All art is external. It is praised and valued from the observations of others. We make art to bring beauty to this world and to others. But the art of dance can become extremely personal because the instrument or canvas is your own body. I read this quote the other day and I can’t remember who said it, but it really resonated with me. “Yoga and meditation are an investment into the sensitivity and wellness of your instrument.” Who better to need these practices than dancers? Meditation is a somatic practice. We observe our bodies from within through a first person perspective. Dancers need meditation to counteract all those external sensations and learn to operate from within, from their soul. Not only that, but meditation can also be used as another tool to increase your technique and training. I have five reasons why dancers need meditation.
1. Stay Present
We are constantly thinking, scheming, planning, and worrying, right? For the future, to get the things we desire, to not repeat past mistakes. Our minds are wild with thoughts going in all sorts of directions. We are constantly scheming how to move up a level or get a certain part. We are thinking about all the other dancers who are more talented than us. We are worried that we won’t get moved up or that we will get too many corrections in one class. We are planning out our schedules, how to fit in our classes with homework, work, etc. It’s enough to make us crazy! Meditation teaches us to find the present moment. To let go of all the past and the future and to just be here, now. Each moment is different than the last or one to come, and each is a gift. When we learn how to relax into the present moment, we learn how to relax into the unknown. Meditation teaches us how to let go of outcomes and just be with ourselves and open to all life's experiences. Learning to let go of outcomes and just enjoy the journey can be a huge weight off a dancer’s shoulders.
2. Increase your Self Love
Our minds are always evaluating our experiences and comparing to other experiences. Often we have built up expectations and standards for ourselves, and those are usually based on fear, not love. Fear that you are not good enough, that you will get hurt, that you don’t know anything, that you won’t get your way. Meditation can provides a place where all those other expectations to fall away. The doubts and fears go away and then we can let love in. We replace all those doubts with positive affirmations and positive thoughts.
We have to start loving ourselves. We have to get to know ourselves and to realize that we are intricate and interesting beings. That we have a vast wealth of beauty and greatness in ourselves. All of us are always looking at others and thinking positive thoughts about them; sending all of our positivity to others. But when we do that, we are giving away our power. Meditation will help you develop Lovingkindness for yourself. Develop a friendship with yourself. All that positivity is for you, it’s yours! And when we meditate, we get into a space that we can use it! The more positivity you give to yourself, the more you have to give away to others without depleting your own.
3. Decrease Anxiety
Worrying about so many different things can really affect our quality of life. It’s our go to response when presented with new information. Fears rise up and worrying begins. Stress and worrying usually come about because we are thinking in the past or future. Projecting what might happen. But through meditation, you can actually turn down the volume on this part of the brain, the amygdala, that controls emotions and triggers fear. You can learn to operate from a calm, more present, perspective.
4. Sharpen Focus
In society today, it’s all about multi-tasking, short attention spans and wandering minds. If our minds are not being externally stimulated constantly, we lose interest and quickly claim boredom. Or, for dancers, if my teacher is not making class fun and interesting enough for me, I am just going to check out. Meditation can help us to rewire our brain function in a way that allows us to quiet external thoughts and stay present and focused on one task. It can change the part of your brain that deals with self control. The ability to truly focus on your task at hand, say keeping hips level while in passe, will allow you to improve at that skill. If you can focus on your breath in meditation for a period of time, think what else you will be able to focus on.
5. Deepen Self and Body Awareness
Learning self awareness can change the way we live our lives. It’s being aware of our behaviors, habits, tendencies, feelings, emotions and body. Imagine how your self love will increase if you are self aware enough to recognize when you are comparing yourself to others in class. When you recognize you can change and replace that comparison with a thought that comes from love. Being more self aware is knowing ourselves inside and out and knowing that our emotions and thoughts don’t make us who we are. Thoughts are just that, thoughts, and we don’t have to believe them. Recognizing behaviors as just that, a behavior, and not who we are. The more we are aware the better able we are to break free of destructive emotions and thoughts and let in more calm wisdom and love. As mentioned earlier, meditation takes you within and that is where the self awareness begins.
As dancers, we are already very aware of our bodies, but do we listen to what they are saying to us? We have to trust the messages from our own body. There is so much wisdom in the body. Are we relying on muscle memory to get us through our classes and choreography? We have to connect our minds to the muscle movement in which we are engaging. Are you aware of what if feels like to engage specific muscles to execute specific dance steps? With meditation, you learn to deepen kinesthetic awareness and in turn you increase your consciousness of the movement and placement of your body in space. It’s making the mind/body connection. Your classes and training will feel much more productive when you can make the connection between mind and body.