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Dance & Yoga: the therapy dream team

In the subtle interplay of movement and stillness, an age-old truth emerges: Dance and Yoga, seemingly distinct in their essence, find themselves entwined in a delicate, yet potent, partnership. This convergence is not merely a juxtaposition, but a testament to the intricate symphony that the body and mind compose.

In the realm where the body and mind meet, the cadence of the dance mirrors the ebb and flow of the breath in yoga. This fusion of rhythm and respiration brings about a profound body-mind connection—a bridge that spans the chasm between the corporeal and the ethereal. The dancer's leaps and twirls, much like the yogi's asanas, become a testament to the poetry of existence.

In this union, freedom flourishes within the embrace of structure. Dance, an art form inherently expansive, finds its purpose alongside the discipline of yoga. The dance offers the expanse for uninhibited expression, while yoga lays the groundwork for stability and rootedness. As you read this you may notice there is an irrefutable 'vice-versa': dance can be the groundwork for stability and rootedness just as yoga can offer expanse for uninhibited expression. It all depends on the creative interplay. Together, they form a partnership that nurtures the delicate balance of personal growth.

Akin to a brushstroke on the canvas of time, this pairing offers somatic release—a cathartic liberation of emotions bound within sinews and muscles. The intertwining of dance's kinetic release and yoga's mindful poses becomes a channel for unburdening the soul.

Historically, this alliance resonates across cultures. From the intricate mudras of Indian classical dance to the flowing movements of ancient rituals, the body's language has been intertwined with spiritual exploration. Just as cultures across eras acknowledged the potency of this pairing, so do we now recognize the resonance in our modern lives.

(all vintage-style photos are Pinterest)

Historically, the symbiotic alliance of Dance and Yoga stretches across epochs and cultures, weaving an intricate tapestry that threads through the fabric of human existence. Drawing from diverse wellsprings of wisdom, this union finds affirmation in the realms of arts and sciences alike, echoing the sentiments of luminaries who recognized the profound interplay between body and spirit.

In the realm of analytic psychology, Carl G. Jung delved into the concept of the "collective unconscious," a reservoir of shared archetypal images and experiences within the human psyche. Dance and Yoga, as modes of expression, tap into this reservoir, channeling universal narratives and emotions that transcend language. The choreographer Martha Graham aptly stated, "The body says what words cannot," and, "The spine is your body's tree of life," or even, "A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful," highlighting how the physical language of dance communicates deeper truths that words often struggle to convey.

Marian Chace, a trailblazing figure in dance/movement therapy, actually a classmate of Martha Graham at the Denishawn School during the early 1920's, forged a connection between movement and emotional healing. Her work illuminated the power of dance as a means of tapping into the unconscious, facilitating emotional release, and restoring balance. She worked in a hospital with WWII patients coping with the mysteriously tough symptoms of PTSD. Chace's pioneering efforts demonstrated the therapeutic potential of dance and movement, inspiring others to further explore and develop this approach. Chace, Trudi Schoop, and other colleagues in 1966 collaboratively founded the American Dance Therapy Association. The ADTA was established to promote and develop the field of dance therapy, provide a platform for education and research, and support professionals working in this emerging therapeutic discipline. This resonance between movement and psychology underscores the significance of Dance and Yoga in addressing not just physical well-being, but also mental and emotional health.

As an important layer to weave in whilst discussing holistic health is inside current trauma-informed studies around the body and our nervous systems. We see how Dance & Yoga (or mindfulness-based practices) introduce new pathways towards self-regulation and co-regulation in therapeutic relationship. The pioneering work of Judith Herman, Pat Ogden, and Janina Fisher sheds light on the intricate interplay between trauma and the human brain's response to panic or freeze states. Judith Herman's concept of complex PTSD emphasizes how traumatic experiences can disrupt the brain's normal processing, leading to a range of symptoms, including dissociation and emotional dysregulation.

Pat Ogden's somatic approach highlights how the body holds trauma, and her work on Sensorimotor Psychotherapy explores how traumatic experiences can create neural patterns that trigger the cortex to shut down as a defense mechanism against overwhelming stimuli.

Janina Fisher's contributions, drawing from her expertise in trauma and dissociation, illuminate how prolonged exposure to traumatic stress can lead to chronic hyperarousal or hypoarousal, causing the cortex to temporarily shut down, impeding rational thinking, and inducing panic or freeze responses. Our cortex is involved in planning, initiating, voluntarily moving, recognizing emotions in others, spatial processing, and attention & focus. Collectively, Herman, Ogden, and Fisher's insights underline the intricate relationship between traumatic experiences, brain function, and the resulting physiological responses that shape our capacity to navigate states of panic or freeze.

In the sphere of spirituality, Deepak Chopra bridges the wisdom of ancient traditions with modern holistic health. He echoes the sentiment that both Dance and Yoga are gateways to self-discovery and unity with the cosmos. Chopra once said, "Through movement, we remember that our bodies are instruments of transformation, not vehicles of problems." The transformative power of movement and breath harmonization aligns with Chopra's teachings on aligning the body's energies for holistic healing. Specifically, Kundalini Yoga and Hatha Yoga are ancient yoga practices with roots in Indian spiritual and philosophical traditions. However, they do not have a single identifiable founder each, as they have evolved over centuries and have been passed down through various lineages.

Hatha Yoga, a broader category that encompasses many physical postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama), has ancient origins and its practices are mentioned in various yogic texts. While there isn't a single founder of Hatha Yoga, it has been shaped by contributions from numerous yogis, scholars, and practitioners over time.

Kundalini Yoga, a specific form of yoga that focuses on awakening spiritual energy within the body, is associated with the Kundalini energy that is said to lie dormant at the base of the spine, our body's tree of life. Kundalini Yoga teachings have been found in various ancient texts and traditions, including Tantra. However, it was in the 20th century that Yogi Bhajan introduced Kundalini Yoga to the West, spreading its teachings and practices to a broader audience. Yogi Bhajan is often credited with bringing Kundalini Yoga to international prominence.

There are various instances of dance inspiration in Yoga movements like in Dancer's Pose: an asana that involves balancing on one leg while reaching the opposite hand to grasp the raised foot behind the body, opening the chest and extending the leg. Benefits of Dancer's Pose include spinal extension, release of hip tension, opens chest and shoulders, and is wildly energizing. Tree Pose is a posture where one stands on one leg, placing the sole of the opposite foot against the inner thigh or calf of the standing leg, with hands in a prayer position at the heart center. The benefits include balance and stability, hip and groin mobility, ankle and core strength which bring overall stress relief and clarity to keep growing & flowing. But, what happens to the mind when we fall out of a pose?

Merce Cunningham, a vanguard of contemporary dance from the 1950's-1970's, embraced innovation while respecting tradition. His explorations of movement and space found parallels in the evolution of Yoga, where ancient principles adapt to modern contexts. Cunningham's approach to dance as a living, breathing art form mirrors the way Yoga continually reinvents itself while staying rooted in its historical essence. He was known for his revolutionary approach to choreography known as Chance Technique. In practice, the Chance Technique involved various methods of introducing randomness into the choreographic process. For instance, the rolling of dice, drawing from a hat, or using the I Ching (an ancient Chinese divination text) were used to determine movement sequences, timings, and spatial arrangements. Cunningham once shared, "You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen." The Cunningham dancers would perform movements that might not have been conceived through traditional choreographic planning, resulting in a fresh, dynamic, and sometimes abstract dance art. This format also urged dancers to handle their stress levels during performances by expecting the unexpected and learning to adapt, or self-regulate. The once shameful idea of "messing up" in dance technique became a new, integral part of the creative process. One can glean finding the edge between making a mistake and trusting the process makes for a wise coping strategy, psychologically.

Alvin Ailey, through the captivating medium of modern dance from the 1960's-1980's, embodied the fusion of cultures and emotions. His choreography celebrated the diverse narratives of the human experience, reminiscent of the way Yoga weaves together different paths to self-awareness. Ailey's work underscores how the dance of cultures and the dance of the individual mirror each other, evoking the unity sought in both Yoga and Dance. Ailey's deep connection to dance, his dedication to breaking down social, political and cultural barriers through art radiates through his words, "I want to be a bridge. I want to be a rainbow. I want to be a link between white and black, between Jew and Gentile, between straight and gay," and, "The creative process is not controlled by a switch you can simply turn on or off; it's with you all the time." While technical proficiency is crucial, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater also values individuality and the ability to convey authentic emotions through movement. Dancers who embody Ailey's vision bring a unique blend of physicality, artistry, and emotional depth to their performances.

The historical prevalence of this Dance and Yoga partnership becomes more apparent when considering these multifaceted perspectives. From the intricate mudras of Indian classical dance, to American modern dance, to the flowing movements of ancient rituals, the body's language has been a vessel for spiritual exploration across cultures. Just as cultures across eras acknowledged the potency of this pairing, the resonance continues to echo in our modern lives, nurturing our quest for self-discovery and holistic well-being.

Dance and Yoga—a seamless coalescence of the past and the present, an intricate mosaic woven with threads of movement and stillness. Their harmonious duet beckons us to delve deeper into the recesses of our being, where the dance of life finds its partner in the serenity of the mat.

Dance and Yoga not only embrace the unity of body and mind but also extend their embrace to the broader tapestry of social justice and accessibility. As this harmonious duet continues to evolve, it invites us to extend its transformative power to all, breaking down barriers of ability, race, gender, and economic status.

By weaving threads of inclusivity and understanding, these practices become a bridge to empower individuals from diverse backgrounds to find solace and strength within the dance of creating a desirable life for oneself, and the serenity of letting go.

Thank you for reading & be sure to leave a comment if an aspect of this blog post leaves you feeling more heard, seen, and/or creatively inspired!



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🫶🏼 I LOVED this. As a dancer, a patient and a human being, the impact of the body’s need to move was beautifully written and described. I truly understand the hyperarousal and nature of the body’s fight flight freeze element takes over. Having PTSD and FND I have learned that movement is another language for which our bodies long to be spoken. The body WANTS to move and speak about it. I’ve learned to listen to the unique voice and wisdom that is my body and it’s movement. As I say “your body never lies to you”, I truly appreciate this post. It also struck me how much you emphasized movement and dance throughout our history and civilizations! Why hav…

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