There is a fine line
Between order and chaos
Dance the line my love
-Haiku by Jamie Marich, photograph by Faith Chester, featuring the practice of Dancing Mindfulness facilitator Alicia Leigh Hann
"Some days I feel like I have a foot in both worlds, yet never really belonging to either."
-Governor Kate Brown (The first openly bisexual governor in U.S. History)
A deep fissure dwells
In my body and soul
Despite all of
the yoga classes
I am still searching...
I know I am beautiful
I embrace my worthiness
I've healed a cadre of
In my therapeutic quest
The longing for wholeness remains
A blessed fusion
I will only find through
I accept the invitation...
My dance needs two feet
And an open heart
A path for hope exists to
As authenticity embodied in this life.
Speak the truth
Even when your voice shakes
I've seen the meme
I've noticed the posters
And I've wretched inside.
So much easier said than done.
Taking a breath
I share my variation...
Breathe into the center of my being
Breathe and find my truth
On the exhale, allow doubt to release
Let fear begin to soften
Exhale the lessons learned that
My truth doesn't matter.
Be gentle if some of these blocks remain.
Trust my journey and
Allow these tendrils that silence me
To fuel my intention
The doubt, the fear, the negativity
Let my body know the innate
Specialness of my truth
How she needs to be shared
She wouldn't frighten me if she didn't.
Ride the waves of doubt
Play in the rain of fear and
Navigate the brutal rocks of negativity
Breathing all the while
Breathing like a lion and
I will roar like a tiger
Speaking my truth to the ages
Dancing with the consequences
"Brave Girl" mixed media: acrylic on canvas with photographs featuring Sister Henrietta Ritter, HM one of my kindergarten teachers and first movement facilitators on my left wing, representing the lineage of bold female teachers who came before me. This picture was taken in the 1920's when she played in a professional basketball league, recently gifted to me by another member of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary (Thanks Sister Joanne). On my right wing is Alicia Hann, one of my Dancing Mindfulness training students and emerging leader in our movement. She represents the boldness of female students I have the privilege of teaching. I am in the center, lifted up by the wings of integration given to me by my students and my teachers, flying me towards my greater purpose of helping other brave girls heal. Thanks to my cousin Danielle Realty for recently giving me an ornament with this phrase "Brave Girl" embossed upon it; the concept has given me a great deal to ponder!
A few years back, I read an article that changed my view on teaching and facilitating forever. Although I don’t remember the author’s name and have scoured back to try to find the piece (unsuccessfully), I internalized the heart and soul of the message. The author contended that the best yoga teachers don’t teach, they simply share their practices. The author railed against the cookie cutter styles they had been running up against in studios where young teachers are clearly just mimicking lines of a script or parroting their own teacher trainers. The anthem to which he kept returning is that the best yoga teaching flows when you simply share your own practice. If you have a practice, you likely have something to share.
The author’s teaching struck me as relevant for what we can offer as Dancing Mindfulness facilitators. I read this piece shortly after I began the Dancing Mindfulness facilitator program. If you’ve taken a training with me in Dancing Mindfulness or Yoga Unchained, you’ve likely heard me share this teaching with you. I believe it is necessary for me to explore this issue with Dancing Mindfulness facilitators again. What is the state of your personal Dancing Mindfulness practice at the moment and how are you sharing it?
Let me be clear—sharing your practice does not mean that you must set up specialized classes in your community or workshops where you rake in tons of money. I fear that many facilitators in our community no longer consider themselves facilitators because they are not teaching large classes. Or they believe that they never were true facilitators because they didn’t go on to teach a formal class after the training. Think about how you may be sharing your practice in your day-to-day work. Maybe you are a technical dance teacher or a Zumba teacher—are there little ways that you can incorporate the attitudes and elements of Dancing Mindfulness into those dance experiences? Perhaps you are a classroom teacher or a therapist. Are there small ways that you are teaching the lessons you are entrusted to teach using Dancing Mindfulness principles? Have you ever shared dance with friends or family, either in a planned way as part of a celebration or in a moment or random, beautiful spontaneity? Perhaps you once guided a friend you were helping through a troubling experience to dance it out. Some of the most special dancing mindfulness experiences I’ve had are of this variety, as an act of communion with friends in our mutual healing. Maybe you have an active social media presence and share your love of spontaneous dance through the videos and articles that you post; maybe you even share your playlists. I would argue that all of these methods, and I’m sure many others, constitute facilitation.
A story I tell in our book Dancing Mindfulness: A Complete Guide to Healing and Transformation is of my friend Andy. A clinical psychologist who has followed me on social media for years due to our therapy interests, one day Andy whimsically messaged me with a great share. He revealed that due to my posting about dance, including pictures and videos from our Dancing Mindfulness community events, he began dancing around his house. He told me that even though he’s an introvert who never fancied himself a dancer, he was inspired by what he saw us doing. While blaring some of his favorite tunes in his kitchen for dancing in the morning, he made the insight that dancing is always a good idea. Andy’s share was foundational in helping me realize that one can share a dancing mindfulness practice without ever teaching a formal class. Wherever you are active in life you have chances to share your practice—to share your love of dance and all things related to mindful living.
If you went through the facilitator training and are struggling with your identity as a facilitator or where to go next, I encourage you to start by building your personal practice. How are you using dancing, playlist making, or other mindful living strategies in your own life? If you’re not, how can you start? One of the reasons that I wrote the Dancing Mindfulness book is to help people build and cultivate their own personal practices whether or not they have access to a Dancing Mindfulness class. Reading some of the ideas in the book is a place to start. Before I ever facilitated a conscious dance class, following the training I received in another modality, I spent months in my condo putting together playlists that reflected where I was at in life on any given day. With great enthusiasm, I danced the playlist as my own personal practice. This was back in 2011 when I was struggling greatly after my divorce. Yet letting myself to use dance to heal in this way made me realize that I had something to share, and my enthusiasm for facilitating sprang forth from there. I began teaching classes in local yoga studios and at conferences, branching off from there to develop Dancing Mindfulness.
Over the years I’ve further embraced the idea of sharing small samples of dancing mindfulness practice wherever I have the opportunity instead of being focused on full classes. As we discuss in the facilitator training, you can share dancing mindfulness practice with one song, still honoring the beginning, middle, and end flow of the practice. Often times at professional trainings when I teach on trauma, I use a 2 or 3 song playlist to teach a sampler. Or if there is not room for this in the training but I have a chance to teach some yoga-based stretches, I will show people how they can flow those stretches into dance.
When you broaden the idea of sharing your practice to include all of these avenues for offering dancing mindfulness to others, you may realize that you’ve been facilitating all along. And if the extent of your dancing mindfulness practice at this time is a personal practice, please know that facilitating your own healing and transformation in this way is the most important way to be a facilitator. Please consider reaching out to those of us who are active in the Dancing Mindfulness community on the Facebook facilitators forum or the Facebook community forum if you are feeling stuck right now and need some ideas.
If you’ve followed Dancing Mindfulness and other projects connected to my Institute for Creative Mindfulness work, you’ve likely encountered the hashtag #redefinetherapy. What started as a book chapter and a hashtag is quickly turning into a movement that you may feel the call to embrace. I owe credit to Emily Wichland, the editor of my 2015 book Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing & Transformation for articulating the challenge to redefine therapy. In my first draft of Dancing Mindfulness, I structured the closing chapter around my experience of feeling more excited by practices that are happening outside of the bounds of conventional psychotherapy. To excerpt:
Formal psychotherapy has played a great role in my healing process and I respect the practice of counseling and therapy. Additionally, I am proud of what I’ve been able to achieve as a counselor in helping others. However, the overall direction of where my field is going does not excite me as much as the healing wonders I witness when people organically connect with their own creativity. I see many gifted professionals in psychotherapy stifled in their creativity and intuition by the rigid institutions that they work for or the insurance companies they fear, imposing unrealistic medical standards of care on their work. In sum, there is only so much that traditional therapy can do for people in the modern era because of the flaws in our healthcare system. What really excites me is what’s happening in healing communities across the globe. When I see people realize that healing and wellness are not synonymous with the broken systems that so many turn to in order to heal, my heart and soul smile.
When Emily returned the chapter edits to me, she suggested that I title the chapter Redefining Therapy. When I read this, my heart leaped into my stomach and then back again. I was excited—my immediate response was “Yes!” This notion of redefining therapy is what I see so many of our clinicians drawn to the Dancing Mindfulness community practicing in their lives. However, part of that visceral response also included a sense of terror. I asked myself, “Can I really be so bold, especially when many people in my field already resent those like me, challenging the value and the relevance of traditional psychotherapy taught in halls of academia?” By mindfully embracing these remnants of fear, I eventually arrived at the conclusion that naming the final chapter Redefining Therapy was an act of brilliance. The phrase represents everything that my work is about; it represents the sense of excitement I see percolate from the beautiful individuals I train when they are given permission to practice their healing arts outside of a rigid box.
As part of promoting the book’s release, Holly Speenburgh, a member of our Dancing Mindfulness community who was helping me with marketing at the time, began using the hashtag #redefinetherapy. For people in our community, it came to represent a way of doing things that might make your university counseling professors’ heads spin with frustration. Yet for us, it signifies the call for therapists to be inspired by what is happening outside of the literal boxes of our clinical offices and to bring some of this inspiration into how we teach our clients to heal. Redefine therapy also challenges potential consumers of mental health services to consider that conventional psychotherapy or psychiatry may not signal the only hope for treatment and recovery. Perhaps yoga or dance or raising your animals have cultivated a greater sense of safety in your own body than engaging in therapy ever has. Maybe martial arts or fly-fishing or backpacking through Europe or becoming an advocate in your community for change have helped you to experience a greater sense of empowerment than you have ever known. Like with many people I know both personally and professionally, it’s very likely that a combination of factors—which may or may not include psychotherapy—have led to your recovery and renewal.
While it may seem like common sense to embrace this all of the above approach to healing, please understand that I still encounter a great deal of resistance from other therapists and academics about embracing the wide range of human experience as potential outlets for transformation. Maybe these colleagues are afraid that highlighting the importance of other healing practices and communities of connection will delegitimize what we do as therapists and make our work seem less relevant. Perhaps the resistance is born of a good old fashioned fear of what we do not understand. Another possibility is a fear of deeply engaging the body and its power as a vehicle for change, deferring instead to the familiarity of the talking cure in therapy. While I am not opposed to talking or verbal methods in the overall healing process, I’ve seen too many people use words only to avoid and to deflect. In many of these situations, deeper healing must take place in our emotional and somatic brains that words cannot directly reach. The journey into our emotional and bodily selves is difficult in our culture where we are constantly bombarded with messages that feelings cannot be trusted and feeling them makes us weak. The media and many of the tastemakers in our society shame us for having bodies that do not meet some perfect standard of what bodies should be. Additionally, the impact of religious messaging and shame-based interpretations of religious teachings leave many to doubt the wisdom inherent in their bodies.
The time is now to speak up about what has helped you to reach your desires in healing and recovery. It’s 2017 and I am still fighting licensing boards and continuing education standards committees in certain states about the relevance of yoga, mindfulness, and expressive arts in the practice of professional therapy. A limitation for what works in healing and recovery still permeates many of the institutions that shape research, policy, and clinical practice guidelines. Moreover, the age-old axiom this is the way we’ve always done it, often invoked to honor tradition in many clinical and academic settings, seems to be hampering progress in an era where we need fresh solutions. Addiction is killing us in epic proportions, old trauma scripts are being triggered by current events and the state of the world, and people are feeling a greater sense of despair as we begin to wake up from our comas of oppression and realize that who we are matters. Showing up for life is hard work. As therapists, are we using all possible strategies for helping clients to embrace the challenge? As potential consumers of mental health and recovery services, what problems might we have with conventional psychotherapy and what have we discovered that may work better instead?
My challenge is that we begin having these conversations with greater vigor. What does redefining therapy mean to you? What has really helped you to embrace healing and recovery, either inside or outside of traditional structures of psychotherapy and treatment? Maybe it’s been one primary practice, maybe it’s been an all-of-the-above approach. My vision long term is to use this blog to hold space for people to share about what redefining therapy means to them and how they have put a wide array of healing practices into their lives. If it’s psychotherapy, I want to hear about what worked in it for you. If it’s Muay Thai kickboxing or aerial yoga or climbing mountains or volunteering at the soup kitchen or becoming a minister in the Church of the Dude, I want to hear about that, too. Feel free to submit your reflections and stories to me and I will be happy to publish them with your permission. Long term, my goal is to be able to publish an entire book called Redefining Therapy where we are not afraid to speak about what has truly worked for us and to continue to shatter the paradigm for what brings about change, healing, and recovery.
Photography by Natalie Mancino, June 2015, as part of the Body Diversity Aerial Yoga Project
Soften the edges
of my soul
to reflect the
easing in my body.
Loosen the grip
I squeeze on life
to embrace the
joy of letting go.
Mellow the stress
in my existence
so that I may
fully enjoy life.
Infuse the edges
with space and time
to receive this world
as I am.
Bless me with the
Wisdom to know when
To fight and when
To be patient
Infuse me with a
Hunger for justice and
Resources to fuel this vessel,
To see it done
Burn within me each day
Warm me with the
Certainty of my being,
Teach me what I need
To know so that I may
Celebrate the small
Victories in each day.
Thanks to Coach Jim Bundy for capturing the picture!
The Wisdom of the Body: Review of Christine Paintner's Newest Book with Link to Teleconference with Dr. Jamie Marich (3/10/17)
What an honor and privilege to interview Dr. Christine Valters Paintner, a graduate of our Dancing Mindfulness facilitator training program as she celebrates the release of her 10th book, The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women (Sorin Books, 2017). Christine is the abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a vibrant and active ministry. Although based in Galway, Ireland, the abbey is global in its outreach, especially through a variety of courses, retreats, and other offerings made online (including the popular Facebook group, Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks).
In Christine's latest book, built from decades of personal experience of her own journey with embodied healing, readers are led through a self-directed retreat experience. Various topics of struggle for women are covered, such as desire, emotional expression, and depletion from true nourishment. Each chapter invites readers into a series of exercises where they can explore, and if they so choose, embody the content inherent in this journey. Expressive arts practices (including conscious dance), yin yoga, and invitations to reflect on wisdom of the ages (presented through Christine's own vibrantly lived experience) make this content come alive. A special feature is that in each chapter, Christine offers a sacred feminine guide for the journey. Women like St. Hildegard of Bingen, Eve, Amma Syncletia, and many others are presented in refreshed light so that modern women may be inspired to draw on these guides, and their teachings, as sources of wisdom.
I had the distinct pleasure of offering Christine consultation on her manuscript (and am delighted to be included in the acknowledgments), specifically in the area of trauma-informed presentation. Although Christine writes from a Christian ministry perspective and as an expressive arts educator, I believe that her work should be required reading for therapists who work with women. There are so many solutions offered within The Wisdom of the Body that can help women in their healing, especially from legacies of trauma that wreak havoc on the body.
Listen to an interview that I conducted with Christine on 3/10/17 (a live teleconference) as we talked about her own experiences with learning to honor her body, her work with Abbey of the Arts, and of course the newest book. The interview wraps up with a dynamic discussion about why this work is so relevant for women in modern times. Learning to love and embraces one's body in the face of cultural messages suggesting otherwise is a supreme feminist action! -Jamie
Listen on Website (above) or Download (below)
This is a guest post from Wisdomfeed.com. WisdomFeed helps you make sense out of this complicated world so you can live a richer, fuller, and simpler life.
Are you one of those people that cannot sit still when a good song comes on?
Are you overcome by the irresistible urge to get up and dance, and often find yourself dancing around the house or even in supermarkets, when the right song presents itself?
You're not alone, my friend. We are kindred spirits.
As Samuel Beckett once said, "Dance first, think later. It is the natural order."
In childhood we are instinctive dancers. Unfettered by that joy-killing tendency to become self conscious as we age, young children bounce, sway and otherwise boogie when the urge strikes. Somewhere along the way we begin to care what people think. We begin to monitor ourselves according to what we think others expect, and often random bouts of dancing is one of the first things to go. It's developmentally appropriate, but it still sucks.
What we need is an uprising, people. We need to fight back against the social constructs that squelch our dancing spirits! Flash Mob has the right idea. We need more of that, and here's why:
*Dancing has been scientifically proven to improve memory, cognition and mood. PET scans of the brain indicate that while music activates the pleasure centers of the brain, the action of dancing promotes activity in the brain known for sensory and motor function. So our inclination to dance benefits us emotionally and physically.
*A study published in 2003 followed 469 seniors over the course of five years. The study indicated a preventative connection between dancing and the onset of dementia.
Innovative dance studio owners are also working with children from foster care and children who have ADHD and have found that these children greatly benefit from the emotional and physical outlet of dancing.
*Dancing enables access to emotional experiences of the past and reconnects us to our bodies. Certain songs can quickly transport us to a particular place and time in the past that may not be on the surface in our daily lives. The way our minds process music is different than the way we process other stimuli, offering a unique format to access emotions that may not fit neatly into words. Combining the physical exertion of dance to the emotional component of music offers a connection to a more primal part of our brains that modern life tends to undermine. It relieves stress, builds confidence and self esteem and offers a plethora of physical and mental health benefits.
Whether you embrace dancing by joining a dance studio to learn some new moves, go to a club and dance around in front of giant speakers under flashing lights, or simply turn on some tunes and have an impromptu dance party in your living room, there is no wrong way to do it. With all of the physical and mental benefits, getting in touch with your inner dancing queen has never been a smarter endeavor.
So, what songs are on your "gotta dance" play list?
Check out WisdomFeed for more on how to help you make sense out of this complicated world and live a richer, fuller, and simpler life.
Paula H. Cookson is a freelance writer and psychotherapist living in Maine. She dances in random places, much to the embarrassment of her daughter, at times. Check out her adult coloring book, "Funkadelic Designs" on Amazon.com.
An app for expressive art? Sounds like a bit of an odd concept, right? Well, don’t look away just yet. Whether you’re a dancer, a painter, or just want something to help you with Mindfulness, there are a decent amount of apps out there which may be of use to you…
Unless you’ve been living under a stone the past few years, you’ll have encountered the ‘adult coloring’ phenomenon. It’s taken the world by storm - and a lot of people say it’s really helped their mindfulness practice, reduced their stress levels, and given their creativity a boost. However, if you aren’t able to carry coloring books and pencils around with you wherever you go (who is?), there are plenty of adult coloring apps you can download. One of the best is Recolor - a slick, well-presented app which manages to pretty faithfully recreate the act of coloring, despite being on a tablet or cellphone! There are thousands of designs to choose from, and a bigger selection of colors than you could ever fit into a pencil case! Lots of the designs are free, but more are available via in-app purchases.
Using an app to help you dance is not the easiest thing in the world. After all, unless you’re seriously well covered for accidents, nobody wants to dance with a phone or tablet in their hands! However, apps can give you a decent spread of pre-dance info, and help you not only to perfect your moves, but to learn new ones, and gain a greater general understanding of the world of dance. Pocket Salsa is one of the better dance apps out there. It provides dance-lesson vids and plenty of genuinely helpful advice to really improve your salsa!
Chromaldry is another coloring app - but with a difference. This one will take your smartphone photos and turn them into coloring pictures. It offers a nice paint palette, where users can mix their own colors by swirling them together with their fingers. It’s a lovely idea, and very well executed. The ability to turn your own photos into art adds a nice personal touch, and can really help those wanting to improve their artistic ‘eye’!
See Me allows you to turn your own photos and/or designs into wearable art. For $32 per tee, the app will print your design onto a t-shirt (which you get to customise to your own specifications) and send it out to you. Perfect for commemorating something lovely, or for providing someone with a unique gift! Of course, customized t-shirts are nothing new, but this app goes the extra mile to make a truly personalized tee easy and intuitive to create.
If you want to incorporate your phone into your dance (and why not), Air Pencil is a great way to do it. Basically, the app transforms your phone’s flashlight into a strobe light, which can be used to ‘draw’ temporary designs on the air. The app also captures your motions on its screen, allowing you to create beautiful designs with light. The app was inspired by artists like Picasso and Mili, both of whom experimented extensively in the arena of painting with light.
Lots of people are interested in pole dancing - and it is an excellent way to get fit and build confidence - but not everyone is comfortable with the idea of going to a class. Pole motion teaches you pole dance from the comfort of your own home. It’s suitable for both complete beginners and those who already know what they’re doing, so you don’t have to worry about getting in over your head! The app is free, so all you’ll need to purchase is the pole - but do be careful not to hurt yourself, and always do the app’s warm up before starting!
iDance is a dance and fitness app, which teaches dance steps through nifty little animations. There are plenty of styles to choose from, and it’s a great place to start if you’re new to dance, or thinking about taking it up but aren’t really sure whether it’s for you. While it may not be suitable for more advanced dancers, it does provide a great grounding for those starting out!
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity