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Mindfulness and Dance/Movement Improvisation

By: Yael Schweitzer

Published on Dec 25, 2023

About Mindfulness and Dance/Movement Improvisation

Mindfulness and Dance/Movement Improvisation (MDMI) is an approach that integrates mindfulness principles and practices with dance/ movement improvisation to improve, heal, and enrich the body, the mind, and human relationships. Most of the mindfulness practices are based on meditations that are done in stillness. Since movement and stillness are fundamentally two polarities on the same continuum, two sides of the same coin, when combined yield a wholesome approach, providing a deeper, expanded, and enriched experience. 


Mindfulness in Embodied Interaction

There are some mindfulness practices that are done in movement like walking meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, and Chi gong – all of them have their benefits and value. What distinguishes MDMI is that unlike these practices that have structured ways of moving – in MBMI the movement is improvisational and emerges from deep listening to the body and mindful and compassionate attentiveness within. Participants learn to listen to the body, connect with their authentic selves, witness their emerging movements like one witness’s thoughts and emotions, sense the wisdom of the body, and extend mindfulness from an individual practice to mindfulness in relationship with others. This latest element – expanding mindfulness beyond the individual practice to engage mindfully with others also distinguishes MBMI from other mindfulness-in-motion practices that are more individualistic in their nature. 


Core Elements of MDMI

The movement in MDMI is performed without music to allow deep listening to the body and the inner processes. Movement and dance are viewed as basic human needs and everyone can dance, regardless of age, gender, physical ability, and body shape. “If you can move even just one part of your body – you can dance” (B. Mettler). The dance and the movement have value as they happen and develop, and they are experienced in the present. They are not aimed at performance for an audience. The movement is improvisational and organic, creating a dance that is free to develop according to the living qualities of the movement. It unfolds naturally as an expression of one’s inner life.


Beyond the main principles of mindfulness and dance/movement improvisation, the main programs and approaches that inspire MDMI are MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), Interpersonal Mindfulness, MSC (Mindful Self-Compassion), Mettler-based Creative Dance, and Authentic Movement.


Benefits of MDMI

There are specific benefits to the integration of mindfulness and DMI. Both dance/movement improvisation and mindfulness focus on the body and the inner life, however they typically do it in different ways. Most traditional mindfulness meditations are done in stillness and DMI is based on movement and dance. People who practice mindfulness and bring it to their lives learn to: be present, defuse their negative thoughts, relax, transform reactivity to skillful responses, be open to change, and cultivate self-trust, compassion, acceptance, and a non-judgmental approach. Mindfulness also enhances a sense of relatedness to the universe, calm, and wisdom.


DMI cultivates and supports qualities like connection to the body, grounding, expanding movement and emotional repertoire, and learning to express them. Usually, it focuses on interaction between people – understanding non-verbal communication and developing overall social skills. Dance and movement improvisation also bring the elements of vitality, joy, creativity, and playfulness. All these qualities contribute to enhancing one’s physical and mental health and well-being. The integration of mindfulness and DMI helps to highlight the elements that are similar in these approaches and complement the less developed pieces of each approach.


Dance as Mindful Expression

Both DMI and mindfulness have the inherent nature of bringing vividness and liveliness to their practitioners that are inherently supportive of healing. Jon Kabat-Zinn recognizes the healing power of these qualities as ”Perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. When we feel more alive, we gain immediate access to our inner resources for coping effectively with stress”.


However, for some people practicing mindfulness in stillness presents a challenge, due to tiredness and the monotonous nature of the practice that drives some practitioners away from being present in the moment. Though there are ways and reasons to cope with these obstacles within the structure of the meditation, movement and dance naturally enhance awakening, vitality, and presence, and being in motion helps the practitioner to remain connected with the body and aware of inner activity and reactivity. 


The dance also helps to express the inner resources that are revealed through mindfulness and make them more accessible and clearer. Reciprocally, Mindfulness, when brought to the dance, helps the dancer be fully present and connected both to self and others. Moving without music brings the dance to the center of awareness and the movement emerges from within.


Interpersonal Healing and Connectivity Through Movement

One of the unique and important benefits of DMI, as mentioned above, is the extension of mindfulness to interpersonal relations. Much of the practice of DMI is done in dyads, small groups, or the whole group. While interacting, the dance, movement, body expression, and mindful intentions come together to support and develop meaningful, genuine, and healthy relationships. The integration between mindfulness and movement has also a beneficial effect on group dynamics, highlighting listening on verbal and non-verbal levels, and setting an atmosphere of calm, presence, relatedness, and connection on the basic level of the shared human experience. 


Emotional issues are met with compassion and acceptance in verbal and non-verbal gestures. The synergy between DMI and Mindfulness creates a powerful healing approach. It inspires a new quality of dance that is informed by the inner life of the dancer, a movement that derives from the core, from inner stillness and awareness that opens the door for meaningful insights and revelations. With the extension of this embodied mindfulness to other participants in a group, these insights are broadened to cope with interpersonal challenges and nuanced expression of social interaction. 


Conclusion

MDMI is applicable to a wide variety of participants. Everyone can benefit from participating in the programs, there is no previous experience needed in either mindfulness or dance. People with experience could benefit a lot as well. Meditators are exposed to the richness, liveliness, and embodiment of DMI, and dancers benefit from the healing power and deep psychological wisdom of mindfulness practices. Professionals like therapists, healthcare professionals, teachers, trainers, or managers can benefit from this approach, as well as everyone who wants to gain helpful coping skills, heal, develop, and learn in a rich and engaging way how to live a wholesome and full life. 

 

© All rights reserved for Yael Schweitzer, LCSW, BC-DMT

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