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)
People who know me well can tell you that Master Yoda is my favorite character in the Star Wars universe. I've long looked to Master Yoda as a sage guide, a sponsor, in my own recovery journey where the force has long resonated as a form of Higher Power for me. In my development as a professional counselor, I also turned to Yoda as a role model. As a sponsor, a therapist, a teacher, a yogi, and a practitioner of mindfulness, his wisdom never fails to speak truth to my soul. While all of his "one liners" are excellent candidates as recovery slogans, I was prompted to choose one that most resonated with the Dancing Mindfulness element of mind to lead off Chapter 4 of the new book dedicated to that element. As my Christmas/Holiday gift to you, it is my pleasure to share with you the quote of Master Yoda's that I chose to lead off the chapter, and to give you a glimpse into the chapter itself. Enjoy!
This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away ... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing.
—Master Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back
The mind is not our enemy. By engaging in consistent practice we can learn to understand the intricacies of how our mind operates in our individual experiences. This consistent practice teaches us how to let our mind work for us, not against us. As a result, we can always come home to the present moment. Too often we see the mind only as an instrument for thinking—an instrument that can run amok with worry and negative ruminating if left unchecked. However, our mind is so much more than our thoughts. Consider that both the breath and the body—elements of dancing mindfulness that we’ve already covered—are guided by mental processes. As we will explore in this chapter, we have a “thinking” or more rational mind, an emotional mind, and a mind that regulates physicality. Some spiritual traditions offer the concepts of a wisdom mind and a spirit or bliss mind, the mental conduit that allows us to connect with spirit. While we can dance with the element of mind in a variety of ways in dancing mindfulness practice, I typically regard the mind as the vehicle that allows for integration of our human experience. As in Native American spirituality, the body, the mind, and the spirit cannot be separated.
Mindfulness practice is the process of teaching our mind to work for us, not against us. I get sad when I hear people say things like this: “I can’t meditate. There’s no way I can turn my mind off.” Unfortunately, this stereotype about meditation has taken hold because of popular portrayals of meditation practice as an instantaneously quiet experience. Mindfulness practice is not about turning the mind off. If anything, it’s about turning it on—developing a greater sense of awareness of your experiences and what they can teach you about yourself. Consistent engagement in mindfulness practices that involve activity—exercise, breathwork, journaling, drawing, prayer, dreaming, and, of course, dancing—can help us break through the survival blockage to help us address our emotional wounds. In essence, they allow us to tune and then fine-tune the instrument of our mind. In dancing mindfulness, for example, we remind ourselves to come back to awareness, to honor the present, and to consider the possibilities of creativity and healing.
For more on the book project, go to www.dancingmindfulness.com/book
Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation (SkylightPaths Publishing, 2015)
It is an honor to be named the Dancer of the Month for July 2015! Who would have thought that in just two short years this would be happening to me? No one would have - especially not me. I remember teaching my first solo Dancing Mindfulness class and how extremely nervous I was. I have presented in front of audiences of my peers and students many times in my life, so I was not sure about why I was so nervous. Maybe I was nervous because I wanted to be perfect. I wanted the class to be perfect. I wanted everyone to love the class. I wanted everyone to have a positive experience. I think that is because I love the fact that I know there is an opportunity to positively affect someone’s life in each and every Dancing Mindfulness class.
The great thing about Dancing Mindfulness for me is that it has helped me fulfill my lifelong ambition of “helping people to help themselves.” We may not always hear about the ways that Dancing Mindfulness has had an effect on our students’ lives, but when we do, it makes it all worth it! For example here are a few success stories:
From evaluations from the classes I learned that students appreciated the following: the choice of music and inspirational messages; encouragement to be individually expressive/own style; found it relaxing, innovative music, no judgment about physical limitations, and some requested to have some specific steps/routines that can be incorporated. So, as my teaching of Dancing Mindfulness continues, I’ll remember all the good outcomes, add a few choreographed steps as appropriate, and hope that the healing continues for me and for all of the participants in Dancing Mindfulness.
I was asked to write a couple of words of wisdom that have helped me with Dancing Mindfulness. In my attempt to do that I’ve come to the realization that it is not the words of wisdom that have helped me the most. I’ve found the feelings, emotions, actions, reactions, smiles, laughs and tears of both sorrow and joy have been the most inspiring pieces of wisdom that I’ve experienced. I’m not a wordsmith, nor can I recite lines from movies, books, or poems, but I have extreme empathy, emotions, and feelings. I try to understand those during preparation and execution of every Dancing Mindfulness class. It’s like on our tombstones there will be a birth year and a death year and in between them will be a dash. It’s important to understand that it’s not the dates that matter… it’s the dash. Pick your own path, live your own life, (even if it pisses off others), and be proud of yourself! Make the “dash” in your life be exemplary and include a “dash dance” in your next Dancing Mindfulness class! Make it memorable! Be open and learn to trust in your style! You will make a difference in someone’s life … know it in your heart!
Thank you for the opportunity to share what little wisdom I have to offer now as I’m still learning as my dash continues---
I have been dancing my whole life. It was my whole world and I didn’t know any better. So, when I went to college, it made sense that I was going to major in it in college. There was a hint of interest in pursuing social work but it wasn’t enough to throw away my passion for dance. I did try to double major but both programs were so intense and set in their schedules so it wasn’t possible to do. Half way through college, my passion for dance started wilting and my heart began to feel emptier and emptier. I didn’t want that passion to die out but making your passion a career wasn’t as wonderful as I thought it would be. I got injured and had to continue dancing through the pain. After that I got depressed. Being told you weren’t dancing well enough and being graded for something that was supposed to be an interpretation of your soul, it just took its toll. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was halfway through school so I didn’t want to quit. I didn’t want to turn back, so I pushed through, crawling broken to the finish line. I was a real mess during my senior year, but with the right help, I was able to graduate, cum laude, at the end of the year. The help I received from different social workers was tremendous. I was inspired. I wanted to do the same thing. I applied to the graduate school of social work on a whim. The July after I graduated, I found out I was accepted into the Graduate school of social work. I started that September and have found a new passion, a new love, a new career. After discovering all of this, I also re-found that passion for dance through dancing mindfulness. I learned how much of an outlet dancing can be for my emotions and for others’ emotions, so when I found out about the dancing mindfulness certificate, I jumped at the chance to complete the course. It was a beautiful experience and I am so honored to have participated in it.
My dancing mindfulness work was also immediately put to use in my agency. I work at a counseling center at Rutgers University, but we specifically work with victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. Actually, that was one of my supervisor’s favorite parts during my interview, that fact that I danced and that I was going to pursue a certificate in dancing mindfulness.
In any case, my agency held a 24 hour truce. It was based off of Andrea Dworken’s quote “I want one day or respite, one day off, on day in which no bodies are piled up, one day in which no agony is added to the old, and I am asking you to give it to me… I want a 24 hours truce during which there is no rape” (1984). So that’s what we did. We planned 24 hours of programming that talked about bystander intervention, project unbreakable, and had different art projects surrounding the notion of a world without violence. During the 24 hours, I held two dancing mindfulness sessions. The theme for the first session was a world with and without violence. I had about ten participants and they all participated fully and enjoyed their time. I asked them to paint the room with their bodies, showing and portraying what violence looks like. Then I had them wash it all off, cleansing the walls, their bodies, and their souls. They really enjoyed it. The next dancing mindfulness session was at 4:00am so I didn’t have many participants until the end. I played the song “break the chain” which Pink performed and a few of the staff knew the dance that was choreographed to it, so they began passionately dancing. I saw the hope in their eyes and the joy in their hearts. It was a great experience to be a part of.
Breath is life dancing through us...
This is a main idea I've been working with in my edits on the book Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation coming out this Fall! In reworking the chapter on breath, I was struck by a passage in the Gospel of John that describes Jesus literally breathing the new church into existence when he appeared to his apostles at the Resurrection. What are you being called to breathe into existence today? When you breath into he present moment, what new creativity flows?
At this point I am no longer going to be reposting my blogs from other websites here on the page. Any of my articles or consistent sources of publication are listed under Buzz on this page... simply follow the link if you are interested. I want the focus of this breath to be on the Dancing Mindfulness community, and I continue to welcome contributions from all of you. Share your practice with us through a blog, a poem, a meme, or another work of art... we want to celebrate you in this forum!
Namaste, Jamie :-)
I have this vivid memory from when I was about four years old of me laying on the grass in my backyard. My arms were spread out to the sides and my legs were slightly apart. It was summer and I had shorts and a t-shirt on. I could feel the grass on my arms and legs, could smell the flowers from the garden, and had this amazing feeling of being content and connected. I imagined in my head the world spinning and knew that I was a part of that, that everything was completely in harmony around me. The feeling in my body was light and I could feel a slight tingle. It felt almost like I was moving on a gentle wave. The entire world felt right and I knew that my place in the world was to be a part of the connection of everything. Some may call this a g-d moment while others would argue that I just had an amazing imagination.
It makes no difference to me what others think. The important part was how I felt. I have spent a lot of my life trying to recreate this feeling, but the only time I could even come close was when I was dancing. I started dance classes at age seven, going on eight. By this point, the world had tainted my feelings of pure content and connectedness. I was watching my godmother die of breast cancer, beginning to really understand the term "being bullied," and had an overwhelming sense of being horribly different from my classmates. In spite of my troubles, I quickly learned I LOVED dancing more than I ever thought. From the time I could walk I knew that life was better with a little saunter in my step. Joining a dance class and being surrounded by others laughing and dancing was pure joy for me. The only thing missing was that feeling of connectedness that I just couldn’t seem to grasp again.
Fast forward a decade. I was now a well-versed mental health client, full-fledged self-injurer, and budding alcoholic/addict. Dance class still brought amazing joy to my life, but was no longer enough to break through the darkness that took over my life when I left the studio. I threw myself into theatre at school, and that helped, but my overall joyous outlook on life was gone. I was living a double life- out as a lesbian at school and straight at home, the "perfect" CCD student in church and devout pagan with friends, and happy at dance and drama club, but miserable the rest of the time. Leaving high school, I knew I would probably never live to see my 30th birthday.
I spent years searching for the answer. I came out of the closet fully, I moved across country (and then back), I tried new religions, and I got married. All the while still dealing with depression, self-injury, and avoidance-based substance abuse. After a particularly bad time in my life, I decided that I would do anything to find myself and be happy. On a whim, I signed up for a retreat in Pennsylvania. Living in New Jersey I thought, "how far could it be?"
Six hours on the road, and several stops at beloved convenience store, later and I found just how far Pennsylvania goes. I did quite poorly in geography and so I found out the hard way that it borders Ohio. That first night of the retreat I rekindled my love for dance, which had gone by the wayside for years. The first experience of Dancing Mindfulness I had was powerful. I had tears in my eyes as the opening dance session came to a close. I knew I had found something I needed. Within the three days of the retreat I made closer friend connections than I had ever experienced before and spent hours deep in conversation with Lexie, a woman who I now fondly call my twin.
Somehow between Lexie and Jamie (founder of Dancing Mindfulness and co-leader of that retreat), I left the retreat with plans to be trained as a Dancing Mindfulness facilitator. I didn't have my BA (I had been working on it for 10 years at this point) yet and didn't consider myself a valid part of the mental health world, regardless of my years of work in the field. I couldn't understand how anyone would think I was capable of facilitating such a deep practice.
Facilitator training changed my life. I came out of it with a deep passion for a part of the practice known as Dance Chapel. It's a non-facilitated practice and the way I experienced it during that training brought me back to my youth, when dancing and laying in the grass brought me comfort. The world was blocked out and it was just me and the music. I didn't realize it then, but I was beginning to feel that universal connection again.
I took the concept of Dance Chapel and ran with it. At first I attempted to start a community class and offer a public Dance Chapel once a month. When my small following began to dwindle and the relationship between the studio hosting me and I ended, I turned to my private Dancing Mindfulness practice. I found solace in making playlists for myself and playing with what songs fit where. I woke up at 4.30 am during the summer and drove to the shore to dance my playlists as the sun came up. I played music and danced everywhere. Finally I began to feel that comfort that I had felt as a four year old laying in the grass.
This feeling continued to grow as my relationships with those in my Dancing Mindfulness family deepened. I learned to accept support and love. When I finally realized I was abusing substances, my Dancing Mindfulness family was there to support and help me through the process. I learned to dance through withdrawal, hard emotions, pain, and success. I have danced into sobriety, out of my marriage, and into the unknown. Mindfulness is now a part of my life; I am aware of what I am doing in every moment instead of distracting myself from reality. My body, my mind, my soul, and my image of Spirit are all now connected by the power of being able to connect to my emotions through dance and movement.
It has been almost three years since my first experience of Dancing Mindfulness at that fateful retreat. I dance every day in whatever way I can. Sometimes I set aside time to dance a full playlist and sometimes I just dance around wherever I am (home, car, store, et cetera). I have found myself again. With the help of Dancing Mindfulness, and the family I have found in this community, I have celebrated my 30th birthday, found sobriety, and created a life I am excited to live.
A friend of mine from grad school was talking about Dancing Mindfulness one day. When she was describing the concept I can remember thinking “Wow, that sounds like something I would really enjoy!” As soon as I got home that evening I went to the Mindful Ohio website to look up more information. The first thing I came across was the video showing others engaged in the practice. It was that very moment I knew I wanted to try a class. Funny enough, even though I desperately wanted to attend a class I was terrified. For a couple months I kept thinking “Ok, this is the week”, but sadly it was not.
In January 2014 I attended the Self-Care for Helping Professional workshop. It just so happened that Dancing Mindfulness was included in the day. I can vividly remember enjoying myself until “Wake Me Up” from Avicii was played. At that very moment I became incredibly overwhelmed by emotion. I did not fully understand what was happening to me. Before leaving that day I talked to Jamie about what I experienced. She was able to normalize the situation for me which gave me a great sense of comfort. Even though I was nervous about the same thing occurring again I started to regularly attended classes. There were many times when I did become quite emotional but I was able to accept that part of myself. In fact, I ended up downloading the Avicii song after the workshop and was able to work through feelings I had been holding on to for a long time.
During a few of the classes Jamie talked about facilitator training. I knew the training was something I really wanted to do but again I began to put myself down. I talked to a variety of friends, family, and mentors and all of them encouraged me to sign-up. I decided to take their advice and it ended up being the best decision I had ever made. I truly believe that weekend changed my life and still impacts me in a positive way. The connection I had that weekend and continue to have with the other facilitators is something I cannot describe. The best explanation I can give is that connection you have with your best friend that you have known for years. There was another important piece of the weekend that let me know I was meant to be there at that moment. During our first “dance” as a group Jamie played a beautiful version of “Wake Me Up” by the cast of Glee. I remember smiling and thinking that song would be included in my first community class I facilitated.
I knew that Dancing Mindfulness changed my life and I wanted others to have the same experience. I currently work as a Clinical Counselor and proposed the idea of adding a “Creative Movement” group (Creative Movement is Dancing Mindfulness just under a different name) for clients. The response I have gotten from other counselors at the agency has been amazing! My group jumped from one person to 8 people in a matter of two weeks! The clients have responded positively and tell me every week “Please do not take this group away.” Additionally, I had the opportunity to facilitate my first community class two weeks ago and of course “Wake Me Up” was on the playlist. I keep continuing to grow as participant and as a facilitator each week. If someone asked me what Dancing Mindfulness means to me I would have to use a line from “Wake Me Up”, which is “All this time I was trying to find myself and I didn’t know I was lost.” I truly was not aware just how much I needed Dancing Mindfulness in my life to reconnect with myself!
I discovered Dancing Mindfulness at age 5 although I don’t believe it’s creator Jamie Marich was born yet. It was a common day. I was invited over by some older teenage girls to come play “American Bandstand” in their makeshift playhouse….an abandoned school bus carcass discarded at the end of their driveway (If the Harler girls from Mathias Drive in Columbus ever read this please contact me as I want to thank you for saving my life). I can remember it like it was yesterday when the 45rpm began whirling on the little plastic record player and they encouraged me to “strut my tiny stuff” down the aisle of the bus to the thumping sound of “These Boots are Made for Walking”. Without knowing it I embodied my first Element of Dancing Mindfulness: breath. As I was given permission to show up fully in a non-judging environment I felt myself inhale fully and exhale completely. Unbeknownst to me I had been holding my breath since birth as if to guard myself from harm. As they smiled and cheered me on I remember, for the first time ever, I felt joy inside of me well up until it overflowed to the point I had tears pouring out of my eyes. My face had spent many of my short 5 years covered in tears but never from joy. I couldn’t contain this new feeling nor did I want to. I felt foreign freedom and sense of letting go as I danced, shimmied, swayed and of course strutted. This dance brought me intense elation, a lightness of Spirit. For the first time ever I wasn’t trying to be good enough, smart enough, perfect enough. In fact I wasn’t striving at all. I just was. I was one with my body, my breath, the amazing sounds. I caught myself giggling like the other girls I would enviously watch on the playground at school and I didn’t even know why I was laughing. I do now. I had touched my innocence. I must share I didn’t have much to laugh about at that time. I was growing up in a home ransacked by alcoholism. I began escaping to the “playhouse” every chance I got. I would hide in a hedgerow in my backyard which gave me a perfect view to the school bus and like a panther I would sit crouched and wait until I saw signs of life near the bus and pounce out into the open hoping the Harler girls (and not my troubled and intoxicated mother) would see me and ask me to dance. But all too soon the Harlers moved and with them went my safe haven in which to thrive. My short lived freedom was sweeter than anything I had ever known but it was over. My hedgerow hideout was also soon discovered and I was no longer allowed to disappear. I soon found sanctuary in a tree but soon I was told was for “boys” and made to get down-and stay down.
After that my “her-story” is not unlike many other women that I know. I grew up in the tender yet tumultuous 60’s-70’s with a lot of family secrets. By age 11 I began discovering substances that would bring me fleeting feelings “similar” to that of the abandoned bus dances and the safety of the hedgerow bliss I had enjoyed. That discovery caused over 20 years of self-destruction including full blown alcoholism by the time I was 14.
My return to movement didn’t come for another 46 years. I had a span where my life resembled a bad country song. In 2007 within months my dog (the ultimate confidant) died, my dad died (he had been my hero my whole life; the only steady, constant person in a pool of insanity), my only child moved 700 miles from home to try and rebuild a relationship with his father and I got divorced. I was thrown into premature menopause from the stress according to my physician. Everything that had ever made sense to me was suddenly gone. The following few years were a roller coaster of emotion. I had deep and powerful spiritual beliefs and practices yet I found myself struggling. I entered a relationship with a wonderful man, a spiritual partner, and yet I found it growing more difficult to give of myself. Then as if on a death wish type mission I made some career decisions that although looked good on the outside from an intellectual perspective yet was a horrible fit for me. My gut, my heart, told me not to make the change yet I didn’t see any other way. My heart had endured so much pain in recent years and without even knowing it I had at some point given up trust in it. I began plummeting deeper and deeper and I rapidly sunk into a depression deeper and darker than I had ever known. I no longer had the sweet ease and comfort brought on by mind altering substances. I was raw and it was real and I couldn’t find relief. I had developed a beautiful meditation practice as part of my 12 step recovery program and during this time I couldn’t quiet my mind no matter how long I sat. It was during this time that a friend in casual conversation mentioned going to a Dancing Mindfulness class. Something on the visceral level sparked. I am convinced it was Divine Intervention in answer to the screams of my soul begging for help night after night. Instantly following her mention I went online and unfortunately found there wasn’t a class anywhere near me but I immediately ordered the DVD available. Well....let’s just say I haven't missed a day of movement since. I began taking “Dancing Mindfulness” breaks each hour at work (a perk of the less than stellar fitting job was a solo office where I could close the door and dance). I would close my office door and “drop in”. I found my breath again. My spirit. A new story began to emerge. At the end of those sanity breaks I felt like I could go on. These mini Dancing Mindfulness moments gave me the energy and clarity and connectedness to my Mind, Body & Spirit I needed. When I got home at night I would dance as best I could for 20 minutes trying desperately to follow along with the instructions on the video learning about the Attitudes and Elements. On days when I didn’t have to go in early I would start my day dancing. Me! A woman who was on the floor 2 months prior curled up in a ball wondering if suicide was once again my only option?
I followed an inner nudge and began researching training classes only to find there was one being hosted in the near future by the Dr. Marich only 2 hours from my home. Until my training I would dance day after day in my basement after work. I started developing an insatiable desire to share the technique. It didn’t make sense. I had never even stepped foot in a Dancing Mindfulness class. I followed this nudge and miraculous financial, physical and emotional synchronicities began appearing culminating in me being certified as an instructor.
I knew this is what I wanted to do but fear and inadequacy keep me in it’s grip. I had tried to teach “other” movement forms before and just couldn’t get off dead center. I feared this would once again be my story. I decided to continue my personal practice. As I began training deeply on my own I found myself suddenly devastated by a mysterious back injury. In the first days following the injury I missed dancing more than anything as I lay day after day on the floor. Some days all I could do was focus on the rhythm of the dance of my breath or do my best to embody the vibration of sound. In my mind I would tell a new story by visualizing my cells moving inside my body healing the inflammation, pushing the bulging discs back in place, soothing the angry muscles in my hips. Some days all I could do was as the creator of this movement, Dr. Marich, had taught me in training “think of the floor as your canvas. Your body the brush.” I would mindfully move one leg, then the other. I would gently arch my back with a crescendo of music. During this challenge I had no choice but to practice acceptance and non-striving. As soon as I could so much as stand upright, I tapped into the element of “beginners mind” and began to mindfully stand for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, as long as I could and sway listening carefully to my body’s needs. I was literally teaching myself to listen to my inner wisdom and trust that my body, with its now weakened spine and damaged hip structure, would support me in a new and glorious way. I learned unique ways of moving and I embraced this meditative form of movement like a hungry child with a fresh orange. I devoured every drop of soul nectar available. Daily I practiced non-judging as I fell short of my ego’s goal to return to full movement each day. Slowly, dance by dance, moment by moment, as all the elements and attitudes fused together I not only found physical health but my spirit healed in miraculous ways. I have danced in witness each morning as the 53 year old woman I am has organically merged with the enchanted 5 year old school bus queen of the strut. I write this 12 weeks post injury. I have regained full range of physical motion from my daily practice and much more importantly I have regained full range of motion in my heart. As the technique began shining a light on my truth I found that the grief I experienced in 2007 had hurt so much I had slammed the door on my heart shut. With each session the door begins to crack open a bit. A little more light enters. Today Dancing Mindfulness has not only flung the doors wide open but I am blinded by the light of healing I have experienced. In 2015 my hope is to share this incredible mindfulness in motion. To share the thrill of a truly holistic personal experience. The ultimate experience of self discovery; becoming one with myself.
When one year comes to an end and another begins, I am called to take an inventory of my blessings. The time of transition is perfect for this task. As 2014 becomes 2015, one major blessing warms my heart more beautifully than any other: Dancing Mindfulness. Although I am credited as the founder of the formal class-based practice, my gratitude is not that I developed it… quite the opposite. My heart brims with gratitude for those in my life who have taught me how to dance mindfully this year. When I developed the class-based practice in 2012, my original vision was for little separation between facilitators and dancers. I wanted to cultivate a true community where we are inspired to learn from each other. This vision truly came to fruition in 2014, and for that, I thank you!
In 2014, even though my team and I worked hard to offer seven live facilitator trainings across the U.S. and launch a distance-based program to those interested internationally in the practice, my most precious gratitude came when people shared with me how they are cultivating personal dance practices in their lives. To me, having a personal dancing mindfulness practice, just like we might have a personal yoga or sitting meditation practice, is a critical component of facilitator success. Of course, personal practices are open to everyone! My heart radiated as I heard people share with me stories of going to beaches and public places with their iPod docks, blasting music, and letting the dance of now cultivate mindfulness and its attitudes. My heart sang as I heard tales of people carving out personal spaces in their house to take a mindful journey, and sharing the attitudes and elements of dancing mindfulness with their children during play. My heart wept with tears of such pure joy when we were in Puerto Rico a month ago. My team’s mission for this trip was to train a group of 10 local women in Puerto Rico as facilitators. Yet during the practice class, as these trainees moved so effortlessly and mindfully to the music of artists from their homeland and helped me to do the same, something became very clear to me. These women didn’t need me to teach them Dancing Mindfulness, these women are dancing mindfulness… in their hearts, in their souls, and in the beauty of their heritage that they so generously shared. In one beautiful moment at Centro Buen Pastor in Guaynabo (the location of our training/retreat), as we moved in the group practice and I listened to the women singing along around me, it struck me: Dancing Mindfulness belongs to all of us. It is a practice we can all access, even if we haven’t realized it yet. Dancing Mindfulness is not only a practice, but a way of life that makes sense to so many of us. For many of us Dancing Mindfulness offers a template for exploring, for moving past our zones of comfort. For others, to dance mindfully offers a path of liberation from the inside-the-box ways of practicing spirituality and meditation that so many of us feel pressured to accept. Whatever Dancing Mindfulness may mean to you, know that it belongs to you.
I had the privilege of visiting with my dear friend and collaborator Mandy Hinkle a few days ago. Mandy went through the facilitator training program, although the birth of her beautiful daughter Sofia earlier this year became the major focus of her life. There is no doubt in my mind that Mandy is going to continue to do amazing things as both a yoga teacher and a Dancing Mindfulness facilitator in the coming years. Mandy shared with me that she sometimes gets down on herself because she doesn’t craft time to formally go into her yoga space at her house to practice Dancing Mindfulness, and getting to classes has been nearly impossible. Yet when we discussed this idea of dancing mindfulness as a way of life, something resonated. She shared that she does dance around the house, in her kitchen, moving from place-to-place; she dances with the radiant Sofia. The dancing offers her an anchor in joy, and that is perhaps the most vital part of what in means to practice dancing mindfulness…no matter how specifically you are practicing it.
Some of the greatest moments I’ve experienced this year have also come in what people have shared with me online. People, either in my professional or circles of acquaintances or people who have stumbled onto our pages online, are becoming inspired to move. I had another one of those tear-filled, spiritual goose bump moments the other night when Andy, a professional psychologist friend of mine shared that even though he is an introvert who doesn’t dance, he is inspired to follow our leads and give organic movement a try, to simply respond to music that resonates with him. Andy wrote, “Dancing is always a good idea.”
Dancing is always a good idea… for those of you who can embrace that and use it as a path to present-centered living, wonderful! Keep it up into 2015. For those of you who are scared of organic movement, like Andy identified… know that you can always start with your breath. That is the foundation of dancing mindfulness practice. Consider that your breath is part of a larger dance, and by connecting with that breath, you are connecting with the dance. Cultivate curiosity and see where it takes you in the new year. Maybe you’ll catch yourself moving along to a certain sound or piece of music that comes on…that’s your start. Just be in the moment with it and release judgment. The exhale is always available to you to release judgment. If you’ve had a horrible experience in the past with dance or if it’s a trigger to you in any way, feel free to reach out to us on the main Dancing Mindfulness facebook page…the community is here to offer you ideas for support.
As 2015 unfolds, I look forward to connecting with all of you who dance mindfully. Whether you are formally part of one of our groups, or if , like Andy, you are inspired to experiment with your own personal explorations and wish to connect with us online…I honor your journey with dancing mindfully. Let’s make “dancing is always a good idea” our mantra for the new year!
Originally published on StartAgain Media
“Dance is the hidden language of the soul.” –Martha Graham
How could I not love an experience that is tagged as “Ditch the workout, join the party?” Zumba® fitness, which claims to offer just that, is wildly popular, packing classes at gyms and studios around the western world. When I first heard about Zumba® several years ago, I was naturally very intrigued. I danced throughout my childhood, although as an adult, I was seeking a dance form that would not require a partner, contained minimal risk of injury, and promoted no expectations of perfection or precision. I popped into my first class in 2008 and could barely tolerate it; in fact, I left early. It bothered me that I had such a visceral reaction to being in a Zumba® class. I loved to ballroom dance, and there are so many elements of a Latin dance within the Zumba® structure. After several attempts to get through a single Zumba® class over the years it finally dawned on me that the structure is what I resent, especially at this stage of my life.
There is something very unappealing to me about being lined up like soldiers falling in line, trying to keep up with a high-energy instructor. I have several good friends who teach Zumba® and emphasize that the point is not to keep up, but to “do your best” and “have fun.” Yet there always seems to be this implied goal of one day being able to keep up with the drill sergeant. As a trained dancer in several forms, including ice dancing, I’ve taken more than my share of dance classes where learning the foundational steps in order to create a beautiful work of art is the primary objective. Looking back on my younger days, it was the experience of dancing around the house with no particular aim, or going into my parents basement to dance out these magical stories flowing from my own creative self that most resonate with me. From my earliest days, freestyle was my calling! I appreciate this training as something that worked for me well in my youth. As an adult who has finally claimed my birthright to be myself, I’ve learned not to torture myself with precision in the pursuit of my personal art. So why would I subject myself to a dance class experience that drives me crazy?
On the other side of this coin, there is my friend Brandy, who is well aware of my disdain for Zumba® and similar fall-in-line-behind-the-leader dance forms. Brandy has come to several of my Dancing Mindfulness classes over the last few years, and they are not really for her. One day she shared with me, “Why you can’t stand Zumba® is the reason I like it; you are given something specific to do. With Dancing Mindfulness, I’m lost when you tell me to find my own movement.” Her comment made me realize how our respective personalities gravitated to the dance practices that best fit us. Brandy is the first to tell you that, in life, she needs specific guidance; I am one who tends to take it into account but ultimately I’m the free-spirit blowing in the wind who follows my intuition more than my intellect. I am not insinuating that Brandy or those like her are somehow inferior to me for needing more directive and regimented approaches to life. On the contrary, there are times in my life when it would be easier if I could just fall in line, keep my mouth shut, and listen to directives. The nature of my personality has made it very difficult, for instance, to work for someone else. In 2008 I began working as an independent contractor, a vocational state that allows me to flourish. It would be extremely difficult and spirit crushing for me to return to taking direct order from others in one 40-hour-a-week setting, yet there are times when I wish I just could just change who I am for the sake of having a more routine life. And having that wish granted would be an insult to a value I regard so highly: genuineness.
To quote the well-worn cliché, it takes all types to make the world go around. There are so many dance forms, variations of dance, other movement practices, and combinations to accommodate our diversity. It is not lost on me that some people shudder when they’re exposed to Dancing Mindfulness, a practice that is very free-form, go-with-the-flow, and somatically introspective the same way that I cringe during Zumba®. Your reaction to a certain dance form teaches you about yourself and it is a powerful lesson that you can tap into and use for your own growth at any time in your life. This reaction is an amazing gift, if you choose to see it that way. Even if you are blocking yourself off from dancing or moving altogether, therein lays an opportunity to compassionately, non-judgmentally ask yourself, “What is this really about?”
What I call “dance personality” does not have to be a black-or-white distinction; such polarities are rarely optimal in life. Even though I have settled into my free form conscious dance practices as most genuine for me at this time in my life, and Brandy is best described as someone who dances best when there is structure involved, there are people who fall in the middle. In fact, my most recent attempt at Zumba® came last week when I went out to support Kelsey Evans, a Dancing Mindfulness facilitator who is also a registered Zumba® instructor. Kelsey teaches both Dancing Mindfulness and Zumba® and I wanted to take a class with her. It’s beautiful to see how Kelsey can resonate with both forms, a trait that I believe is indicative of her beautifully flexible and multi-faceted nature. Taking steps outside of one’s comfort zone is a value that I routinely teach in Dancing Mindfulness. I find it very important to practice what I preach by attending some classes in both dance forms and yoga styles that aren’t optimally me, while not judging myself too harshly or labeling myself as a failure if I can’t keep up or tolerate a whole class (physically or emotionally). What was interesting about this most recent Zumba® experience is that while I could keep up physically, it felt a lot harder to do so because I was being guided in movements that did not feel genuine in my body at a certain time (I often feel the same way in Vinyasa yoga classes). As a result, the class felt like it took forever and it was an exercise in torture as opposed to a fun experience. For me, with Dancing Mindfulness, I can be practicing for three hours and it feels like 20 minutes, or practicing for 20 minutes and it feels like three hours.
Geneen Roth, one of my favorite writers on food and body image, routinely teaches that if you are engaging in movement just for the sake of working out, you are setting yourself up to fail. Rather, she advises that we find forms of exercise that we genuinely enjoy doing. For me, Dancing Mindfulness or other conscious dance forms fit the bill. Dancing Mindfulness is a practice that I can engage in where clock time stops. For people like Brandy it is Zumba®, for you it may be finding the dance in the flow of your Vinyasa practice, or challenging yourself to master steps on the ice or on a ballroom. Maybe for you, it’s a combination of these forms, and if so, that is beautiful! It is beautiful because it is you. Find the movement practice that is genuine for you and refrain from judging yourself if thoughts are creeping in about what you should be doing instead.
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity