I have always loved to dance. Yet how could we describe it to someone who has never seen or experienced it before. I am not talking about outward aes
I have always loved to dance. Yet how could we describe it to someone who has never seen or experienced it before. I am not talking about outward aesthetics here but the sense of freedom and sheer exhilaration we can feel.
When I was a toddler my mother recalls how I used to start wiggling when music was put on. Many years later, around 2000 I was dancing on a cliff top in the quiet north side of the island of Ibiza at a small event. I had not been in a great place within myself, but at that event on that clifftop, when I heard the music, I started to feel an energy rise within me as I had never felt before. Ibiza is said to be protected by the Phoenician goddess Tanit, who was a warrior goddess of dance, creativity and healing, but also of death and rebirth.
As I write this, I am in fact reminded of Nataraja – the dancing form of Lord Shiva of the Hindu religion who also has the triple role of Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. That day on that clifftop when I was dancing, I felt as if I was in the epicentre of all the elements – the rocks beneath, the sea lapping infront, the sun on my face and the air whirling around. I felt an energy coming from the earth and rising up through my legs into my core, and my spirits lifted like sparkling dewdrops evaporating into the air. At that moment I decided I needed to find out exactly how and why dance could be so uplifting.
It is a big subject. I haven’t graduated yet.
On a physical level we know that purely as an exercise form, dance can decrease muscle tension, improve our flexibility and energy levels, detoxify, and of course release all those feel good hormones. We have all probably heard of endorphins and the ‘exercise high’ – feel good hormones that our bodies are flooded with when we eg eat chocolate, make love, do sports – giving us the physical experience of pleasure in our bodies. And certainly a full endorphin rush can invoke bliss and oneness in a state akin to a spiritual connection. Endorphins alter the bio-chemistry of our cells, which can change the way we feel and subsequently our mood, particularly in creating happiness – known in the scientific field as psycho-neuro-immunology.
In the 1980’s scientists officially recognised how our body (not just our brain) can produce these endorphins (neuropeptides to be precise), secreting them into our nervous system, and that the body and brain are in communication with each other. We all know how hormonal changes in our bodies can adversely affect our moods eg from teen to adulthood, and of course The Female Menstrual Cycle. Our bodies are in effect a flowing information system, that communicates with all its parts in a feedback system that is defined on one level as ‘chemical’ and on the other simply as our moods, emotions and feelings.
‘Most psychologists treat the mind as disembodied, a phenomenon with little or no connection to the physical body. Conversesly physicians treat the body with no regard to the mind or the emotions. But the body and mind are not separate, and we cannot treat one without the other. My research has shown me that the body can and must head through the mind, and the mind can and must be healed through the body.’
Candace Pert, 1997
We also now know that toxic levels of stress can erode the connections between the nerve cells in our brain, and that chronic depression can even shrink parts of the brain. Exercise though will release a cascade of neurochemicals and growth factors that can reverse this process. After exercise studies have shown that the brain performs better. During intense exercise the blood is taken away from the prefrontal cortex to feed our muscles but when the exercise is over, it shifts back almost immediately and we have sharper, optimal functioning.
Unlike other exercise dance is unique in that it can involve very varied and irregular movements – improvising in possibly intricate or complex ways. Moving creatively over time can improve our brain plasticity or neurogenesis , the growth of our brain cells. The synaptic connections in our brain grow and expand and we have new chains of thought. Our brains stay fresh and alive, awake and active
Also during dance we release our critical left brain thinking and the limbic and visceral systems come into play, to activate our right brain learning, This is our softer, more lucid and creative side. Here, we can begin to release our constant mind chatter and enter more fully into the present. The mind can slow down and open into a pure presence, a meditative stillness within the movement, when our fears and anxieties start to lessen, when we can find new openings and invite in flow
I invite you to do a simple short exercise with me to discover the power of our body-mind connection. A simple dance - at your desk right now - with your fingers. Starting with one hand first, raise it and start to wriggle each finger, exploring its range of movement. Try moving your fingers in different ways – like a Mexican wave, a tarantula, an octopus..free style. Imagine creating an elaborate finger painting with your fingertips into the air. Now let your fingers from one hand have a conversation with the fingers of your other hand. Stay aware of allowing in deep natural breaths as you do this exercise
Now relax and notice how you feel afterwards. Notice if there are any subtle changes in the awareness of your brain.
If you noticed some slight shift (noticing this subtlety is in itself an exercise in slowing down the mind,to be more hightened to your sensory awareness), imagine how you can feel if you are moving your whole body in creative ways?
If you are interested in dance, love dance or would love to dance with more confidence and ease, Helene is launching a new course ‘Dance Basics’ beginning 12th February
Click below for more info and exceptional limited offer: https://niiodance.thinkific.com/courses/dance-basics
1 Ratey, Dr JJ and Hagerman, E (2009)
Spark! How exercise will improve the performance of your brain, Quercus
2 Pert, C, (1997) Molecules of Emotion, Simon & Schuster