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Dance and Mindfulness

Updated: Aug 14, 2022


Written by Bianca Pasquinelli.

The meaning of well-being is multidimensional, involving every aspect of the human being: not only the physical and mental components, but also the emotional and spiritual. Every experience triggers thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. These different components are interconnected and they constantly impact each other. Dancers can find significant benefits for their body, combining a physical workout with a mental training. Muscles get stronger thanks to the daily exercise as well as the brain can be reinforced through the powerful tool of mindfulness.

What is meant by mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Mindfulness practices have spread in the Western World since the 70's and they have become internationally popular in the past decade, but their roots reach 2,500 years into the past. Specifically, they are based on Japanese Zen meditation, Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, Vipassana meditation and hatha yoga. The term mindfulness originates from sati, a word in the Pali language of ancient India – in which many original Buddhist texts were written. The meaning of sati is “moment to moment awareness of present events”, but also “remembering to be aware of something”.

Mindfulness consists in the innate and natural state of consciousness, which is present in every human being. It enables us to have more choices about what to do. Consequently, instead of reacting automatically, it is possible to respond more consciously and skilfully to inner and outer events of our life.

There are two types of mindfulness practices that should be combined in order to experience more benefits:

Formal practices: They are usually conducted in silence through deliberate techniques and they are characterised by a beginning and an end. They are the most usual practices and they include: Sitting Meditation, Walking Meditation and Body-Scan.

Informal practices: They can be carried out during any daily activity and at any time. Examples of informal practices are: making a cup of tea with awareness, brushing your teeth, doing the laundry, talking to a friend. In this sense, mindfulness is a way of taking care of every action, as simple as it might be, of your everyday life.

Even dance can become a conscious activity, if you manage to focus all your senses on the movements, while you are dancing. Bringing attention to the most subtle messages of the physical sensations, every variation of your body emerges to the conscience (including breathing) and an enhancement of the conscious proprioceptive sensitivity occurs. The sensorial experience’s awareness of the body enables the dancer both to improve the quality of his movements and to perceive more quickly the potential areas of pain in the body, reducing in this way the risk of serious injuries.

“Awareness is a property of the whole organism and the body is the subconscious mind” (Candace Pert)

Multiple studies have shown that mindfulness permits to increase gray matter in areas of the brain associated with happiness, well-being, and ability to control emotions. In fact, it helps being comfortable with oneself and more satisfied with living in your own body, in this way it favours dancers in the development of a positive mental attitude and an increased self-esteem: fundamental skills for maintaining consistency and determination in giving the best of themselves on stage, as well as in class or during training at home.

It often happens that dancers are so focused on their final performance that they make movements in automatic mode, forgetting to dance for the pleasure of doing it. By practicing mindfulness, they can rediscover fun and enjoyment in moving the body, enjoying every single moment.

“If he doesn't already find pleasure during rehearsals and lessons, how will the dancer really find happiness on stage? Will the performance be enough to make him satisfied?"

It makes you understand the importance of real self-acceptance, since it is a practice not aimed at seeking changes, but at accepting more who we are now. Trying to suppress unwanted thoughts and emotions can lead to over-focus on oneself. The dancer's conscious acceptance of his own cognitions, emotions and physical sensations, even unpleasant ones, enables him to be truly present in his experience, bringing all of himself into it.

"You have to know how to enter the current, regardless of the rocks and rapids, in order to reach the mouth" (Gottman)

It is no longer just the body that finds expression, but the dancer as an individual who does not reject anything of himself, but who rather uses his emotions to convey more authenticity to his movements. By returning periodically to awareness of the breath, it is possible to perceive in depth one's psychophysical unity, finally bringing body, mind and heart into synchrony.

Mindfulness can also improve the quality of concentration, a skill of fundamental importance for any dancer. It consists of a real training of attention: by exercising the mind to focus consciously on a single object (the breath, a sound or the contact of the feet with the ground), it teaches not to dwell on thoughts that distract from the focus. In fact, it can frequently happen that due to concerns about past memories or future projects there is a reduction in awareness and attention to the present experience.

Taming the restlessness of the mind through concentration also allows to lower the levels of mental stress, one of the factors that damage the body the most. For dancers the main stress is represented by a demanding standard of performance that can have negative repercussions on their performance. The good news is that mindfulness supports in managing stress effectively and strengthens the immune system, which can be damaged by everyday anxiety and tension. The conscious experimentation of the state of inner stillness and peace enables one to reach a deep state of regeneration and calm of body and mind, helping to relax muscular tensions and to face performances in a more serene way.

Sources: Mindfulness - A Practical Guide” (Tessa Watt) / Mindfulness. Essere Consapevoli” (Gherardo Amadei). At the youtube link below you can find an example of a Mindfulness practice conducted by Daniel Lumera:

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