For millennial, various spiritual groups have practiced dance meditations. In this article we’ll dip into the history of dance meditation before discussing specific dance meditation techniques. You will learn:
- What are dance meditations.
- What are the benefits of using dance meditations.
- How to do dance meditations.
So, let’s get started.
The Origins Of Dance Meditations
Hindu Dance Meditations
As with many spiritual practices, dynamic meditation really finds its roots in Hinduism– even if it has evolved significantly over time.
Dance meditation is an essential part of Hinduism.
Hindus believe that the entire universe is the manifestation of the Supreme Dancer Nataraja.
Dance is so important to Hinduism that all Hindu gods have their own style of dance and there are 23 celestial Apsaras, beings who dance to please the gods and who express the supreme truths via their movements.
In temples throughout India, and particularly in East and South India, spiritual dance used to be a part of a sacred ritual, where devadasi’s (girls dedicated to worship) worshipped the divine through a complex system of gestures and mimes.
This sacred ritual evolved to become the South Indian Classical Dance, which is still practiced today. It is said that many of those who perform the South Indian Classical Dance are incarnations of apsaras.
A classic illustration showing devadasi dancing, a form of dspidance meditation.
This pencil sketch shows the dance of the bayaderes. This is an ancient dance meditation.
Christian Dance Meditations
Modern Christianity also uses a form of spiritual dance meditation to bring a person closer to God.
Beginning in the latter half of the 20th Century with the modernisation of Christianity, churches have used music and dance as a means of worship.
Judaism also involves a sacred dance meditation: the messianic dance or Davidic dance (in reference to King David, who is said to have danced before the Ark of the Covenant).
Buddhist Dance Mediation
Buddhists also use ritual dances and spiritual dancing, and it’s here that dynamic meditation began to take shape.
Buddhists use spiritual dance meditations to offer their body to Buddha.
The three main types of Buddhist dance meditation are the butterfly dance, the cymbal dance, and the T’aju (eight-fold path dance).
The butterfly dance is a dance for novices which incorporates lotus flowers and costumes that depict butterflies. This spiritual dance is slow, quiet and meditative, and is backed by peaceful Buddhist chants.
When performing the cymbal dance, dancers will carry brass cymbals that they strike. This is a louder spiritual dance and is used to represent nirvana.
Buddhist ritual dances / spiritual dances
Dance Meditations In Different Cultures
Clearly, dance meditations are a big part of numerous religions. And they’re also a part of broader culture too.
If you like to travel you will probably have seen many different types of meditative movements that are not strictly religious or spiritual.
In Japan, for instance, one very popular type of exercise is Katsugen Undo (regenerating exercise). It’s a wonderful exercise in which you give up your conscious control of your body and allow your body to heal itself. In China, similar exercises called Zifagong, Re-do and Zi Ran Qigong are also popular.
Iran and Turkey also use similar unconscious movement and spiritual dancing meditation exercises. The Mevlevi Dervish, for instance, is a spontaneous type of movement that, like Katsugen Undo, involves giving up control of the body.
These Sufi movements are said to have been created when Rumi was walking through a marketplace one day. He heard the goldbeaters hammering rhythmically away and in a state of bliss he spontaneously broke into dance, spinning in a circle.
Rumi: a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. One of the most influential spiritualists in all of history.
One of the most popular types of dancing meditation was created by Rumi. This Rumi quote about life is one of my favourites.
About Non-Religious Dance Meditation
All the forms of spiritual dancing and movement exercises that we’ve looked at so far could easily be considered “meditative dance” or “dynamic meditation”. And there are many, many more exercises that could also be done in a meditative way.
Dynamic meditation doesn’t need to be sacred. Personally I can find a deep state of meditation when I’m out for a run or when I’m exercising (I practice a lot of kickboxing and strike-style cardio). Those are meditative too.
As you can see, the term “dynamic meditation” is very broad. So for convenience sake and to contemporise dynamic meditation, let’s simply say that dynamic meditation is any type of movement that can be used to meditate on the body.
Most contemporary theories and beliefs about dynamic meditation were created when Osho’s works were translated into English in the 1970s
Osho believe that it would be impossible for a person in the modern day to simply sit still and enter a meditate state. He said, “I never tell people to begin with just sitting. With a mad dance, you begin to be aware of a silent point within you; with sitting silently, you begin to be aware of madness.”
Osho was not focused on the idea of meditation being strictly spiritual or religious, either. He believed that meditation could be used for connecting to the divine, for self realisation, or as a way of healing and exercising the mind and body.
The Basic Osho Dynamic Meditation Technique
There are a few important starting notes that you need to bear in mind before attempting this technique. Firstly, dynamic meditation is entirely about moving when you’re body feels like it. Unlike yoga, for instance, when we are moving through specific poses (asanas), with dynamic meditation we are moving as the body dictates. It’s important to allow your body to dictate the way you move, rather than controlling your body with the mind. It’s also important to make sure that you are not inhibiting your body in any way. Move entirely as the body dictates, not more and not less.
It is also important to practice dynamic meditation in the right place. The right place for dynamic meditation is a large room where you have plenty of space to move without worrying about bumping into anything. It is also important that your room be free of any distractions. Removing any clutter will help.
1) Stand up and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing for five minutes to relax.
2) Now focus on your body. Meditate on the sensations in your body as you would when performing body scan meditation. Before long you will find an impulse to move. It will be as though your body is asking your mind to allow it to move. Go with it. Let the body control the mind. Let your body dictate its own movement. Be loose enough (mentally) to listen to your body and to let it move itself.
3) After ten minutes begin to get more and more into the spiritual dance until you are moving quite actively. Continue to focus on your body while you dance. Dance for twenty minutes with or without music, whichever you prefer. You should feel no distinction between mind and body and no distinction between yourself and the dance. You’re no longer the person dancing. You are the dance.
4) When you are ready to finish, shake out any tension and lie on the floor. Meditate on your surroundings for five minutes.
This is the basic dynamic meditation technique that Osho taught. There are many similar techniques that revolve around the same basic premises. One such technique is Nataraj meditation.
You can read more about Osho’s Dynamic Meditation here. And about Osho’s Dance Meditation here.
Nataraj Meditaton (a Spiritual Dancing Meditation)
Another of Osho’s meditation techniques is Nataraj, the name of which refers to Nataraja, the supreme Hindu God who created the universe through his divine dancing.
Nataraj is considered a “total meditation”, a meditation in which inner division vanishes and we are left with a completely relaxed state of awareness.
When you practice Nataraj meditation, aim to forget about being a “dancer”. Aim instead to become the dance itself. Connect to the divine energy inside of yourself. Let go.
This picture shows the Wild Woman dancers doing Nataraj dance meditation, a dance meditation named after Nataraja, the Hindu god who created the universe through dancing.
Here’s how to do Nataraj Dance Meditation.
Stage 1: Stage 1 is the longest stage and should last 40 minutes. In this stage you must dance with your eyes closed. Allow you unconscious to completely take control. Make sure that you are not controlling your movements and that you are not aware of the steps. Just dance. Become one with the spiritual dance.
Stage 2: 20 minutes
The next stage is done lying down and meditating on everything. Meditate on your body and on the environment. Be still and silent.
Stage 3: 5 minutes
This final stage is a celebration. Let go, dance and have fun. Dance how you want to, listening to your body and moving how it dictates. Enjoy the movement. This should be a truly joyous activity.
Read more about Nataraj Dance Meditation here.
Meditating To Other Exercises
As well as practicing these specific dynamic meditation techniques, you can also meditate while doing traditional exercise.
Whether you’re doing yoga, tai chi, spiritual dance, going for a run or walk, or performing any other safe exercise, you can quickly convert that exercise into a meditation technique. There’s just one caveat: Only ever meditate when performing exercises that cannot possibly lead to serious injury. Obvious example: Running through a field? Check. Running next to a busy road? Scratch. When you meditate you often forget where you are and become what you’re doing. That can potentially lead you to being unaware of your surroundings, which could cause an accident. So always, always be safe, and when in doubt check with a professional before continuing.
So now we’re all safe and not going to attempt anything too crazy, let’s discuss how to convert regular exercise into meditation.
For starters when you meditate on an exercise you are not burning calories. You’re not losing weight. You’re not getting in shape. You do not have an end destination. When you’re meditating on an exercise you are the exercise. Your mind is one with your body and your body is the exercise.
When running be the running. Don’t be the person trying to drag their body down the road to burn some calories so you can fit into those jeans. Make it more divine than that. Make your mind the running. Perform the exercise mindfully. Consciously lift your foot, move it forward, plant it carefully down on to the ground, transfer your weight onto the other foot and repeat. That’s the entire process of running. That’s the process your mind should pass through with each and every step you take.
When dancing, don’t try to look sexy. That’s just inhibition (and inhibition is not sexy). Liberate yourself. Connect with the energy inside your body. Make your mind that energy. Be it. That’s divine dancing. That’s what the devadasi’s in the sacred temples of India do. That’s what’s best for you when you practice spiritual dancing.
The Benefits Of Meditating While Exercising
When you meditate on exercise you’re going to notice many wonderful things.
For starters you’re going to notice that exercise is not as painful as many people think it is. Too many people get bogged down with thoughts like “this is hard work” or “I’m exerting myself” or “I’m shedding the pounds”.
Those mental thoughts are like weights that your mind carries. It’s easier to run when you’re not carrying physical weights. It’s also easier to run when you’re not carrying mental weights.
You’re also going to notice that exercise is a lot more fun than many people think.
If you’re too caught up in idea of becoming fit and healthy you lose the whole point: The fact that exercise makes you feel great. When you let go and let your mind be consumed by the activity and the movement, you get to truly experience exercise in a way you may never have experienced it before.
You will also notice that your body is a miraculous and complex thing.
A lot of people take their body for granted. They think it’s a burden that has to be exercised and that stops them from eating all the chocolate and cakes they like. They miss the beauty of it, the fact that their body is a temple, a sacred, complex, and beautiful thing. But when you let go of your thoughts and you allow your mind to be one with your body, when you finally notice all those million operations and movements that your 206 bones and 640 muscles do to enable you to move, suddenly you realise how amazing your body is.
More than anything, when you meditate on exercise you will enhance your mind body connection and you will feel much more aware and much more appreciative of your body and of your physical reality. That’s a truly fantastic thing, because as soon as you’re aware and appreciative of your own body you start to make better decisions. Instead of thinking “I want that McChicken Sandwich but I can’t have it because I’m overweight” you think “My body is a divine and miraculous thing, and I want to honour it and love it by making healthy choices”. It’s just a far more positive mental space to be in.
The human body is the best picture of the human soul. – Ludwig Wittgenstein