HOW SACRED DANCE CAN HEAL YOU
By Anya Light
Anya Ligh, PhD, is an author, Reiki master, and intuitive life coach. Visit www.AnyaLight.com to schedule a healing session in Bowling Green, OH or via phone/Skype.
A few minutes into the dance, and my eyes begin to burn with tears. My breath comes faster and faster, as all the chaos emerges.
This is the moment of the dance. Here it is: the moment of the unveiling. Today, the act of dancing is like looking in a mirror after rolling around in the mud. It’s a bit scary.
This is the moment of the dance; the time when the fear is released. There is a gorgeous song playing, a mix of piano and violin with soft feminine vocals. I am allowing every note of it to invade the universe of my cells. I am one with the song.
Sometimes I am a soft and subtle priestess, swirling, delicately articulating my wrist an imperceptible inch—and, at other times, I am a forceful, angry beast: my feet kick and stomp, my fists pump and punch the air.
The tears come faster now. Wet and thick like sludge. Some of these tears fall onto the carpet underneath my feet, and some of them fall into my open mouth and I digest them. These tears are primal and necessary. I must release them; I must free them. These tears let me know that I have accidentally taken on too much weight, lately, that I have absorbed too much from the seeming brokenness around me: the poverty, the violence, the hatred, the fears. The bruised woman, tattooed from head to toe, who came to me for counsel, who barely made eye contact. Somehow, she has become the one who has turned me black and blue. The friend who I watch killing himself with every cigarette…he is somehow choking me as well. The glaring president on the television who says “build the walls”…somehow, somehow, in these past few days, since my last dance, that same president has put a wall around my heart, too. I have somehow become the victim. I have somehow forgotten my divinity and have begun to take on other’s pain. Somehow, some way, in the past few days, I have forgotten the basic truth: that we are all one.
HOW TO DANCE
The dance doesn’t have to be pretty today. The dance doesn’t have to be perfect.
These are the words I tell myself on the days when it’s more difficult to get off my couch.
The dance can be whatever it is. It can be gentle or it can be intense. I can spit or I can smile. I can be wild or a delicate beauty. In fact, it doesn’t even have to look like “a dance” at all. Just feel the music, Anya—and see what happens.
Dear friends, I have discovered the secret of dance.
No matter how awfully, no matter how awkwardly a dance begins, it will always end in joy—if you give it time.
The secret of dance is to give it time. As much as it takes. Just stand up, turn on the music, turn off the clocks, and dance. Allow the dance to feel weird or laborious until the precious moment comes when the dance is a true dance. When all the fears are gone, and the music possess you.
For my healing journey, I have made the commitment to dance two or three times a week. And when I dance, the dance is always different. But there are some generalities I can share.
I love to dance alone. And when I begin my dance, in my humble living room, on freezing winter nights or sumptuous summer afternoons, I begin with a prayer and I end with a prayer. At the beginning I say, “Please make me a conduit for the powers of life itself to dance through me.” At the end I say, “Thank you, I am so grateful for this gift of dance.”
I dance with intention: as a healing art. I dance for my own sanity and my own self-compassion. I dance to fall in love with myself, to be my own best partner.
I dance freeform. No memorized steps. Just feel what emerges.
Some days the dancing is short: ten or twenty minutes is all I have time for: it’s a full busy day, and I’m already feeling good. On other days, however, the dancing is a long and twisting journey: I turn off the phones and the clocks and everything else that beeps and I promise to dance until that blessed moment comes when I begin to feel good. I wait for the serotonin; I wait for the sigh of relief and the smile. On those rather rough days, I know that nothing else is as important as my decision to dance. It is a commitment I have made to myself. It is a commitment to my own evolution and healing.
On the tough days, the dance is imperative. I know that until this fear departs, I am utterly useless. I cannot serve myself, let alone serve others. Until this fear subsides, what can I possibly do? The truth is, the fear makes me a cold, lifeless machine. A stumbling zombie.
So, I dance. I choose to dance and I come alive within the dance. I become goddess and god when I dance, when I reach the place where gender has no meaning in the blur of bliss. I put on my comfiest sweatpants or my sexiest skirt, and I dance until the time comes when sweat slides down my neck and I am intoxicated by the smell of my own armpits as my head thrashes from side to side. I find I actually like this smell.
And now comes the moment when I strip. I peel off all my sweaty clothes, throwing them triumphantly onto the carpet in a beautiful, crazy heap. My roommate is not home. (I always wait to dance until I am totally alone and will not be disturbed.) At this moment, I am naked and dancing. At this point, I have reached ecstasy. No drugs needed, except the delicious batch of chemicals my brain has made.
HEAL YOUR BRAIN AND BODY WITH DANCE
Where does anxiety come from? From whence does fear originate? Why are some people able to cure their depression while others commit suicide? Where does the darkness come from, and how can we bring in the light? These profound questions of what it means to be human are no longer simply relegated to the province of priests—now, in our modern age, scientists, sociologists, and psychotherapists are joining the dialogue.
In the holistic community, dance is being used as a treatment for depression, PTSD, autism, eating disorders, and many other conditions. Christina Devereaux, spokesperson for the American Dance Therapy Association, describes dance as a way of shedding light upon what’s hidden within the psyche, as a way to explore, purge, and clear painful emotions. “We really believe in the body/mind connection,” she says. “Dance is a way for people to use what’s happening inside them and express it in an external, expansive way.”
In a 2015 peer-reviewed study, researchers found that dancing boosts self-esteem, lowers anxiety, and increases psychological wellbeing. They demonstrated and categorized the plethora of motivations and benefits that bring people of all ages to the dancefloor. Indeed, more and more dance studies like these are being conducted in the field of neuroscience.
No longer is talk therapy touted as the best or only way to heal deeply-set psychological issues. Instead, researchers are touting, in ever greater numbers, the radical healing powers of movement practices, such as dance, tai chi, yoga, and others. At the Stanford Neuroscience Health Center, for example, elders with Parkinson’s meet weekly to dance to live music and spoken word poetry. This “Dance for PD” class is a truly holistic therapy: it heals on the physical as well as the emotional and mental levels as well. Incredibly, the program was launched 15 years ago in Brooklyn, New York, and is now offered in 16 countries around the world!
MY DANCE JOURNEY
For over three decades, I struggled to live. The combination of undiagnosed PTSD (derived from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as a child) plus being gifted upon birth with a number of intuitive gifts and sensitivities (gifts not recognized as valid by my culture) left me disabled and suicidal. I simply couldn’t figure out how to function in the world.
In my early thirties, I had no choice but to leave behind a promising academic career, shortly after earning my PhD, due to my rapidly-disintegrating immune system and an advanced case of adrenal fatigue syndrome. (These are, unfortunately, quite common issues for those with unhealed trauma.) For a while, my friends and family had to take care of me. I intuitively knew that if something didn’t shift soon, I would die.
Today, my life looks so radically different that sometimes I shake my head in grateful disbelief. Since beginning my sojourn with dance, my adrenals and immune system have regained functioning. I am healthier now in body, mind, and spirit than I ever have been in my entire life.
In my healing journey, I have been blessed to receive help in many beautiful forms: a compassionate, highly-intuitive counselor, trusted spiritual teachers, a community of loving friends, and daily practices such as yoga and meditation. All of these aided greatly in my recovery. However, the final, powerful piece of my healing puzzle clicked into place the moment I discovered dance…a path for radically rewiring my brain and detoxifying old, clogged-up emotions within the regions of my sensitive heart.
DEFINITIONS OF DANCE
Dance is moving faster than the speed of thought. Dance is immersion in sound.
Dance is instinctive. It connects us with our ancestors, the ancient tribes who danced for rain and to celebrate the hunt. Dance is primal and sacred. It’s an opening of the heart. It’s a healing space where we feel the music so intensely, so fully, that our bodies cannot help but move.
Dance is being possessed by the dance. The dancer becoming the dance. The body becoming a channel. A vessel of light.
Indigenous cultures throughout history have practiced dance as not only a celebration, but also as a divine healing art. During the height of my healing crisis, about six years ago, my friend Pattie, a Native American medicine woman, began to teach me how to dance. Her lessons were not formal nor were they complicated. They simply arose, organically and simply, because I was ill and she loved me.
We sat by the fire in the open air. Barefoot. Summer evening, fireflies. She began to drum. And she asks me, before the dance, “Are you finally ready to let go of your fear?”
I remember her watching me. I remember melting into the realization that she knew something I did not. She possessed a knowledge deeper and truer than could be expressed in words. As I began to dance around the leaping fire, my feet stomping and grinding with the earth, I wept. I openly released moans and sighs: anger bottled since childhood was leaving me.
In those moments with Pattie, I felt all the benevolent spirits who guided her nod their silent, loving assent. (Maybe these spirits were my friends, too?)
On those blessed summer evenings, I danced. I finally felt connected: to her, to her Ojibwa tribe, and to all the people of the Earth who understand the simple ways of healing.
We humans in modern cities lose a bit of life energy every day. Pollution, noise, stress, lousy jobs, poisoned food, living in squared-shaped boxes made of toxic materials. Our feet rarely touching the Earth. We lose our balance in a thousand ways and we become ill. We forget our connection to Source. Through sacred dance, we bring our awareness back into our bodies, back into our holy temples. We get our blood flowing again. We turn off our gadgets and our thinking minds, and we return to a simpler, more loving way of being.
What is dance? Dance is a mode of reconnection. A testament to the truth that: every body, no matter how seemingly damaged, wants to heal.
When we are dancing, we lose our stories. We lose our successes, our failures, our labels, our concepts, our To Do Lists…these all vanish, in the glory of the dance. The story of “me” dies. In these incandescent moments, when our limbs sway with wild, unabashed freedom, we become like children again. We become innocent. We forget all the reasons that allopathic medicine has told us that we will never be cured or that we will always need these pills. Thanks to the dance, we forget the bullshit. We return to the truth.
THE UNEXPECTED MIRACLE OF DANCE
Through dance, I’ve made friends with my physical form and I’ve found a great friend in music, too. I’ve found that I have a ready-made cure for a bad day and a predictable solution for stress.
As the years pass, I have found that there is a peaceable merging happening within my being: with each dance, with each moment of tuned-in movement, this thing I call “thinking” diminishes as my idol. Instead, thinking has become this lovely tool that I can gently manage. When I dance or meditate and the thinking mind subsides, I find something more deeply satisfying than I ever found in any book or concept…I feel a connection to all of life. To all beings. Within my body and within the music.
Here’s some secrets. You don’t need music to dance. Next time you’re in line at the grocery store, try what it feels like to gently sway your hips back and forth. Or, when you’re talking to the teller at the bank, what does that flexing that smile on your face feel like? When you’re at home washing dishes, what does the soap and hot water feel like as you move your hands in rhythmical patterns across the glistening porcelain? Can you feel the movement and graceful shapes of your body as you go through your daily life? Can you make a game of it? Can each moment of physical expression in this incarnation be an art form unto itself? Can life itself be a joy?
When my roommate leaves our apartment, I turn up the music. I am transported to a miraculous place. Suddenly, I am beyond time and logic. No cause and effect, no planning. I am just me, and somehow beyond me: just the grace and splendor of these limbs, this breath, and this amazing life. I am already healed.
2- Maraz A, Király O, Urbán R, Griffiths MD, Demetrovics Z (2015) Why Do You Dance? Development of the Dance Motivation Inventory (DMI). PLoS ONE 10(3): e0122866. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0122866
Joni will be leading Sacred Dance every Wednesday from 6:15-7:15PM.
Are YOU finally ready to let go of your fear?
Join me in the D A N C E.