool, an object supporting the development of awareness, and not the result in itself. The one thing that does not change is the desired outcome.
Namgyal Rinpoche, a meditation master who brought Tibetan Buddhist teachings to the west, listed seven categories of meditation: breathing, visualization, chakra, sound (mantra), movement (mudra), devotional, and direct essence of mind. These seven categories can be further narrowed down into two: samatha (the first six) and vissana. While Samatha (bliss meditation) and Vissana (insight meditation or vipassana) have differences, Namgyal Rinpoche said that even these two types of meditation are ultimately the same because their goal is nirvana, permanent calm.
Putting aside the idea of nirvana for now, let’s look back at the idea that the form of meditation is just a tool to a universal meditative experience.
Movement Meditation and Mind-Body Connection
Using movement as meditation has its own unique and powerful benefits for practitioners that utilize the body-mind connection.
The late S.N. Goenka of the international 10-day Vipassana retreats spoke often of the significance of body-mind connection. He said at the World Peace Summit in 2000:
Every time negativity arises in the mind, such as hatred, it triggers unpleasant sensations within the body. Every time the mind generates selfless love, compassion and good will, the entire body is flooded with pleasant sensations.
What comes first? The mental thought, or the physical feeling? In Buddhism this is the question of Nama Rupa (body and matter). Budsas.org tells the joke: “What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind.” They also share a helpful metaphor:
The relation of mind to matter is like the relation of a battery to an engine of a motor car. The battery helps to start the engine. The engine helps to charge the battery. The combination helps to run the motor car. In the same manner, matter helps the mind to function and the mind helps to set matter in motion.
As S.N. Goenka said, and the best cushion/seated meditation practices reveal, we can alter the mental state and thereby create a certain physical experience in the body of bliss. However it is also possible to alter physical, emotional and mental states through moving the body mindfully.
Meditative movement encompasses a broad array of practices including walking meditation, tantric sex, tai chi, hatha yoga, dance meditation, and qi gong (amongst others).
It might be strange for some people, perhaps with only a background in performing or competitive dance, to imagine the meditative (dance meditation) or therapeutic (dance movement therapy) potential of dance. Therapeutically, dance can still be seen as an art, however how therapeutic it is depends on how much the practitioner focuses on the process, rather than the product of the dance.
Lama Mark Weber said that we don’t meditate just for the sake of meditating. We meditate in order to become an embodiment of dharma (“dharma” used in this way is referring to your true nature). Meditation is simply an aid to that aim. We can use our bodies in movement or dance meditation as an aid to that noble (and reachable!) aim.
How does it work?
It all comes back to awareness. At any given moment, our movements reflect our inner feelings. At the same time, the way we move influences how we feel. In movement meditation, a practitioner has the opportunity to observe and connect with their inner dynamics, and to play with the reality of them by altering the object that expresses them: the body.
When speaking of the “postures of meditation” what is being referred to is these four:
- Lying down
When in meditation retreat, it is advised to spend time meditating in each of the four postures. This is so that we can learn to be mindful in any activity in our daily life, no matter what posture we are in.
Variations also fall under each posture. For example, there are different types of sitting postures, such as the lotus.
Something that is imperative no matter what posture we are in, is to be relaxed and to have a straight spine. Read this article for more information on supportive sitting posture.
Sessions can vary depending on the style and the guide/ therapist involved. However, generally there is an aspect of group interactivity and/or client-therapist relationship. There will likely be an element of self-expression, either whereby the participants’ movement will reflect their feeling, perhaps in relationship to the music, and so the emotional and physical material work together.
Awareness of one’s muscular tensions can increase the patient’s understanding of his or her emotions or conflicts, and the goal is to relive the suppressed emotions and tensions through movement. –Birgit Kweh
Developmental theorist Donald Winncott, an influence in the development of Dance Movement Therapy, stressed the importance of “integrating the psyche and the body in order to acquire a true self” or in other words one could say, dharma.
Examples of Dance Meditation:
Expressive Therapy is keeping the “hands busy” to disengage the conscious mind and allow hidden messages of the subconscious to become clearer.
Free-form dance, when done mindfully or intentionally, can be a form of movement meditation, known as dance meditation, and is a type of Expressive Therapy and Dance Movement Therapy, with a qualified guide.
Dance Movement Therapy is a “psychotherapeutic use of movement” where the movement helps bring awareness to inner states, that once acknowledged can be worked with.
Meditative Movement is “simply, any type of meditation in which we are moving”.
Cathartic/ Ecstatic Dance is wild, uninhibited dancing where there are no rules except to let go and express yourself as fully as possible through movement.
5 Rhythms is a sophisticated movement language where we learn to express different energetic streams in the world.
Shamanic Dance combines elements of all the above dance types. The word “trance” is often used in describing Shamanic dance, where the practitioner “lets go” into the dancing and experiences a state of ease and flow. Like other dance styles here, the intention is to reconnect with your physical body and allow it to express whatever you’re feeling as a method of meditation and healing. Traditionally the dances often had more ritualistic intentions and were performed only by the community’s Shaman as a way of communicating with spirits and receiving their powers.
Trance Dance generally refers to a dance style that leads the dancer to a trance-like state. Today it often involves percussion beats/ drumming, and dancers, sometimes blindfolded, who let their intuition lead them. The term “trance dance” does have old, ritualistic origins in native cultures, however today sometimes has the negative association with drugs and raves where the Shaman is the DJ.