Learn about moving meditations and meditative dance in this article previously published in NewWitch/PanGaia Magazine
For some people, dance can be a very powerful way of achieving a meditative state of consciousness. Dance combines a number of things that allow for a heightened experience of your body, mind, and energy. First, of course, there are the meditative basics of rhythm and repetitive motion. Dance encompasses both of these, but also ideally includes a focused awareness of your body, your breathing, and also your energy.
The motions of meditative dance do not have to be elaborate or even particularly graceful. Any motion that gets as much of your body as possible moving to the beat of some music can qualify as meditative dance. Even if you just stand in the middle of a room and spin around, letting the music flow around and through you, you’ll be in an august company of meditative dancers. The so-called “whirling dervishes” are a sect of Sufi mystics founded by the 13th century Muslim poet Jelaluddin Rumi. Rumi was a mystic and visionary who would dance around and around in circles – sometimes to a music that only he could hear – and dictate his mystical poetry. In the tradition of Rumi, the whirling dervishes achieve a meditative state through which they experience a sense of union with the divine by spiraling around and around in graceful circles.
In order to use dance as a pathway to the meditative state, the first thing you absolutely must do is become comfortable with the idea of dancing – even if you’re only going to be doing this in the privacy of your own home. A lot of people are terribly self-conscious about their bodies, and they can be even more self-conscious about how their bodies move. Don’t let a few bad experiences at high school dances ruin a very powerful tool of meditation for you. Forget about whether or not you look silly. Forget about the fact that you don’t think you can dance. Even if you feel like you have no sense of rhythm, a lot of that can change the moment you just let go and simply allow yourself to move.
To try your hand at meditative dance, pick a selection of music that appeals to you. It can be any type of music in any type of genre, so long as it has some kind of beat (personally, I find the electronic rhythms of EBM perfect for this kind of meditation, and there is a genre of music called “Trance” that gets its named from the tendency of its sounds and rhythms to induce altered states). Make sure that you either have several songs selected that will run continuously over a period of at least thirty minutes or one song programmed to repeat. You don’t want to just get into the groove with the dancing only to have the music suddenly cut out on you. While it’s possible to still maintain the meditative state even should such a situation arise, it still really kills the moment.
Set some time aside in your schedule where you will not be disturbed, especially if the idea of having someone walk in on you while you’re dancing makes you feel uncomfortable. Make sure you clear enough space so you can move around at least a little without knocking things over or bumping into furniture. Finally, make sure you put on comfortable clothes. In the case of meditative dance, “comfortable” may not mean clothes that are all loose and flowing. Put on clothes that you will feel most comfortable dancing in. For those of you with a traditional Pagan bent, this might mean dancing in your birthday suit. If you happen to be a Goth like me, “comfortable” might include vinyl pants and a corset, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with just jeans and a T-shirt. Others may not feel comfortable unless they’re in full belly dancer gear. Do whatever you need to do to get yourself focused and in the right mood, and then put the music on.
Once you have the music going, take a few moments to just stand still in the middle of the open space. Put your head down, close your eyes, and just listen. Concentrate all of your attention on the music. Let is wash over you and surround you until you can feel it seeping into your very flesh. Don’t break out in dance right away. Start by simply swaying to the beat of the music. Let your whole body feel the rhythm until the sense of it in your limbs is so contagious that you can’t not dance.
Once you have immersed yourself in the sound and feel of the music, start to move around a little more. Pick up your feet and step from side to side. Sway your hips. Move your hands in time with the music. Don’t think too hard about exactly what you’re doing. Instead, let the music move you.
The more you move, the more you will need to breathe, so take a few moments to concentrate upon your breathing. Make the rhythm of your breathing a part of the rhythm of the overall dance, just one more motion that your body is engaged in. Allow your consciousness to narrow down to just these few things: the sound of the music, the movements of your body, the rhythm of your breath.
There will come a point when you are dancing and you’re not even thinking about it any more. There will be a purity of experience that is just the rhythm and the motion and you and the sound, and this is your gate to the meditative state. At this point, do not stop dancing. Make every effort to let your body just keep doing what it was doing, without any special effort or strain. Let your body move around you while you take up a position of perfect clarity in your mind.
Take a few moments to observe what your body is doing, but don’t fixate on it. Let your body move naturally and retain this clear point of consciousness for other things. Feel the air as it moves in and out of your lungs. Be aware of how this rhythm acts together with the rhythm of your heart to carry life and energy throughout your body. Feel every particle of your being as it acts in unison to bring about this activity, dance. And enjoy the stillspace you have found within all this rapid activity. Hold it for several moments so you may fully experience it. Then slowly bring yourself back out of it, allowing your body to finish with the dance. Decrease the motion and intensity until you are again just standing there, swaying to the music. Then bring even that to an end and stand for a few moments, eyes closed, head down, body still, as you catch your breath. As you bring yourself fully back into your ordinary consciousness, experience the absence of motion with as much sensual acuity as you experienced the dance itself. With this balance between motion and stillness, you have achieved your first taste of meditative dance.