(This article was first published by Sivana Spirit Blog)
Imagine peeking into a barn in the middle of a forest in South India on a full moon night.
About a dozen women from across the world are silently swaying their hips to slow music, smiles playing on their lips.
Occasionally a giggle, a ripple of delight, a delicious yawn weaves itself into the music. Some women lead the dance, some are caressing their sisters’ bodies, tracing their movement.
They sit down in triads, one by one sharing their intimate gifts, wordlessly witnessed by the others until sil
ence descends when they massage the shared abundance back into the body.
The women gather by an open fire in the moonlight, one by one offering to the flames whatever quality they are willing to leave behind in their lives.
This is the spirituality of embodiment, honoring the feminine aspect of creation. Shakti.
Now imagine a silent meditation retreat at the rise of dawn in Himalayan mountains.
Meditators sit straight-backed and motionless, covered in blankets as the first sun rays pierce through the peaceful morning cold.
For hours on end, they aim to observe their bodies and minds without responding to impulses to adjust their position, always returning to their object of meditation.
They cultivate equanimity, the ability to move through life without attachment, maintaining at all times an attitude of loving-kindness, no matter what trigger or provocation they’re presented with.
In the same way, yogis will breathe through difficult asanas, learning to feel free from discomfort, trusting that all things will pass.
This is the spirituality of consciousness, honoring the masculine aspect of creation. Shiva.
Both Shiva and Shakti are essential for creation to unfold. Without consciousness, our bodies would be inert mass. Without mass, consciousness would have no means to manifest.
Yet shakti, or the feminine element of spirituality, is often overlooked as Ashtanga yoga and Vipasana meditation appeal most to the masculine, competitive spirit of our times.
Especially for women it can be harmful and ungrounding to focus only on raising consciousness, overlooking how our body is actually the birthing ground of life.
This is not to say that women should only dance and men should only meditate. Shiva and Shakti are present in all of creation in different measures, so it’s important to discover for yourself what is your mix.
Some men are excellent dancers and some women are profound meditators. Ideally, we’re both honoring our Shiva/Shakti nature.
What are the benefits of embracing the Shakti element of spirituality? For men and especially for women there are 5 key reasons to include free dance and other forms of embodiment in your practice.
Reason 1: Melting Ice Cubes
Embodying life through movement and dance is a powerful antidote to the ice cubing that can happen when we become too attached to raising consciousness, to cultivating equanimity.
When a strong emotion overcomes us, a meditator may be tempted to shortcut their return to a peaceful state of non-attachment.
Instead of giving space to their emotions with loving kindness until they observe a gentle shift and the emotion becomes less powerful, they may be tempted to force their attention back to their breath, perhaps annoyed that they have let themselves be disturbed in their equanimity.
The subtle violence of repressing emotions is what Chameli Ardagh of Awakening Women’s Institute refers to as ice cubing.
We ice cube our strong feelings because we prefer to be in a state of bliss and positivity, ignoring the fact that these strong feelings find a home in our bodies to manifest later in life as much more complex forms of emotional and physical distress.
Instead of ice cubing through meditation or even yoga, free dance offers a powerful way of expressing, processing and integrating our full range of emotions.
Reason 2: Celebrating our Shadow Side
On the dance floor we can shake off our attachment to positivity.
We move through anger, anxiety, fear, sadness as well as ecstasy, joy, even sometimes bliss when we a feel at one with the universe. Fully embodying our emotions, every move, becomes a simple intuitive expression of what is present in the moment.
Towards the end of our dance, we experience a deep sense of release and lightness. We’re full of energy, eager to celebrate life.
Embodiment & Life Coaching
In my life coaching practice, this release of energy is what I am looking for when working with clients to process their emotions.
In what is sometimes called ‘process coaching’, I create a safe space for clients to go into the experience of a deep emotion that they may have put the lid on in fear of it taking over.
I help them to breathe into and embody their emotions and simply be present to what is there.
We go deeper and deeper into the experience, and every time the client starts talking about the feeling, I gently bring them back from their mind to their body.
Then suddenly there will be a point when there is a release and the client bounces up full of energy. This happens typically at the moment when the fear around being present to a strong emotion has subsided.
There is now space for relief of having experienced the emotion without life falling apart.
Now the emotion can be integrated instead of being stuck in the body – the probability of emotional blockages and illness manifesting later on, is greatly reduced.
Dancing does exactly that. It is like a washing machine for conscious and subconscious emotions. It offers a safe space for coming clean with the ebb and flow of life.
Reason 3: Being in Flow
Sometimes when dancing in a trance-like state, we can get close to perceiving the Shakti beat of creation and pure life force pulsing through our every move and feel fully alive.
Taking our practice from the dance floor into everyday life, we get more in tune with our experience of life. It gets easier to express simply what we feel and then flow with whatever life’s response turns out to be.
I remember the moment when after a good few years of spiritual practice, I asked myself, ‘What are you experiencing in your body?’ when a particularly strong wave of emotion hit me.
Instead of following my default strategy of trying to understand my feelings, I closed my eyes to be present to the currents of desire, separation, and exclusion stirring in my stomach.
I slowly moved to these currents, expressing them simply as they were.
A strong impulse came up to go out of the house which I followed even though I had nowhere particular to go. Relying on my intuition to guide me, I ran into the person to whom I needed to express those feelings. Simple as that.
In fact, dance helps to keep our body and mind fluid, welcoming change.
Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change and learn, benefits from the movement because the brain associates it with learning, as animals typically move out into new territory looking for food or being chased by a predator.
So by moving and dancing regularly, we avoid getting stuck in repetitive patterns and instead approach life with a fresh outlook.
Reason 4: Honouring our Roots
Dance is often a key part of indigenous people’s daily rituals and more elaborate ceremonies such as rites of passage.
We have mostly lost these practices in modern life, yet they offer great opportunities for transforming consciousness, the aim of many spiritual seekers.
Embodied ceremonies which often include dance and movement can bring us into liminal space, a transitional state we experience when we leave behind what is familiar and known to us and move towards the unknown.
We start to undergo transformation, and our psyches are open and malleable. The limits we’ve created for ourselves soften.
Especially when our dance becomes a trance, we charter new territory, and our consciousness shifts gear from separation into oneness. In ecstasy, our movements become an expression of Shakti’s power of expression; we become nature’s heartbeat.
Women and men’s circles were also a regular feature of life in many indigenous cultures.
In this American Indian tribe, women have a close group of friends with whom they regularly go away, even when they have families. Sisterhood often revolved around the menstrual cycle which synchronizes when women live in the close community.
Red tent groups and women’s circles are becoming increasingly popular around the world, filling in the void of a true female space in our lives.
Honoring both unity and diversity, it is liberating to share in equality with women of all ages and backgrounds.
The Awakening Women’s Institute has created some powerful guidelines for women’s circles, highlighting our commitment not to fall back into that competitive, back-biting and gossiping streak that can sometimes mar female get-togethers.
Reason 5: True Female Leadership
The more women experience the enchanting joy of real sisterhood and support, the more they may start to lead from that place.
Instead of beating men at their game, we learn to rediscover our own.
Instead of being rivals for a man’s favor, and in spite of the strong objectification of women’s bodies to sell anything from socks to perfume, we swing our hips to the beat of our intuitive power.
And when we step out of our women’s circle, what we bring to the world is true listening without judgment, empathy and a deep sense of connection. We reclaim an enchanted universe where we are in touch with the depths of our souls and our sisters’ souls.
We reclaim wonder and meaning in the face of a mechanistic soulless society bereft of meaning and purpose.
We dance consciousness into this world, and it is about time.